To My Nine-Year-Old Self – Helen Dunmore

To My Nine-Year-Old Self is a very nostalgic poem that looks back on the innocence and freedom you feel as a child. The speaker has grown up to regret not becoming the person she had always dreamt of becoming, she failed her childhood ‘ambition’. The poem ends on this physical imagery of childhood and curiosity through the image of ‘peeling a ripe scab from your knee to taste it on your tongue’. This could maybe show that the speaker is sad at the loss of this curiosity and childhood freedom.

Themes –

  • Nostalgia: The speaker is looking back on how she was as a child and how that has all changed in the present day. There is a lot of nostalgic imagery throughout the poem – ‘sherbet lemons’, ‘swings from that tree’, ‘that dream we had’.
  • Regret: she regrets not following her dreams; she was distracted easily by little childhood projects such as, ‘an ice-lolly factory’ or a ‘wasp trap’.
  • Time: It is the time that connects the author to her child self, yet it is also time that changes a person and allows them to experience pain and new things.
  • Disconnection: She isn’t the same girl she was when she was 9. Refers to herself in the second person, which shows a lack of connection and ties with her younger self. They ‘have nothing in common’ anymore.


Tone of the poem –

  • There is a reflective tone running through the poem as the speaker shares her childhood memories with the readers and the things that she regrets not pursuing. The speaker shows a tone of disappointment when she compares who she has become, to her 9 year old self, things that she could once do like ‘walk’, ‘run’, ‘climb’ are now impossible because of things like ‘a bad back or a bruised foot’. Highlights the physical issues age brings.


Structure –

  • There is a sandwich of ‘you’, ‘we’, ‘you’. This could be a representation of how the speaker wants to protect her childhood self.
  • The word ‘you’ shows distance and disconnection between her and her 9 year old self, however the fact that this ‘you’ is protecting the ‘we’ shows that she wants to protect what little connection she has left with her younger self.
  • The poet also uses enjambment throughout to maybe represent the freedom and lack of restraints you feel as a child. You are allowed to be naïve and live in the moment.


Techniques –

  • There is a tone of admiration towards her childhood self as she recollects the way she would ‘walk’, ‘run’ and ‘climb’. Each time these actions get more ambitious and this is a description of the physicality of freedom she felt as a child.
  • The use of pronouns with ‘I’, ‘you’ and ‘we’ gives a personal tone to the poem. We as readers feel empathy from looking at the way these pronouns hint that the speaker is stuck in her regrets of the past and how she has changed so much that she cannot even relate to her 9-year-old self.
  • There is also strong imagery used throughout the poem. First the image of freedom and innocence when we are shown ‘that summer of ambition’ she had as a child. We as readers begin to feel nostalgic and relate to these summer memories she is looking back on. But then the image changes to a more pessimistic look on life and the dangers out there in ‘scared lanes’. This is when we start to look at how these dangers have created ‘scars’ for the speaker, and ‘spolied this body […they…] once shared’.


Important quotes –

‘but no, I shan’t cloud your morning […] I have fears enough for us both’

This is the point where the speaker stops herself with the abrupt ‘no’, she realises that she doesn’t want her 9-year-old self to live in fear. Childhood is about being carefree and the speaker (being the adult) should take on these worries like a responsible adult would. She wants to preserve her carefree childhood.


‘You must forgive me’

The speaker opens by almost begging to be forgiven for her mistakes. We instantly as readers are intrigued and want to find out more. The poem immediately starts with this regretful tone.


‘I have spoiled this body we once shared’

The speaker blames herself for the fact that her body shows physical signs of age. She feels that she owed her younger self more than to treat her body in such a bad way. Once again we see regret.


2 thoughts on “To My Nine-Year-Old Self – Helen Dunmore

    1. Hi! Maybe you could say that the increasing line lengths are a mirror of the speaker growing older. And then in the 4th stanza, the line length goes back down to 6, 5 and then 3, which could symbolise the point at which the speaker realises that youth is something that everyone has to experience and cannot be protected from. The reducing line lengths in stanzas 4, 5 and 6 are a point of acceptance and embracement for the speaker that it is okay to be young and make mistakes.


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