Table of Contents
The Journals of Susanna Moodie, a book of poetry by Margaret Atwood, includes the poem “Death of a Young Son by Drowning” (1970). This collection of verses is said to be a “historiographic metafiction” that combines history, fiction, and theory. In this poem, Atwood portrays the sorrow of a mother at the drowning death of her son.
Even though the poem reads like a sorrowful account of a little son’s passing, it uses metaphors and symbols to convey several different themes. For instance, the son’s travel to a distant country is nothing more than a search for his origins and genuine self. Similarly, this poem has several intriguing and thought-provoking topics.
About the poet
Margaret Atwood is a poet, writer, literary critic, essayist, teacher, environmentalist, and inventor from Canada. Two Booker Prizes, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Governor General’s Award, the Franz Kafka Prize, the Princess of Asturias Awards, the National Book Critics and PEN Center USA Lifetime Achievement Awards are just a few of the countless accolades and prizes she has received for her writing.
He, who navigated with success the dangerous river of his own birth once more set forth
The protagonist, the “young son,” is mentioned in the first verse of “Death of a Young Son by Drowning.” The speaker’s mind is on him exclusively. She first claims that her son had a successful time establishing his own roots.
His own metaphorical “river” of birth is nothing more than a symbol of one’s inner self. It appears that the narrator’s family made a new home for themselves. That was a different culture from her own. Her son was so drawn to his identity. She said that despite his first attempt’s success, he went out again. This time, investigate the area’s geographical features.
on a voyage of discovery into the land I floated on but could not touch to claim.
The preceding part is linked with this one. The speaker here explains how her son set off on a journey to the new place. He left his house to explore the surrounding area. The speaker humorously discusses the divide between her and the country in the phrase that follows. She was unable to claim it as her own.
She claimed that she moved across the ground as though she were navigating a ship across uncharted waters. She couldn’t reach out and claim the land as her own. This statement suggests that the poem’s characters were not natives of the location where the son died.
His feet slid on the bank, the currents took him; he swirled with ice and trees in the swollen water
The speaker of “Death of a Young Son by Drowning” addresses the poem’s central theme directly in the third stanza. It deals with her son’s passing. He fell down the bank of a river one day, getting swept away by the swift currents. On the icy river, his corpse was entwined in ice and trees.
The river’s imagery conveys a lot more than it actually means. First off, the metaphorical “swollen water” represents foreign civilization. It was impenetrable to the settlers. They needed to forget their own culture and become lost in this one. This sentence might also be seen as an illustration of how harsh nature can be.
and plunged into distant regions, his head a bathysphere; through his eyes’ thin glass bubbles
His body then disappeared into unknown places. The speaker speculates on what could have happened to her son in the following lines. Atwood does a “bathysphere” comparison with his head. It is a spherical chamber used for ocean-depth research. Within a bathysphere, an observer peers out the porthole.
Atwood compares his brain to this tightly sealed space. The son’s eyes allow the spirit inside his body to peek forth. The speaker claims that her son’s corpse saw the unknown depths of the river through his eyes. Moreover, this mental space expresses a feeling of alienation. While feeling alienated in a new environment, a person experiences the same feelings. He has the impression that his soul is imprisoned in an airtight bathysphere.
he looked out, reckless adventurer on a landscape stranger than Uranus we have all been to and some remember.
The speaker dejectedly claims that her son was a “reckless adventurer” in the fifth third stanza. He was blind to the threats. He was only interested in exploring this new location; he was unaware of the disaster that would soon occur. The outer environment surprised him by being weirder than Uranus.
The word “Uranus” is used to refer to the sky. In this passage, Atwood alludes to the area outside of the earth’s atmosphere, which is both alien and uncharted territory for people. The new location was equally weird as the environment outside.
The region of death is mentioned in the final line. Although some people recall, humans have been here before. It could also allude to the unconscious mind. This region of our thinking is unfamiliar to the majority of us.
There was an accident; the air locked, he was hung in the river like a heart. They retrieved the swamped body,
The awful event is brought up once more in the sixth stanza. The speaker in Atwood’s poem describes how her kid died. Her son was taken from her in the disaster. She begins to question the possibility of her son’s death. She said that the air became frozen as he slid into the frozen river. He choked to death.
He seemed to have been suspended in the water like a quiet “heart.” The word “heart” is a metaphor for the speaker’s most prized possession. In addition, the son is portrayed by the poet as the heart of the river’s human body. His corpse was eventually pulled from the river. This line and the first line of the subsequent stanza are linked.
cairn of my plans and future charts, with poles and hooks from among the nudging logs.
A metaphor is used by the poet in the opening sentence. The boy is compared to a “cairn” of her mother’s plans, she says. He served as her future compass, so to speak. Her primary concern is for her child’s welfare.
She believed that one day her son would lead her. He was unable to even exit the water when the disaster occurred. These sentences contrast the mother’s perception of reality with her ideas. With the use of poles and hooks fastened to the prodding logs, his corpse was extracted from the freezing lake. This line illustrates the bleak truth of death.
It was spring, the sun kept shining, the new grass leapt to solidity; my hands glistened with details.
Another contrast may be found in this stanza of “Death of a Young Son by Drowning.” Here, Atwood draws a comparison between the speaker’s mental condition and nature. It was spring, the season of rebirth and renewal. The sun continued to shine, and the fresh grass sprouted heads.
The grass is personified in this passage by the poet, who gives it the sense of jumping to solidity. The small boy was chilled to death even though nature was bursting with vitality. The mother’s hand, meanwhile, glistened with the specifics of her past. Atwood compares life and death in this way.
After the long trip I was tired of waves. My foot hit rock. The dreamed sails collapsed, ragged.
In this passage, the speaker discusses her own life. The trip was rather far. She felt so exhausted by this journey after the death of her son. She stepped on the rock that day. The speaker is compared to Bark in this verse. The passing away of her son was like a hidden rock in the ocean.
Her life’s ship hit the rock and broke apart. Her son was like the sails of her ship while he was alive. She left on this expedition under her son’s guidance. She was stopped in her tracks by his death, which also plunged her into a world of sorrow and mental anguish.
I planted him in this country like a flag.
The speaker of the poem “Death of a Young Son by Drowning” does not cry in the final two lines. The loss of her son robbed her of any feelings. She stopped speaking both inside and externally. She explains calmly that he placed him in this nation like a flag because of this. In this passage, Atwood likens the son to a “flag” or other symbols of his identity. He wasn’t interred. somewhat firmly entrenched, bearing the stamp of his intrepid existence.