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The poem My Mother at Sixty Six by Kamala Das is a short verse without a full stop. The poet is on the way to Cochin Airport along with her mother who is quite old now. Seeing her (mother’s) dull face, a sense of fear arises in the poet.
Thus aging and the fear of losing one’s dears due to it are the central themes of this poem. However, in the end, the poet also realizes that fear of death does not come with ageing but remains with one from childhood.
She also stresses the mother-daughter relation and the irreparable loss the former is going to suffer because of the latter’s death. The poet also tries to hide her feeling from her mother either by looking at the things that are young (children, green trees, etc) or by putting a fake smile (and I smiled, smiled and smiled) on her face.
The poet uses a number of similes to describe the condition of her old mother, repetition to show how she managed to hide her feeling and personification to show the plants in their blooming stage. We also find the idea of escapism. The poem is free verse without any rhyme scheme.
The poem My Mother at Sixty Six is without any full stop or in other words, it is a one-sentence poem. Hence I have divided it as per my convenience.
In the first stanza, the poet begins by telling that the last Friday morning, she was driving to Cochin. She saw her mother who was sitting beside her.
The use of the phrase last Friday morning is not just to depict a day but also to show that it is past now. In other words, the poet uses this phrase in order to tell that time never stops. Everything in the world goes in the past.
The poet probably tries to compare her mother with last Friday morning as both had their springtime (mother was young and the day had its morning) but now they are in the past (the day has gone and her mother’s youth has also gone). Thus in the very first lines, the central theme of the poem is revealed.
In the second stanza, the poet discusses the miserable condition of her old mother. According to the poet, her mother seemed to be in light sleep with her mouth open- a helpless state. She compares her pale and ash-like face with that of a corpse.
Thus she finds her mother to be corpse-like or in other words, she finds her (mother) near death. This makes her realize that her mother has grown old and this very realization is quite painful. Here one can sense the love of a daughter for her mother and her fear of losing her.
In the third stanza, we find the poet’s attempt to escape the painful experience. She looks out of the car and sees young trees that are coming out of the ground and merry children who are moving out of their homes.
Both trees and children show the growing and energetic stage of one’s life which according to the poet is the stage of merry-making. Hence the poet, in a way, finds relief at a young age and tries to escape there.
If we compare this stanza with the previous one, we find that the poet tries to contrast the old age at a young age.
The old age is doomed, lifeless and helpless and one cannot get relief from it as it reminds of death whereas a young age is full of joy and ecstasy that symbolizes strength vigor and happiness and gives a sort of relief.
In this stanza, the poet who has reached the airport stands at a distance from her old mother and again puts her eyes on her. This time she again seems to be pale. The poet compares her (mother) with late winter’s moon whose glow is dimmed by mist and fog making it appear pale, dull and lifeless.
The poet is reminded of the childhood fear of losing her mother. She suffers the same pain now as she suffered in her childhood.
Thus in this stanza, the poet reveals that the fear of losing one’s dear does not bear by old age but it is eternal and remains with one even in childhood. Hence the poet juxtaposes the fear of both the stages of one’s life.
In the final stanza, the poet who is unable to bear the pain and find a solution to her fear and pain, bids goodbye and says see you soon, Amma and ultimately put a fake smile on her face (all I did was smile and smile and smile…).
The stanza is quite ironic and so are the things that the poet does. She says see you soon, Amma though she knows that she won’t be able to see her again. Again she does smile and smile and smile though she is in grief and sorrow.
Hence these lines depict the irony of life. Life is full of false promises, fake smiles and temporary joy whereas death and loss are ultimate and its fear remains in one’s mind right from a young age. Thus the poem My Mother at Sixty Six begins with the mourn over old age ends with mourning over the whole life.