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The poem Of Mothers Among Other Things written by AK Ramanujan is about a mother’s struggle and her sacrifices for her children. The title itself of the poem holds a very deep meaning.
In order to understand the meaning of the title, we will divide it into two parts, “Of Mothers” and “Among Other Things”. The phrase “Of mothers” depicts that the poem is about motherhood. The poet has talked about his own mother in the poem. However, all the mothers face the same hurdles in their lives and hence the poem is for all the mothers.
The second part “among other things” is confusing and can have different meanings. It can be a depiction of the younger generation which considers mothers as ordinary commodities and do not have any emotions for them.
It can also mean that the poet has talked about many struggles but here, he will particularly talk about the hardships of motherhood. The title can have a different meaning, but it is clear that the poem is about motherhood and its hardships. So, let us go through the lines in order to understand what the poet has to say in the poem.
Part 1 – The Youth
I smell upon this twisted blackbone tree the silk and whitepetal of my mother’s youth. From her earrings three diamonds splash a handful of needles, and I see my mother run back from rain to the crying cradles.
The first part of the poem deals with the youth of the poet’s mother. The poet says that he smells silk and whitepetal of his mother’s youth upon this twisted blackbone tree.
“Smelling upon” here means remembering. “Twisted blackbone” tree here refers to the present condition of poet’s mother who is probably bent now because of her old age like an old tree with a bent stem. “Silk and whitepetal” depict the softness and beauty of his mother in her youth.
So, the poet says that while seeing his old mother (who is bent like an old tree), he remembers her youth when she was soft, beautiful and charming.
Next, the poet says that during her youth days, there were beautiful diamond earrnings in her ears which would splash i.e. sparkle a handful of needles i.e. the rays of sun. Here, again, the poet is describing the beauty of his mother. Colourful rays reflecting from the earrings depict the glow that poet’s mother had.
Next, the poet sees i.e. remembers his mother running back from rain to the crying cradles. “Crying cradles” refer to the young children (including the poet himself). This line brings into light the struggle of his mother even in her youth. Rain symbolises hardships. His mother would use to care for her children even if she herself was suffering.
Part 2 – The Middle Age
The rains tack and sew with broken threads the rags of the tree tasseled light. But her hands are a wet eagle’s two black-pink crinkled feet, one talon crippled in a garden- trap set for a mouse. Her saris do not cling: they hang, loose feather of a one time wing.
The second part deals with the next phase of poet’s mother – her middle age. The first line is a little bit difficult and jumbled, so we will rearrange it and discuss it word by word. The poet says that the rain tacked and sew the rags of the tree with broken threads of tasseled light.
“Tack” means a long stitch used to fasten fabrics together temporarily, prior to permanent sewing. “Rag” means an old piece of cloth usually torn from a larger piece. “Tree” refers to the same twisted blackbone tree (mentioned in the first line of the poem. “Rags of tree” thus means mother’s weak body. “Tassel” refers to the thread used for knotting. “Tasseled light” refers to the sun rays which penetrates through the cracks of the tree or its leaves, or even the branches. Here they mean hope, energy and enthusiasm
So, the line means that the rain (here symbolises difficulties and hardships) tried to stitch (stop) poet’s weak mother, her daily activities and her enthusiasm.
However her hands were like a wet eagle’s two black-pink crinkled feet. “Crinkled” means rough and having creases. “Black-pink” symbolises eagle’s struggle which puts its life in danger in order to feed its young ones.
Hence, the hands of poet’s mother are compared with the feet of eagle. The poet is trying to say that hardships tried to stop his mother. However faced them boldly and did everything for her children without thinking for herself.
Next, the poet says that one talon (claw, here it means her foot) of her mother was crippled in a garden trap set for mouse. Here, the poet is telling that she literally sacrificed herself for her children. While in the garden, she happened to put one of her feet on the mouse trap which crippled her.
Note that, the foot of his mother is called as talon and not foot which depicts that the poet is continuing imagining his mother as the eagle (which puts its life in danger for its chicks).
Finally, the poet describes the weakness of his mother. According to him, the saris of his mother do not cling (fit her) and rather hang (as she has become weak) like the loose feather (weak wings) of a one time wing (the eagle which spent its only life for its young ones).
Part 3 – The Old Age
My cold parchment tongue licks bark in the mouth when I see her four still sensible fingers slowly flex to pick a grain of rice from the kitchen floor.
The final part of the poem describes the last phase of poet’s mother – her old age. The poet says that his cold (emotionless) and parchment (harsh) tongue licks bark (dry surface) in the mouth while seeing her four sensible (working) fingers (as she has lost of her fingers) flexing (bending) slowly to pick a grain of rice from the kitchen floor.
This part holds the theme of the poem i.e. the way we people treat our mothers without understanding them. The poet says that he is feeling guilty because he used to talk harshly to his mother (when he was young) and could not understand her sacrifices for them.
Now he feels sorrowful when he sees the condition of his old mother who is very weak but still tries to do all the work. The poem ends on a sad note and gives the message of love for all the mothers.