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The poem “the mother” by Gwendolyn Brooks expresses the sentiments of a woman who has undergone abortions and regrets them. The speaker recalls her prior experiences and the children she will now never truly “understand” via the words of “the mother.” She speculates on the potential adults they may have been and even addresses them directly using the apostrophe literary device. The speaker of the poem declares at its conclusion that she “loved” every kid she came close to having.
About the poet
Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks was an American poet, author, and teacher. Her writing frequently focused on the hardships and joys of common people in her community. On May 1, 1950, she received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Annie Allen, becoming the first African American to do so.
Abortions will not let you forget. You remember the children you got that you did not get, The damp small pulps with a little or with no hair, The singers and workers that never handled the air. You will never neglect or beat Them, or silence or buy with a sweet. You will never wind up the sucking-thumb Or scuttle off ghosts that come. You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh, Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye. In the first lines of 'the mother,' the speaker starts with a "hook".
The reader is drawn into the complex subject of abortion from the very first line. It is followed by a description of the fetuses who should have developed into adults but didn’t. These were “damp small pups with a little or with no hair.”
This line rhymes with the next, forming an unsettling couplet that thinks of the unrealized potential of these unborn children’s existence. They will no longer be raised by the non-mother mother. She won’t regard them favorably or unfavorably. All possibilities, encounters, and results are lost.
She won’t get to play the role of a guardian, chasing ghosts away from their bedrooms or “gobbling” them up with her mother’s eye. The imagery in this verse and the other stanzas is quite strong. The poet can portray motherhood—or the absence of it—in an emotional, sensitive, and extremely personal way. Brooks intended to evoke concerns about what a kid is, what life is, and the significance and worth of both throughout the poem.
I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children. I have contracted. I have eased My dim dears at the breasts they could never suck. I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized Your luck And your lives from your unfinished reach, If I stole your births and your names, Your straight baby tears and your games, Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches, and your deaths, If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths, Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate. Though why should I whine, Whine that the crime was other than mine?— Since anyhow you are dead. Or rather, or instead, You were never made. But that too, I am afraid, Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said? You were born, you had body, you died. It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried.
This stanza’s opening line is a startling, rhymed depiction of an individual who has undergone an abortion. The speaker addresses the unborn, now-inexistent children directly using the apostrophe technique. She says that while she may have ruined their life prospects through repetition and the eleventh line, she did not do it on purpose.
The speaker wonders about reality in the following words, wondering about the appearance of these kids and whether they ever lived. They were children but they were never children; they lived but they never lived.
Believe me, I loved you all. Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you All.
This poem’s concluding stanza has just three lines. It also includes an illustration of anaphora. “Believe me, I” is the first word in each of the first two lines. She claims to have “loved” and “known” each child, even if just dimly. The phrase “I loved” is repeated at the conclusion of the final verse. The way these words are put together, as well as the enjambment, commas, and repetition, successfully communicate the emotion in the speaker’s tone.