Mother Who Gave Me Life #
Our ancestors are always with us; their enduring if elusive presence are inscribed in our DNA, our physical features, in our mindsets, our values, our deficiencies and congenital diseases. Mothers are our primal bond; first in the womb and then as a source of nourishment and protection. Babies tend to track their mothers.
Parenthood is one of the most challenging roles played in life and yet many people are ill prepared for it. Originally it was assumed a natural instinctive role, however in today’s highly competitive goal oriented world, many parents are tempted to adopt a more vigorous interventionist model.
Parents can have the most fundamental and profound overall influence on us even though from about 13 onwards we outwardly resist and attempt to reject their advice. Through nature and nurture, especially during the ages 0 – 5 their indelible influence is through osmosis or subliminal inspiration. They influence our general outlook in life and construct our values and conscience – our sense of right and wrong.
Gwen had a close relationship with all the females in her life. The mother daughter relationship is perhaps first explored in the myth of Demeter and Persephone.
The French philosopher, Marie French finds it intriguing that many people feel a sense of guilt about their parents.
”I had no idea that’s an issue for so many people. It’s a question of duty and guilt.” We take them for granted for so long, but once they are gone, we suddenly realise the inadequacy of our gratitude.
Mother who Gave Me Life #
Mother who gave me life
I think of women bearing
women. Forgive me the wisdom
I would not learn from you.
It is not for my children I walk
on earth in the light of the living.
It is for you, for the wild
daughters becoming women,
anguish of seasons burning
backward in time to those other
bodies, your mother, and hers
and beyond, speech growing stranger
on thresholds of ice, rock, fire,
bones changing, heads inclining
to monkey bosom, lemur breast,
guileless milk of the word.
I prayed you would live to see
Halley’s Comet a second time.
The Sister said, When she died
she was folding a little towel.
You left the world so, having lived
nearly thirty thousand days:
a fabric of marvels folded
down to a little space.
At our last meeting I closed
the ward door of heavy glass
between us, and saw your face
crumple, fine threadbare linen
worn, still good to the last,
then, somehow, smooth to a smile
so I should not see your tears
Anguish: remembered hours:
a lamp on embroidered linen,
my supper set out, your voice
calling me in as darkness
falls on my father’s house.
Harwood writes warmly about her family, both from the perspective of a child and as a parent. Mothers can hold a special place in all our hearts.
“From earliest childhood I have felt that there was a line of dependent, energetic Australian women in which I had my place.
Fiercely proud of “women bearing women” and “wild daughters becoming women”; the forceful alliteration of the “b” reinforced by burning, backward, bodies and bones. The use of mono syllabic words represents the primal drum beat of life.
Harwood is addressing her mother directly, like Donne or Browning in a dramatic monologue.
The poem progresses with backward glances - “seasons burning back ward”. Her memories fusing with reality of lines of ancestor; mothers and grandmothers and primates. Throughout time, mothers have borne children during the ice age, on rocks and during fire. They are part of the Darwinian natural world of monkeys and Lemur - breast feeding “guileless feeding of the word”.
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. John 1.1
The word guileless suggests mothers are the most trustworthy of all creatures.
The contrast of the cosmos with the common place is further advanced by the reference to Halley’s Comet juxtaposed with the motherly domestic chore of folding a towel. This cloth motif is continued with a fabric of marvels"/folded down to a little space and the metaphoric face/ crumple, fine threadbare linen/ worn, - a lamp on embroidered linen,.
The final scene juxtaposing the divine and the ordinary, can be seen as the Last Supper reenacted by the Eucharist with another biblical allusion to “my father’s house”.
Literally it can also work on the level of her actual father’s house.
This sensuousness of this romantic poem illustrates her sentiment:
“A poem is like a wine glass in which you can hold up a little bit of reality and taste it“
Throughout history Mothers have been the front and centre of our existence. All cultures elevate the status of motherhood simply to perpetuate the tribe. Women were not allowed to fight for the simple reason, their wombs were required to procreate more cannon fodder.
Mike Carlton writes that:
“soldiers do not die with a patriotic slogan on their lips. My late father-in-law, who fought with the Black Watch at Monte Cassino in 1944 and later with the Australian Army in Malaya, always maintained that a man’s last words were most often a cry for the mother who bore him”.