The Poetry Corner: To My Mother
By Norah Christianson
Happy Mother’s Day! They’ve been many poems written about poets’ mothers, but I love this poem particularly because, though Barker is full of love and admiration for his mother, he does not paint her as perfection itself.
She is not someone described in a Hallmark Mother’s Day card. His portrait of her makes her real. She is not angelic, she is human. She loves her gin and her food. She is “huge as Asia”—which could mean she is overly hefty, or that she is of immense character and personality. Or both. What’s clear is that she is larger than life. She shakes the ground with her “seismic” laughter.
She is not prissy, delicate or dainty. She is not Miss Manners. She is tender, but she is earthy—“Irresistible as Rabelais,” that French Renaissance writer known for his bawdy jokes and songs. She has fortitude. She is contemptuous of the Luftwaffe bombs of WW II raining down, and will not hide in the cellar. She is resilient. She is a strong woman who loves all life. She is a mother. And she is loved.
At the end, the poet sends all his love to tell her that her sadness will be temporary. That she will move from the state of mourning (for her country, for those she’s lost) to a place of new hope: “morning.”
Note: There are some who interpret this poem as an elegy for Barker’s mother. I see it as a love sonnet.
George Barker, 1913 – 1991, was born in Essex England. Having left at an early age the Royal Polytechnic Institute (which taught practical knowledge of the various arts and branches of science connected with manufacturers, mining operations and rural economy), he pursued several odd jobs before settling on a career in writing.
To My Mother
By -George Barker
Most near, most dear, most loved and most far,
Under the window where I often found her
Sitting as huge as Asia, seismic with laughter,
Gin and chicken helpless in her Irish hand,
Irresistible as Rabelais, but most tender for
The lame dogs and hurt birds that surround her –
She is a procession no one can follow after
But be like a little dog following a brass band.
She will not glance up at the bomber, or condescend
To drop her gin and scuttle to a cellar,
But lean on the mahogany table like a mountain
Whom only faith can move, and so I send
O all my faith, and all my love to tell her
That she will move from mourning into morning.
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