“The Mother” by George Mackay Brown although a fairly short poem manages to in seven short stanzas creates a very concise affectionate portrait of the poet’s own mother. A number of things make this poem as effective as it is but a large portion of that magic captured in the poem comes from effective word choice and skilful structure. The word choice within this poem is very skilful and is beautifully matched to the theme (A mother’s week) of the poem. George Mackay Brown relies heavily on his choice of words within the poem to create an affectionate account of his mother. In verse 3 he wrote: “All her tasks were like bluebells in a jar on the windowsill”.
Although being quite a strange simile the word choice is well chosen to give connotations the mother doing her jobs military like but with enjoyment. (The image of bluebells standing to attention reminds me of a soldier which reminds me of the military.) The effect of using bluebells creates an image of soothing things like waterfalls and flowers. But when mixed with the idea of her doing her tasks seems to create a mixed idea of her both wanting and needing to complete her tasks. Another theory about the choice of words is that the bluebells symbolise her children as they were almost certainly collected by them. She does her jobs for her children to please them and as a thank you they bring her flowers. Like so many other imaginative uses of words in this poem there could be many theory’s about there true meaning. This mystery helps keep the poem interesting and makes the mother seem more mysterious as well.
Although the word choice is important in every poem there would be nothing captivating about them if they weren’t integrated into a number of compelling similes, metaphors and other figures of speech. A lot of the figures of speech contained with this poem are unique to this particular poem and would be out of context in almost all other eventualities. One metaphor that I feel is used in the perfect place is: “The Garden a Galleon in the gale”.
This metaphor also interlinks alliteration which increases its unique feel. The actual metaphor is used to describe the effect of the wind on the garden and in a verse that is based on washing fits in perfectly with the idea of drying clothes. The image can be pictured with the grass rippling like the sea and the sheets catching the wind like the majestic sails of the ship. Along with the fact the poem is set in Orkney, a strongly established fishing island makes the metaphor of a ship even more fitting.
Another use of images created in this poem is a very interesting example of alliteration; “a slave among the storm grey shirts and sheets” This is a very captivating example as it combines the facts about the actual writing with a hyperbole of “slave” and the seaside connotations of “storm grey” although this example of alliteration may have a lot of meanings the one that seems to strike me every time is that the words fit and its relevant but most of all it sounds good, “a slave among the storm grey sheets” Just seems to roll so effortlessly off your tongue. I love examples like this that just seem to fit perfectly and as this poem contained a lot of these examples, really appealed to me.
The structure of this poem is something I particularly enjoyed, although some people may not notice it this poem describes the mothers week in seven stanzas. Each of these representing a day in her week. I feel this reminds you of how every day is different and is special. I particularly like this effect as it describes each day like a very short story. Another thing that caught my eye in this poem was the use of enjambment to create a cliff-hanger effect. An example of this is: “she rose above textures of oat and barley” “into the paradise of cakes” I feel this pause is very well placed and the wait to read the next line is like waiting for cakes to rise and is very well crafted to give this effect.
The content and theme of this poem are much the same. The description and depiction of a typical week for this mother. The poem at all times focuses on the mother even though sometimes she’s described in unusual ways “she rose above textures of oat and barley” Although describing baking is also a very loving statement, in which she is this graceful angel (rising) through the clouds. (of oat and barley) The atmosphere at all times within this poem is one of thanks for all the hard work the mother puts in and is noticeable when you read the poem.
Even though George Mackay Brown wrote this poem for his own mother about her the poem could be classed as universally applicable to all mother as this poem doesn’t just describe his mother’s tasks. It also creates a template for the ideal mother, the image is created by combining the stereotypes of a good mother with the emotional being of a living human. This creates a person that everyone wants in their life and that is a very difficult thing to achieve from a poem but George Mackay Brown manages to capture the magic which makes this poem such a joy to read. The magic in the way the poem can be applied to all mothers and their loving and caring attitude towards their children.