The poem “Old Woman” written by Iain Crichton Smith, conveys powerful emotions, of which the reader is made aware through the poet’s use of various literary techniques, particularly imagery and word choice. Crichton Smith cleverly provokes the reader to feel sympathetic towards the old woman and her husband. Iain Crichton Smith begins his poem in a slightly peculiar way – he uses the word “And” to begin: “And she, being old, fed from a mashed plate. ”
By the use of this continuing word, Crichton Smith tells the reader that this process is ongoing; it has happened before and it will, most likely, happen again. Also in this first line, the reader is told that the old woman is not capable of feeding herself and does not have the strength to chew as her food must be mashed for her. Crichton Smith also uses a transferred epithet here as he refers to the plate as “mashed”. By Ian Crichton Smith’s use of these literary techniques, and the context in which he uses them, he successfully provokes the reader to feel strong emotions of pity for the old woman.
Throughout the first verse, the reader is given information through the poet’s use of imagery and word choice telling them that the woman is dying. For example: “as an old mare might droop across a fence” The poets use of the word “droop” has connotations of lifelessness and lack of energy, and the image of the fence acts as a boundary – a barrier between life and death. This adds to the sympathy the reader has for the old woman as she is clearly not enjoying her life. The concept of death is further emphasized in the second stanza, cleverly conveyed through the poet’s use of imagery.
Crichton Smith exploits the phrase, “wings among the gradual crops” to represent people and the inevitability of death. This thought of death returns a powerful emotion of sadness and even fear to the reader. The narrator himself is brought into the poem in the third stanza, where he refers to his own powerful emotions which reflect upon the reader. “There I sat, imprisoned in my pity and my shame. ” By his use of the word “imprisoned”, Crichton Smith tells the reader that his movements and actions are restricted, provoking a strong emotion of rage.
Also, referring to his pity and shame shows that he feels sorry for himself and the dying old woman. These powerful emotions are reflected upon the reader as they now feel sorry for the narrator in his despair and confusion. Almost all of the fourth stanza conveys strong powerful emotions through a theme of desperation. In the first two lines of this verse, the reader is given an image of the husband holding his dying wife in his arms, and pleading with God to save her: “‘Pray God’, he said, ‘we ask you God’, he said. The bowed back was quiet. ”
Through the writers use of repetition in the first line, the reader is shown the husband’s desperation for his wife’s survival and also his lack of faith. Yet, moving into line three of this stanza, the reader is shown the desperation of the old woman: “I saw the teeth tighten their grip around a delicate death. ” This desperation of the old woman is not for survival, but for death. The reader is shown the old woman’s want for death as she tightens her grip around it. This, again, encourages the reader to feel pity and sympathy for the old woman’s suffering and the husband’s sorrow over his wife’s death.
In the last line of the final stanza, the writer refers to the deaths of people as the many waves of the sea: “too many waves to mark two more or three. ” This is the writers way of telling the reader that there are so many deaths happening all over the world that it goes unnoticed to the rest of the world, and one person’s death is almost counted as insignificant. This line also tells the reader about the inevitability of death and how there is absolutely nothing we can do to prevent it. Again, this brings back the readers mixed emotions of sadness and fear.
In conclusion, I found the poem “Old Woman”, by Iain Crichton Smith incredibly thought-provoking, and also quite emotionally disturbing. By Iain Crichton Smith’s use of various literary techniques, he successfully creates a vivid image of the old woman’s death, which effectively provokes the readers emotions.