It is an afternoon and the mom is washing clothes in a tub. The child has written a poem for her mother and gives it to her as she is washing. The mother scans the poem but rejects it as not being ‘all there is to life’. She feels that there is much more to life than reading or writing poetry. Despite her protest, the mother glances at the poem while she continues to wash clothes.
The mother obviously has given her life to hard work and struggle and seems to have lost interest in life. She does not seem to appreciate the effort of her child to offer some relief or change in her burdensome routine. That her mother washes in the afternoon indicates that her workload is enormous (as washing is usually done in the morning so the clothes can be hung out to dry.)
The images of stress and strain are effectively captured in the description of the women ‘hunched’ over the washtub and her ‘shrivelled hands’. The word ‘hunched’ suggests her strenuous routine which has physically harmed her posture. The comparison of her hands to the shrivelled burnt skin of granadilla evokes the destructive efforts of hard labour on her physical body.
The words of the child’s poem are compared to a piece of slippery soap. Just as soap is used to cleanse dirt off clothes in this case, so too do the words of the poem give the mother strength and the power to bear her burden to restore her to some state of wholesomeness, just like soap restores clothes to their original clean condition. Note that the mother ‘grabbed’ the words and ‘used’ them, suggesting that she needed them desperately to sustain her to cope with the oppressive burden of life.
It is the burden of life which weighs down oppressively, that prevents the mother from appreciating or being sensitive to other aspects of life (like reading and enjoying poetry) But the fact that she does read the poem indicates that she is aware of its significance and healing power. (A poem appeals to our aesthetic sense.) It makes us see life in detail and appreciate the multi-faceted experiences of life. The word ‘scanning’ suggests that she does read the poem.
The reference to the mother’s ‘blue-ringed gaze’ suggests that she has a deeper, appreciative side to her nature. Note that the colour ‘blue’ is usually associated with sky and beauty. The reference to the ‘dirty water’ is a metaphor for the pollution and corruption of life which have sullied or dirtied capacity to be sensitive to the beauty of nature of life.
The poem ends on a positive note. The mother continues to hold onto the words of the poem, the word ‘clenched’ recalls the term ‘grabbed’ of stanza 2, it means to hold tightly onto something. That the words are clenched ‘smaller and smaller’ indicates the great effort exerted by the mother to make the world of poetry a part of her life, she realises the value of poetry to guide her through the difficulties of life.
Central message of the poem
The poem whilst acknowledging the burden and harshness of life, confirms the value of developing our aesthetic nature, our capacity to appreciate what life has to offer as the only hope to cope with the hostility and problems we encounter on a daily basis.
The writer uses simple words to reinforce the innocent, pure exchange between mother and child. The simplicity of the words also evokes the humility of their life – the setting is most likely a rural one. The poem also has a simple structure; the lines are uniform and short reinforcing the simple effort of the child to console her mother.