“Praise Song for My Mother” Grace Nichols and “Harmonium” Simon Armitage Essay
“Praise Song for My Mother” Grace Nichols and “Harmonium” Simon Armitage
Nichols has written a personal love poem to her mother which expresses a deep respect and admiration for her. In Armitages poem however, the tone is very different as the poet reflects upon the lack of communication between him and his father and recalls a moment when an opportunity to speak about the serious subject of death was missed. Although both poems are modern, they have quite different structures. Nichols poem uses a simple three line stanza which she repeats until the end of the poem. Each stanza begins with You were, this adds a tone of gentle sadness to the poem as she is looking back now that her childhood is gone. This repetition also helps to make the poem feel more like a song. Nichols uses repetition again when she describes her mother as replenishing replenishing here she is emphasising just how much and how often her mother gave to her, not just food, but also things such as protection as in the flame trees spread. Armitage also uses repetition when he is describing how the instrument has become worn out through use, and leather-soled shoes, had pedalled and pedalled.
The final stanza of Nichols poem is a single line and this makes the message at the end of the poem stand out. Go to your wider futures, you said it feels like it is the last thing her mother said to her as a child and the poem ends with her parting from her mother. The structure of Armitages poem is less regular. Although he uses stanzas, they are different lengths and the constant use of enjambment gives the poem a natural, conversational feel. The use of colloquial language such as bundles off to the skip adds to this very natural, everyday tone of the poem. In both poems we are presented with adults looking back on their relationship with a parent. Both poems are autobiographical and this helps to make the poems feel more personal. Nichols writes in a positive tone about her mother describing her metaphorically as water. By doing this she is suggesting that her mother was essential and even implying that she gave her life. By describing her as fathoming this implies that she knew her mother could work her out, get inside her mind and know her completely. She also describes her metaphorically as moons eye to me.
The image this creates is of her mother watching over her, as the moon at night watches over the world. It is a comforting image as night time for children especially can be a frightening time. Nichols is clearly expressing a deep love and respect for her mother, whereas in Armitages poem we are presented more with a tone of regret and distance between child and parent. He too thinks of his parent metaphorically. The Farrand Chapelette is personified and we are led to make a connection between this aged and worn instrument and his father. It has lost its tongue and its keys are described as yellowed…fingernails. The instrument, like his father, has come near to the end of its life and his father makes the comment that he is near to death. He makes the comment that the next box Armitage will take from the church will carry the dead weight of his father. At this point we are presented with the tone of regret in the poem as Armitage remembers saying some shallow or sorry phrase and not actually talking to his father about such a real and serious matter.
The poem ends on this sad tone and although there is a sense of sadness at the end of Nichols poem, her sadness is actually about understanding how well her mother prepared her for life, whilst Armitages sadness is to do with the lack of communication between him and his father. It is also noticeable that he describes his father in quite negative terms compared to the way Nichols describes her mother. For Armitage his father is in his own blue cloud of tobacco smoke, suggesting in itself a kind of separation between the two as he cant even see his father clearly. Also, by the indirect comparison to a worn out instrument, it suggests Armitage perhaps doesnt feel the glowing respect for his parent that Nichols does.
Perhaps it is more typical for a daughter to be closer to her mother than a son is to his father this is one difference the two poems presents to us. In conclusion, both poems present us with very different ideas about the feelings between parents and their children. Nichols poem is very much a love poem to her mother, full of admiration and thanks, whereas Armitages poem captures the pain and sadness of a son who does not feel able to communicate with his father.