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by Mary Oliver

Section 9 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 1-3

The voice of the child crying out of the mouth of the
grown woman
is a misery and a disappointment.

  • According to our speaker, a grown woman crying like a child is a miserable and disappointing thing. Mostly it just sounds awkward to us.
  • Maybe, in our speaker's eyes, this is what happens when you don't move on from thoughts of the past, of a troubled childhood: you carry around that upset child. Or you remain, to some extent, an upset child on the inside… maybe like the speaker's mother?
  • You are miserable and disappointed with your life, or maybe you make others miserable and disappoint them. Either way, it doesn't sound very good.

Lines 4-6

The voice of the child howling out of the tall, bearded,
muscular man
is a misery, and a terror.

  • Ditto if you're a grown man doing the same thing. Only suddenly that disappointment is now a terror, which is fitting, given her description of her father as a "demon" in section 5.
  • We've all seen children throw tantrums. Luckily they're little and they can't (usually) do too much damage. A big, muscular grown man, though? We don't want to be around when he pitches a fit. Someone could lose an eye.

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