Death and Burial
Sure, we don't know much about the actual kid who's dead and buried in this couple's backyard, but we know a whole lot about that couple's reaction to that death and burial. And as it turns out, their reactions aren't exactly compatible. In fact, the husband and wife seem to be processing their son's death in opposite ways, which tells us that this poem is as much about grief as it is about death.
- Line 24: This line sets the scene of the burial. There's a family graveyard in the backyard. The word "little" makes the man sound like he even has affection for the graveyard. But hey, it is where all his ancestors are.
- Lines 25-26: Here, we get more details about how small the graveyard is. It's kind of creepy that he compares it to a bedroom, but we'll roll with it for now.
- Line 28: In this line, the man continues to talk about the graveyard in a creepily affectionate way. He uses personification, saying that the gravestones are "broad-shouldered," like a strong man might be.
- Line 31: This line shows us what the fear eating away at the woman since line 3 is: a child's grave. In fact, it's probably her child's grave. We just took a turn for the depressing, Shmoopers.
- Line 37: Here, we see the dead child spoken of euphemistically. The husband talks about the "child he's lost," not the "dead child." This is a kinder, gentler way to say it, but it also skirts around the real issue. The child isn't lost; he's dead.
- Lines 65-69: These lines show what the man thinks about his wife's grief; he feels that she's taken it too far, and it's time to cool her jets. His words in these lines are full of euphemisms once again. He calls it a "mother-loss of a first child," rather than coming straight out and saying "his death." He also brings society into her grief by asking her "what […] brought you up to think," and by saying that she overdoes her grief, as if she's meaning to put on a big show. He also suggests that the child's memory would be satisfied, as if the death of a loved one only deserves a certain amount of grief before the mourning job is done.
- Line 74: Finally, he stops speaking in euphemisms, and comes out and says the word "dead." This is a big jump from the way that the man was stepping very carefully in his earlier speech. Now we're really getting down to the nitty gritty.
- Line 76-81: These lines show us the woman's view of the man as he dug their child's grave. There's a ton of alliteration, especially in lines 79-80, with the letter "l." This light sound, leaping off the tongue, adds to her description of her husband's ability to bury his son without showing outward signs of grief.
- Lines 88-90: The wife is so grief-stricken that even the dirt on the man's shoes bugs her. She doesn't understand how he can continue to talk about everyday things while she's so devastated.
- Lines 95-100: The woman says that what her husband is talking about has nothing to do with their dead child (she uses a euphemism, saying "what was in the darkened parlor," instead of "dead body"), while, in fact, the word "rot" certainly connects to death. But she clearly doesn't want to think about "rot" while her dead child is in the next room.
- Lines 101-109: These lines show how the woman's grief at her son's death has made her feel that all deaths are lonely. She says that friends, no matter how hard they try to follow the dying to the grave, will always be grounded in the world of life. In other words, everyone dies alone. Yep, we never said this wouldn't be a downer.