Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
"There you go sneering now!"
- The woman cuts off her husband, saying that he's sneering. She says, "there you go" and "now," hinting that this is typical behavior for the guy.
- This is one of the few times we get a loud verbal reaction from her in the poem, rather than a gesture.
- What's she so irked about? About his "enough already" comments from the previous stanza. She's hurt because he think's she reached the grief quota for her dead kid. She begs to differ.
"I'm not, I'm not!
You make me angry. I'll come down to you.
God, what a woman! And it's come to this,
A man can't speak of his own child that's dead."
- The fight is reaching a fever pitch.
- The wife has accused her husband of sneering at her, but he flatly denies it, and blames her for his reaction. It's all because she makes him angry.
- He's ready to bring the fight to her, and says he's coming down the stairs to where she's standing near the door.
- He's so angry that he declares, using God's name, "what a woman!" He seems to be talking to no one in particular—he's just venting his frustrations.
- He then delivers the ultimate line, that "it's come to this," and then repeats himself from line 37, complaining that he can't talk about his own dead kid.
- But wait a second. Look back at line 37. There, he phrased this statement a bit more gently, masking it behind a question, and speaking about the child as "lost," not dead.
- But he's not walking on eggshells anymore. Instead of gingerly speaking around a sore subject, he drops it right smack dab in the middle of the conversation (although, again, at this point, he's practically talking to himself).
"You can't because you don't know how to speak.
If you had any feelings, you that dug
With your own hand—how could you?—his little grave;
- Ah, the time has come for this lady to take a stand. No, she tells her husband, you can't speak about your dead child, because you don't know how to. Zing!
- She ends the sentence at the word "speak," leaving the "you don't know how to speak" accusation open to interpretation. Maybe it's not just the dead child that he doesn't know how to speak about, but a whole slew of things.
- But it's clear this guy does know how to talk about their dead child—just not in the way his wife likes.
- Apparently, that's because she doesn't think her husband has any feelings. Yikes. That's quite the low blow.
- Basically, she thinks it's impossible for him to have feelings, because he's the one who dug the child's grave with his "own hand." In a way, it almost sounds as if she thinks her husband has some sort of responsibility in her son's death. Well, he's certainly responsible for burying him at the very least. Maybe that was too final an act for her.
- Then she refers to his "little" grave, which echoes the way her husband referred to the "little graveyard" in line 24, and the "broad-shouldered little slabs" of stone in the graveyard in line 28. Yet the way that he used the word "little" was casual. He used it to paint the scene of the graveyard as quaint and comfortable, whereas her "little" shows her emotional connection to the child, and her heartbreak. No grave should be little, because it means a child is in it.
- Before you join the speaker in her shock that her husband dug his own child's grave, remember that this poem was written a long time ago, and about a family that seems to be in a rural area. In the early 1900s, it was much more common for families to bury their own dead at home (the title of the poem is "Home Burial," after all).
- For the man, who has lived in this house with a graveyard viewable from the window for a long time, digging the grave for this child may have just followed life as he knew it. But for the woman, his ability to dig his own child's grave was horrifying.
- These are two very different peas in a very uncomfortable pod. If this goes any further, Shmoop's definitely going to recommend marriage counseling.
I saw you from that very window there,
Making the gravel leap and leap in air,
Leap up, like that, like that, and land so lightly
And roll back down the mound beside the hole.
- Line 78 shows us yet another reason why the woman was frightened by what she could see through the window on the staircase. Not only does she see the grave of her child through the window every time she walks up and down that staircase, but she also watched her child's grave get dug through this very window. She's probably reminded of that traumatic day every time she walks downstairs.
- But what really bothers her is the way her husband dug the grave. He was a bit too jolly about it, in her humble opinion.
- All of the lightness and leaping (note the alliteration of the letter "l" in these lines) makes these movements sound unburdened, even joyful, as an average day's good work could be. When she says "like that, like that," we can even picture her gesturing, as if to show her husband what he really looked like as he was gravedigging.
- Of course, the more light and joyful the motion, the more offensive it is to her grief. That her baby's grave is being dug at all is bad enough, but that it's being dug without a heavy hand, or even the occasional pause for reflection, is what makes the whole thing truly unbearable.
I thought, Who is that man? I didn't know you.
And I crept down the stairs and up the stairs
To look again, and still your spade kept lifting.
- Ah, now we're really getting down to it, aren't we?
- The woman is so hurt by the manner in which her husband dug their son's grave that she finds herself wondering if she even knows the guy anymore. This is not a revelation that you want to have about anyone you thought you were close to, much less someone you're married to and living with.
- These lines have got to be tough for the husband to hear. Don't forget that the man is hearing everything we're reading. Talk about drama.
- She was in such disbelief at the sight that she had to look twice, just to be sure that her husband really was digging their child's grave in such a lighthearted way. And don't forget the opening scene. Her hesitant reversal on the stairs here is exactly what she did at the beginning of the poem. She's repeating herself.
Then you came in. I heard your rumbling voice
Out in the kitchen, and I don't know why,
But I went near to see with my own eyes.
- Now we get even more of the scene. According to the wife, after her husband was done gravedigging, he came into the kitchen and was chatting it up with someone, or perhaps he's talking to himself.
- So she decided to do a little spying.
- Let's see what she found out.
You could sit there with the stains on your shoes
Of the fresh earth from your own baby's grave
And talk about your everyday concerns.
You had stood the spade up against the wall
Outside there in the entry, for I saw it."
- What she sees when she walks down to the kitchen doesn't please her. Surprise, surprise.
- She spies her husband sitting, with, as she points out, dirt on his shoes from his child's grave.
- He doesn't seem all that bummed about what he's just had to do. In fact, he's talking about everyday matters as if there's nothing to the fact that he just dug his own kid's grave.
- And he's left the spade up against the wall in the entry, as if it's just another household tool.
- The fact that he could do this—that he could be so blasé—is what really gets this woman's goat.
- She's so affected by her grief, so unable to carry on with her everyday life, that it shocks and repulses her that her husband is able to dig a grave for his dead child and carry on with his. No wonder these two can't get along. They disagree about something that seems pretty important.
- We're willing to bet that he, too, was saddened by this loss, and merely didn't show his grief in the same way or to the same magnitude that she did. But we're also willing to bet that this woman doesn't see it that way.
- Also remember that he's probably grown up with a graveyard on his property. Death is a presence in his everyday life, and always has been, so while it may affect him, it might not affect him as much.