Mothers and Children
The speaker of this poem is the world’s worst mother. Okay, that might be a little harsh, but she’s definitely very critical of her “child,” the book described in the poem’s title. Wait, this isn’t a poem about actual parenting? Nope, parenting, motherhood, child-rearing—those are just metaphors for the relationship between the author and her book. Like a child, a work of art must be nurtured, developed, raised, taken care of, cleaned, taken to the bathroom… you get the idea. And, just like kids, sometimes our artistic “children” can drive us crazy. Unlike kids, however, we can sell our works of art if we want.
- Line 1: The poem’s first line starts off with a little derision from the speaker. The book is described as “ill-formed offspring.” Clearly this is a metaphor, one that makes the book’s contents into some kind of mutant child. Note that the author blames herself (“feeble brain”).
- Line 2: Continuing with the metaphor, the speaker essentially claims that she hid her “ill-formed” child (her book) from the public.
- Lines 3-4: The situation has become dire. The speaker’s friends kidnapped (“snatch[ed]”) this “ill-formed” child and exposed it to the world! Exposure is here a metaphor for the friends’ decision to get the book published.
- Line 8: The speaker says she blushed a lot when she discovered that her “rambling brat” of a book-child called her her mother… in print! This is a very poetic way of saying, “My book was published with my name on it.” The whole “rambling-brat” bit is a metaphor for both the book’s “rambling” journey across the Atlantic to England (to be published) and a jab at its style (at least according to the “mother” writing the poem).
- Lines 9-10: Like we said, the speaker isn’t the best mother. Here she basically tries to disown the book (“I cast thee by”) because she finds it so annoying and irritating (“irksome”).
- Lines 11-12: As a mother, however, the author can’t quite ignore her “child.” She wants to, but she can’t. Because it is her child, she feels some affection for it and wants to “amend” its “blemishes.” That last part there is definitely a metaphor for “revise the work’s faults.”
- Lines 13-14: The metaphor of revision-as-cleaning continues here. And now the speaker starts to seem like a better mom. She tries to rub the metaphorical dirt off the child-book, or wash its face, but with little success. She finds more “defects” and creates even more “flaws.”
- Lines 17: The speaker attempts to give her poems a “better dress.” This metaphor (a mother dressing her kids in nice clothes) makes the speaker seem a little more motherly than she has appeared so far.
- Line 22: These lines give us our first indication that we’re dealing with a single mom in this poem. The absence of the father (“say thou hadst none”) is a metaphor for the fact that the speaker wrote these poems—gave birth to them—all by herself, with no help from anybody else.
- Lines 23-24: Well, this “mother” is poor, which is why she “turned” her child “out of door.” That’s a metaphor for the fact that she sent the child-book away for publication. In other words, she sold it.