Study Guide

the mother Quotes

  • Life, Consciousness, and Existence

    Abortions will not let you forget.
    You remember the children you got that you did not get, (2)

    Right from the very first lines of the poem, the speaker refers to her aborted pregnancies as "children." She thus seems to suggest that they have life. Just imagine how different the poem would be if Brooks instead wrote: "You remember the fetuses you got that you did not get." The word "children" carries so much more emotional weight.

    You will never leave them, controlling your luscious sigh,
    Return for a snack of them, with gobbling mother-eye. (9-10)

    The speaker refers to her "mother-eye," and she imagines herself acting as a mother to real-life, breathing children. It's hard to imagine a "gobbling mother-eye" fixing itself on a fetus. The mother's fantasy of her non-existent children is intense—and embodied.

    I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children. (11)

    Okay, now the speaker refers to her non-existent children as "killed children." Interestingly, she doesn't say that she killed them; she uses "killed" as an adjective (not a verb). And, we've gotta ask: can something be killed that was never alive? We're starting to think that the poem suggests that life begins way before birth.

    I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
    Your luck
    And your lives from your unfinished reach,
    If I stole your births and your names,
    Your straight baby tears and your games,
    Your stilted or lovely loves, your tumults, your marriages, aches, and your deaths,
    If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
    Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate. (14-21)

    Here the speaker really ponders the lives and deaths of her non-existent children. She puts herself with the picture with the conditional "if"—if she "seized" their "lives," if she "poisoned" them. It's starting to sound like perhaps the speaker really believes that they were alive in utero.

    Since anyhow you are dead.
    Or rather, or instead,
    You were never made.
    But that too, I am afraid,
    Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
    You were born, you had body, you died.
    It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried. (24-30)

    Okay guys, if you were confused already, get ready for even more confusion. The speaker here is wavering and considering all of the different ways to categorize these aborted pregnancies. Then she breaks it down as simply as possible: they children had bodies, but they never lived. So, when does life begin for this "mother"? We're not sure, but we are sure that these unborn children were something more than just clumps of cells to the speaker.

  • Language and Communication

    Abortions will not let you forget.
    You remember the children you got that you did not get, (1-2)

    The poem begins in a pretty intense way. What makes it so intense, you ask? We think it's that "you" in the first line. That "you" involves us, the readers of the poem, and thus implicates us in the stakes of "the mother." The speaker isn't the only one who is trying to figure out her relationship with her aborted pregnancies. Her language puts us in that same position too.

    I have said, Sweets, if I sinned, if I seized
    Your luck
    And your lives from your unfinished reach,
    If I stole your births and your names, (14-17)

    Here the speaker addresses her "sweets" directly, and she says that she "seized" their lives. These lines tell us that then speaker believes that her terminated pregnancies did have a kind of life—even if those pregnancies never reached birth.

    Though why should I whine,
    Whine that the crime was other than mine?— (22-23)

    Woah, here's another intense moment. The speaker puts it all out on the table, and refers to her abortion as a "crime." There's no ambiguity in her language here.

    Since anyhow you are dead.
    Or rather, or instead,
    You were never made.
    But that too, I am afraid,
    Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
    You were born, you had body, you died.
    It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried. (24-30)

    In these lines, the speaker is once again trying to sort through her language, and figure out the best way to express both her feelings and experiences. But it ain't easy to put language to a being that never was. Even at the end of the poem, it seems that the mother is still struggling to put language to her experience.

  • Guilt and Blame

    Abortions will not let you forget.
    You remember the children you got that you did not get, (1-2)

    There's a sense of guilt in "the mother" right from the get-go. Abortions are not something that you can forget. They have a way of changing you, the poem suggests.

    I have heard in the voices of the wind the voices of my dim killed children. (11)

    By referring in this line (and throughout the poem, actually) to her children, the speaker implicitly acknowledges that they've had some kind of life. Consequently, they've been "killed" by the abortion. Hello, guilty conscience.

    Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate. (21)

    This is a tricky line. The speaker seems to say that even in her deliberate decision to have an abortion, she was not deliberate. Does this mean that she didn't kill her unborn children on purpose? That she did not realize the extent of her feelings for her not-yet-existent children? That she now regrets her deliberate decision? What do you think?

    Though why should I whine,
    Whine that the crime was other than mine?— (22-23)

    The use of the word "crime" is so loaded here. It's the ultimate admission of guilt in this poem. And there's a recognition here, too, that the abortion was no one's decision but her own. This is heavy stuff, guys.

    Believe me, I loved you all.
    Believe me, I knew you, though faintly, and I loved, I loved you
    All. (30-32)

    In these final lines of the poem, love seems to overcome guilt. The speaker doesn't end by talking about crimes; she ends by talking above love. Does this mean she's moved on? Probably not. After all, abortions don't let you forget. But maybe these lines suggest a glimmer of hope. Perhaps love endures longer than guilt, and love will be her way of coping with her guilt from now on.

  • Politics

    Abortions will not let you forget.
    You remember the children you got that you did not get, (1-2)

    By addressing the audience in these opening lines, the speaker immediately involves us, her readers, in her poem. It asks us to think about abortion not just in terms of one woman's choices, but in terms of our own. This move from the personal to the public right in the beginning of the poem forces us to think about the politics of abortion. There's no escape! Politics is all around us.

    If I poisoned the beginnings of your breaths,
    Believe that even in my deliberateness I was not deliberate.
    Though why should I whine,
    Whine that the crime was other than mine?— (20-23)

    In these lines, the speaker brings up her deliberateness—her conscious decision—but also her "crime." These two words in tandem make it sound like she is convicting herself of a deliberate crime. But is abortion actually a crime? Not today. But when Brooks wrote this poem, abortion was a crime in some states.

    Since anyhow you are dead.
    Or rather, or instead,
    You were never made.
    But that too, I am afraid,
    Is faulty: oh, what shall I say, how is the truth to be said?
    You were born, you had body, you died.
    It is just that you never giggled or planned or cried. (24-30)

    The speaker's struggle to put language to her experience (and the experience of her non-existing children) is not just personal, but political. How we refer to aborted pregnancies is always already a political decision.