Themes: Death/Human Suffering, Parent/child, Courage, Religious Imagery, Vivid Imagery

Type: Blank Verse

Form – 2 stanzas – different lengths – lines aren’t long – clearly explains with simple meanings


  • Written by Chinua Achebe
  • This is a heartbreaking poem about a young mother in a refugee camp and her devotion to her dying child


  • The poem uses simple language to convey the unbearable sadness of the scene
  • Emotionally touching and descriptive
  • Repetition of words “washed/unwashed”, “ghost and “mother are like sad little repetitive echoes throughout the poem
  • Sensory language – smells and sights
  • Sickening images evoked contrast with the mother’s spirit
  • Poet relies heavily on enjambment to create effects


  • The mother’s utter devotion to her dead or dying child is heartbreaking and tragic
  • Mixed emotions – unbearable sadness and horror of the situation and admiration for the mother’s courage and love


  • The Madonna and Child is a piece of religious imagery
  • Gives the mother & child a superhuman goodness/sacrifice taking them beyond the camp
  • The conventional image of Madonna and Child shows a sad-sweet expression – she knew she was going to lose her child – mirrored in this poem
  • Jesus was born in a stable, conditions not far removed from the poem
  • Skeletal images – “skull”, “rib” and “grave”
  • Contrasts – between normality (combing her child’s hair) and the horror of the refugee camp
  • Repetition “ghost” implying that the mother and child will soon be ghosts

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