“A Woman Mourned by Daughters”, by Adrienne Rich, is a very descriptive poem in which two women are speaking to their dead mother.  There are several parts to this poem starting from when the mother dies and moving gradually backward to when the daughters were young girls.

It begins with the daughters sitting in their mother’s kitchen, “mourning” over their mother’s death, only they aren’t upset or crying (Lines 1-3). They are “spent” (drained and tired) from all the pressure their mother put on them, before and after she died.

The next section (Lines 4-10) is a description of their dead mother as a persistent presence in their lives.  They are so burdened by the power she still carries over them, even though she is no longer living.

They proceed in speaking about her as an elderly woman, weak and frail, “a straw blown on the bed” (Lines 11-14).   They describe her on her death bed. “Like a corpse pulled from the sea”.

In the fourth section (Lines 15-20) they discuss that what upsets them now that she is gone, isn’t the fact that she died, it is all the things that she used to do to them.  A knot forms in their throats (“what rises in our throats like the food you prodded in”) as they think about how they used to be treated.

After the mother dies, the daughters are left with several responsibilities which are discussed in the next section (Lines 22-28).  These responsibilities are not ones that the daughters would be happy to take care of.  They are so hateful toward their mother and the problems she left are only a burden to them.  They feel that they are still being pushed around even after she is dead.  Even the thought of taking care of their sick and dying father is thought of as a chore instead of a blessing.

The final section of this poem (Lines 29-33) basically states that if they do something, and it isn’t exactly the way their mother would have wished it done, they will be punished.  They will feel the guilt from their mother, from beyond the grave, if they do not do things the way she did them, or would have wanted them done.

The author of this poem made the daughters the speaker and the mother the auditor.  In some ways it makes you feel sorry for the mother, yet in others, you feel sorry that the daughters went through all this and have to live with it for the rest of their lives.  It probably would have been written totally differently if it were written in the eyes of the dead mother as opposed to the daughters.

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William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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