Discuss the complexity of the mother’s emotions in Seamus Heaney’s poem, “Mother of The Groom”.
By: Zuraini Mokhtar (1997)
Faculty of Language Studies, UKM
The speaker of the poem Mother of The Groom by Seamus Heaney is the Persona while the setting is on the wedding day of a mother’s son. The poem is mainly about the complex feelings or emotions of the mother towards her son’s marriage. It seems like she does not give a warm welcome to the marriage but rather cold and sad, remembering that her son will be apart from her.
In the first stanza, the Persona describes how the mother flashbacks the moment when her son was still a very little child. She remembers how she bathed her small son and the memory really touches her feelings especially when she recalls it during the wedding day. She was very happy at the past, bathing her son who relied on her and seeing how the son shining in the bath. However, that was just a sweet memory to her. Presently, she is very sad. In contrast to the mother’s feelings, the word ‘glistening’ is used by the Persona in line 2. ‘Glistening’ is usually connected with shine, flash, sparkle and twinkle which resemble beautiful, enjoyable and glorious. For the mother, the beautiful, enjoyable and glorious time is only in the past, not during the wedding day of her son.
In the second stanza, the Persona describes the mother’s feelings when she realizes that her son has grown up and a daughter-in-law of hers is coming. The first two lines of the second stanza shows that the son has grown up and about to get a daughter. Another interpretation of the first two lines is now the mother has lost her son to another woman called a daughter-in-law and the daughter-in-law is welcomed that day. The line “She hears a daughter welcomed” could mean that the mother’s son is about to get a daughter after he got married and the second interpretation is the mother herself is getting a daughter-in-law. The word ‘voided’ in line 5 refers to empty, bare or blank which means that the mother’s feeling is also empty and worthless because she is losing her son. The Persona compares the situation with the last two lines of the second stanza. The mother’s feeling is described as shocked and scared just like whenever one loses hold of her child from her soapy hands. The mother is shocked and scared to get a daughter-in-law because before, her son was always with her and now suddenly, she loses him and a daughter-in-law is coming into her life. For the mother, the arrival of the bride means losing her son.
The last stanza is the Persona’s description of the mother’s prediction on her son’s marriage in the future. She thinks of the possibility of the couple to get divorce one day because what the Persona means from the lines “Once soap would ease off, The wedding ring” is it is possible that the bride will sooner or later lose the wedding ring as well as her husband. It is described as easy as when a soap can ease off a ring from one’s finger. However, a paradox arises in the stanza because of the word “ease off” which is contrast to the word “forever”. A marriage is always hoped to last forever, to be endless and to be eternal and yet, the soap can ease off the ‘everlasting’ marriage. The last line of the stanza shows that the bride is happy on her wedding day yet the mother is not because she keeps thinking whether the bride could be like the mother who is caring towards the son or not. Somehow she fears that the bride could not treat the son as good as the mother had done throughout her son’s life before. Perhaps, the mother has another thought towards what is happening. Maybe the mother hopes that the marriage would not last that the bride will lose the wedding ring because she somehow disapproves the marriage. Thus, she wishes that what happens to her that is losing her son, will happen to the bride as well. The words ‘forever’ and ‘clapping hand’ which are used by the Persona are contrast to the mother’s feelings. Her feelings are not as ‘bright’ as the words.
As a conclusion, the mother’s feelings are complex as described in the poem. She is confused, sad, shocked and scared because she cannot accept the fact that her son is now a man and a husband. Although some words used by the Persona resemble happiness, joyous and bright, the mother is actually out of it.