Two Poems about Mothers

For all my eccentricities (there are 42, I counted), the one thing I am very serious about is poetry. As an English teacher, it is probably my favourite aspect of the subject. There is such a wealth of beautiful poetry out there and there is nothing more rewarding than searching for your own meaning in a verse. (Except pizza. Pizza is always more rewarding.) 

Here are two poems written by Irish poets that I think you guys will enjoy. The both have a common theme, in that both poets are fondly remembering their mothers and their respective memories of them.

The first is by one of my favourite poets, Seamus Heaney. This poem was recently chosen as Ireland’s favourite poem. 

When all the others were away at Mass

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives–
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

(For those of you who may not be aware of what ‘Mass’ is, it’s what Catholic people call going to church.)

The next poem is similarly poignant and evocative. It is by Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh.

In Memory of My Mother

I do not think of you lying in the wet clay 
Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see 
You walking down a lane among the poplars 
On your way to the station, or happily 

Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday – 
You meet me and you say: 
‘Don’t forget to see about the cattle – ‘ 
Among your earthiest words the angels stray. 

And I think of you walking along a headland 
Of green oats in June, 
So full of repose, so rich with life – 
And I see us meeting at the end of a town 

On a fair day by accident, after 
The bargains are all made and we can walk 
Together through the shops and stalls and markets 
Free in the oriental streets of thought. 

O you are not lying in the wet clay, 
For it is a harvest evening now and we 
Are piling up the ricks against the moonlight 
And you smile up at us – eternally.


I hope you enjoyed these lovely poems. They certainly evoke some powerful emotions in me. Have a great evening 🙂

A Beautiful Poem: The Skunk by Seamus Heaney

The Skunk

Up, black, striped and damasked like the chasuble
At a funeral mass, the skunk’s tail
Paraded the skunk. Night after night
I expected her like a visitor.

The refrigerator whinnied into silence.
My desk light softened beyond the verandah.
Small oranges loomed in the orange tree.
I began to be tense as a voyeur.

After eleven years I was composing
Love-letters again, broaching the word ‘wife’
Like a stored cask, as if its slender vowel
Had mutated into the night earth and air

Of California. The beautiful, useless
Tang of eucalyptus spelt your absense.
The aftermath of a mouthful of wine
Was like inhaling you off a cold pillow.

And there she was, the intent and glamorous,
Ordinary, mysterious skunk,
Mythologized, demythologized,
Snuffing the boards five feet beyond me.

It all came back to me last night, stirred
By the sootfall of your things at bedtime,
Your head-down, tail-up hunt in a bottom drawer
For the black plunge-line nightdress.

Today, I read the poem ‘The Skunk’ with my pupils. It is one of my favourite romantic poems and my students loved it. It elicited a great discussion of what constitutes romance and I left class knowing that my students had personally connected with this beautiful poem.

In terms of being “romantic”, it is unconventional to say the least. The poet compares his wife to a skunk, which on the surface, is not the most flattering of comparisons. However, a deeper look at the poem reveals the affection and tenderness that is evident between the poet and his wife. I love it because it is not cliched; it is affectionately teasing and the comparison makes sense to them. His deep love and desire for his wife is obvious.

Heaney died last year at the age of 74. His last words, to his beloved wife, were in beautiful simple Latin: Noli timere, meaning “don’t be afraid”.