Mother at Sixty Six
By Kamla Das
§ The poem ‘My Mother at Sixty Six’ is composed by Kamla Das, a well known new age Indian poet from Kerala. Her works are known for their originality, versatility and the indigenous flavour of the soil.
§ The poem is subjective as it describes the emotions of the poet associated with her childhood and mother. It brings her childhood memories back and the fears associated with her mother and separation from her mother.
§ The poem is rich in language and profound in emotional content with the wonderful handling of words and expressions. It is free verse without any rhyming scheme.
§ The impactful description for emotions in the poem successfully sensitises the readers to accept death and aging through his powerful imagery, metaphor, simile and skilful handling of other poetic devices.
§ The poem is a free verse without any stanza division, rhyme scheme and full stop. This form is used to highlight the continuity of life and uninterrupted thoughts of the poet.
§ This beautiful poem depicts a daughter-mother relation and fear of losing one’s relations.
Line by Line Explanation
Driving from my parent’s home to
Cochin last Friday morning,
I saw my mother, beside me,
doze, open mouthed,
her face ashen like that of a corpse
· The poetess, Kamla Das was driving from her home to Kochin along with her mother who is 66 years old. It was Friday morning and she was going to airport. Her mother was going to see her off. As the poet was driving, her mother was sitting beside her and taking a nap (light sleep) with her mouth open due to sleep. Her face was dull and colourless just like a dead body. This made the poet scared and sad. When she saw her mother’s dull and dead face, she realised that her mother had grown old and might die soon. When he remembers his mother, he recalls what his mother used to do in the past. He recalls how his mother used to make the poet and his siblings sleep and when they had slept, she used to lovingly look at the faces of her children.
And realized with pain
that she was as old as she looked
but soon put that thought away,
· The poet realized that her mother was very old as she appeared to be and she might die soon. But, this realisation was quite painful to her. She felt sad and uncomfortable to think of her mother’s death and separation from her. She could not bear this thought that her mother would be dying, soon. The poetess, Kamla Das wanted to put this thought away. Hence, she started looking out of the window of her car.
And looked out at
Young trees sprinting,
The merry children
Spilling out of their homes,
· The poet looked out of the window of her car to divert her attention. Outside, she saw that the young trees were running back as she was driving ahead. (It is a very common sight while travelling) She also saw that the young children were coming out of their homes and they were very happy to come out, play and make merry. The scenes that the poetess witnessed outside are a big contrast to what she saw inside her car. Inside, her mother’s face is dull and dead like ash and dead body and outside the world is full of youth, energy and life.
but after the airport’s security check,
standing a few yards away,
I looked again at her, wan, pale
as a late winter’s moon
· When the poetess reached the airport’s security check, her mother stood little away because she had come to see the poet off. The poet looked at her mother’s face which is pale and colourless. It has lost the brightness just like the moon of late winter which shines faintly and is not clearly visible because of foggy atmosphere. As the poet was looking again and again at her old mother, the fear of separation from her mother started vexing her again.
And felt that
Old familiar ache,
my childhood’s fear,
· While looking at her mother’s dull and dead face, the old and familiar fear of separation from her mother grappled her heart again. In childhood she was under constant fear that she might lose her mother just as young children get scared easily that they might be separated from their mother and that’s why they catch hold of their mother’s finger or clothes tightly. The childhood fear which is familiar to the poet, was haunting her again while she was going away from her mother.
but all I said was,
see you soon, Amma,
all I did was smile
and smile and smile......
Though the poet was fearful and going through the pain, she didn’t say anything. She only bade her mother goodbye and said, ‘see you soon mother’. With these words she also gave a hopeful smile. The word ‘smile’ is repeated three times to emphasize the emotions of the poet who is trying to hide her fear that she might not be able to see her mother next time. She smiles to assure her mother and herself that she will see her next time. She wants to hide her fear and show her hope through her broad smiles.
Doze - light sleep/short nap
Ashen - colourless
Corpse - dead body
Sprinting - Running fast (here running back)
spilling - moving out / flowing down
wan - Colourless / dull
Familiar ache - Pain
already felt / experienced in childhood
• My Mother at Sixty-Six – Alliteration
• My Mother at Sixty-Six - Assonance
• Face ashen like that of a corpse – Simile
• Young trees sprinting– Personification & Imagery
• merry children spilling out – Imagery, metaphor
• her, wan, pale as a late winter’s moon – Simile
• Trees (life), children (vigour & energy), moon (fading beauty) - Symbolism
• all I said was, see you soon– Alliteration
• All I did was smile and smile and smile..... - Repetition
• All I did was smile and smile and smile..... - Polysyndeton
Important Questions Answers
Q. What is the significance of the line ‘Young trees sprinting and the merry children spilling out of their homes’?
Through these two beautiful images the poet wants to make stark contrast between the aging and withering mother and the world outside which is full of youth, energy, vigour and life. Through these images the poet tries to highlight the philosophy of life that life goes on despite that her mother is old and might die soon.
Q. Why has the mother been compared to ‘late winter’s moon’?
Ans. Through this beautiful simile the poet’s mother is compared to the moon of late winter, which is shining faintly as it is winter time. The moon’s brightness is diminished due to fog. Her mother’s face has lost its beauty and brightness due to old age. Hence, she is compared to the moon of late winter.
Q. What do the poet’s parting words and her smiles convey?
Ans. While the poet is going to take her flight and bids her mother good bye, she says, ‘see you soon, Amma’. With these parting words she also smiles broadly. The word ‘smile’ is repeated thrice, which is quite meaningful. Through this repetition the poet wants to emphasize her emotions that she is going through. The poet is trying to hide her fear that she might not be able to see her mother next time. She smiles to assure her mother and herself that she will see her next time. She also wants to strengthen her hope through her broad smiles.