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Comment on the use of imagery in the poem "Of Mothers, Among Other Things" by A. K....

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monishajaising | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 16, 2012 at 1:25 PM via web

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Comment on the use of imagery in the poem "Of Mothers, Among Other Things" by A. K. Ramanujan and on what effect the style of punctuation has on the imagery of the poem.

Of Mothers Among Other Things by A. K. Ramanujan

I smell upon this twisted     1
blackbone tree the silk and white
petal of my mother's youth.
From her ear-rings three diamonds
splash a handful of needles,    5
and I see my mother run back
from rain to the crying cradles
The rains tack and sew
with broken thread the rags          
of the tree-tasselled light.    10
But her hands are a wet eagle's 
two black pink-crinkled feet,
one talon crippled in a garden-                             
trap set for a mouse. Her saris
do not cling: they hang, loose    15
feather of a onetime wing.
My cold parchment tongue licks bark            
in the mouth when I see her four
still sensible fingers slowly flex
to pick a grain of rice from the kitchen floor.    20

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K.P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted July 16, 2012 at 7:10 PM (Answer #1)

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The images in this poem (quoted above) are based upon contradictions. The first, "upon this twisted / blackbone tree the silk and white / petal of my mother's youth," dramatizes the contradiction between a twisted black tree and the white of youthful skin. The two contrasting images are so deftly woven together that the petals of the black tree represent the "silk and white" of a mother's youth. Thus at one and the same time, nature symbolizes the "twisted" spent youth of a warn out mother and her past energized, soft youth of "silk and white petal[s)."

A similar contradictory contrast occurs in the next image where her beautiful diamond earrings spray forth sewing needles, one of the tools of a mother's trade. Later, her hands and feet are compared to an eagle's talons in another contrasting contradiction. Her eagle's feet-hands are wet--another tool of a mother's trade: wash water--and her pink feet are crippled talons, crippled from an accident with a garden mouse trap.

Another comment about the imagery is that, in the midst of the improbable comparisons, true events are told: running in from the rain to the sound of crying babies ("crying cradles"); a foot caught in a garden mouse trap; a withered figure that was a "onetime wing" of prowess and beauty. The punctuation is critical for understanding these improbable, contrasting, contradictory comparisons that comprise the imagery because, by themselves, they defy logic and need signposts pointing to logical comprehension. The punctuation provides these signposts. The simple punctuation of period (end stop) and comma tell where each logical unit of imagery begins and ends. For instance, consider the punctuation in this passage:

    From her ear-rings three diamonds
    splash a handful of needles,    5
    and I see my mother run back
    from rain to the crying cradles
    The rains tack and sew
    with broken thread the rags          
    of the tree-tasselled light.    10

Despite the irregular capitalization, we know that all the lines form a logical whole because of the punctuation. We know that the "handful of needles" splashing from the diamond earrings is logically connected to "The rains tack and sew" because the comma indicates the continuation of a thought. The absence of further punctuation shows that it is the "rags" that she sews in light speckled by the shadow of trees:

    The rains tack and sew
    with broken thread the rags          
    of the tree-tasselled light.    10

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