Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

When “For the Hillmother” appeared in A Slow Dance, it was the sixth of seven poems in the opening section of that book. A number of images and themes in the poem are repeated, and sometimes clarified, elsewhere in the section. The opening lines of the first poem (“Back”)—“Darkness, cave/ drip, earth womb/ we move slowly/ back to our origins”—introduce darkness and wetness (which recur in “For the Hillmother”) and evoke both primordial and prenatal shelter (prehistoric in two senses). Most important, these lines begin the motion “back to our origins” which is characteristic of Montague’s work in general.

The third poem in the section (a prose poem, “The Dance”) concludes with a sentence in which wetness and darkness are again associated and in which the human figure, the dancer, has grown as close to the earth as a deeply-rooted tree: “In wet and darkness you are reborn, the rain falling on your face as it would on a mossy tree trunk, wet hair clinging to your skull like bark, your breath mingling with the exhalations of the earth, that eternal smell of humus and mould.”

“For the Hillmother” celebrates the “pull/ of the earth,” embraces the “move . . ./ back to our origins”; in doing so, it links up with what is probably the major theme in Montague’s poetry: exile and return. For reasons traceable to disruptions in Ireland and in his own life (born in Brooklyn, New York; sent at age four...

(The entire section is 435 words.)