Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Published during Rita Dove’s tenure as poet laureate, Mother Love shows her grace and skill as a poet. The title announces the subject clearly, but the poems have a range of emotion and observation that surprises the reader continually. The figures behind the poems are Persephone and Demeter, a daughter and mother who learn to be together and apart. Real places and other mothers and daughters blend with the mythic. Stylistically, the poems have a range, but most of them are sonnets—not traditional sonnets, but sonnets nevertheless—and the concluding section is a crown of sonnets associating Demeter and Persephone with a woman’s relationship with the earth that mirrors her, and with the whole mother-daughter cycle of love and loss. The poet herself slips into the cycle too, as another face of woman. Dove comments in her introduction that “The Demeter/Persephone cycle of betrayal and regeneration is ideally suited for this [sonnet] form since all three—mother-goddess, daughter-consort, and poet—are struggling to sing in their chains.”
The first poem, “Heroes,” although not a sonnet, is a nightmarish representation of a woman’s mixed feelings of desperation, responsibility, and guilt. It reads, in fact, like a bad dream—the person addressed as “you” picks a poppy in the field and asks at a nearby house for a jar of water to preserve it, but the woman of the house “starts/ screaming: you’ve picked the last poppy/ in...
(The entire section is 985 words.)
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