(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“The Stream” is a narrative poem, written in rhymed couplets, which relates the events of the speaker’s last four days spent with her mother. The time is three months after the death of the speaker’s father; her mother is in a nursing home and hates it. The mother’s memory is failing, with the result that, by mistake, she makes a huge effort and dresses herself for a special lunch with her daughter. The lunch is really tomorrow, but the daughter is touched that her frail mother has made so much effort on her own, even fastening to her blouse a pin the daughter once brought her from Madrid.

The daughter has arranged for a special lunch in a lounge in a distant wing of the home, and when they arrive, the mother is uneasy. She does not like it here, she says, and she worries about finding a bathroom if she needs one. Yet when the lunch arrives with its special tablecloth and dishes, she calms herself and enjoys it. She eats more than she has in months, finishes her soup, and eats her own cakes and the daughter’s, too, with the daughter feeding her. The daughter remembers that her mother used to like restaurants, although her husband refused to spend the money for them, and that memory, along with her mother’s urgent thanks, brings tears to the daughter’s eyes.

On their last night together, the daughter helps her mother get ready for bed and watches her go through the rituals of a lifetime—finding the nightgown, washing her face....

(The entire section is 562 words.)

The Stream Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Burns, Michael, ed. Discovery and Reminiscence: Essays on the Poetry of Mona Van Duyn. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1998.

Hall, Judith. “Strangers May Run: The Nation’s First Woman Poet Laureate.” The Antioch Review 52, no. 1 (Winter, 1994): 141.

Prunty, Wyatt.“Fallen from the Symboled World”: Precedents for the New Formalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.