Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 341
This poem describes a woman who has taken her own life and has become perfect, in a way: whole again in death.
Her dead face is frozen in a smile, and the speaker seems to allude to the ritual suicides expected of those who were dishonored in ancient Rome and Greece. The poet uses a metaphor, comparing the smile to a piece of clothing which one might "wear." The allusion to these ritual suicides through the garment that the woman wears—evocative of a toga—seems to imply that she has done something disgraceful or dishonorable by referencing this symbol of Roman or Greek culture; perhaps this references the state in which all women live.
Her feet are bare and are personified: they are given the ability to testify about how far they have carried her and the relief they now feel, having finished carrying her. Additionally, she is holding her dead children, each of whom are cradling a small milk pitcher; it seems as though she may have poisoned them in order to be with them in death. Each of the children are compared, via a simile, to a white serpent. The color white, as a symbol of purity and innocence, is therefore combined with a typical symbol for evil or temptation: the snake. The speaker says that she has "folded" these children back into her body, from where they originally came, like the petals of a flower that closes up at night (another simile).
The moon is also personified, described as not feeling sad about these deaths at all; she simply stares down at what is happening because these sights are so familiar to her. The final line, which appears to reference both the moon's effects on the tides and on women's reproductive systems—the moon's phase and a typical period of menstruation are both twenty eight days—seems to suggest that there is something elemental about women's weariness, struggle, and pain. Perhaps this is what caused the woman described to take her life and that of her children.