Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 452
The opening line, "The woman is perfected," feels quite significant, as it seems to imply not only that women are supposed to be perfect but also that there is only one way for a woman to achieve perfection: to die. This is why her "Body wears the smile of accomplishment"; she has finally achieved something of significance to society: she has made herself perfect in the only way available to her. In taking her life, she has reclaimed any dishonor or disgrace she might have brought upon herself during her life, just as those marked by disgrace in the ancient world might have taken their lives in a ritual suicide: "a Greek necessity."
The woman's bare feet, personified, seem to say "We have come so far, it is over." Her feet, then, are tired, and they have taken her far during her life, as mothers always have so very much to do, so very far to go. They are tired because she was tired. Perhaps this is why she has taken her own life, and perhaps this is why she seems to have taken her children's lives too.
Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,
One at each little
Pitcher of milk, now empty.
The children are characterized as white serpents, as they probably appear to be pale and flexible, as they have been posed in death. However, white is often the color of purity and innocence (think angels) while serpents are often symbolic of evil or temptation (think Garden of Eden). As children, they were likely innocent, but perhaps they represented some evil to their mother: perhaps they wore her too thin, made her too tired, stretched her too far. Now,
She has folded
Them back into her body as petals
Of a rose close when the garden
Stiffens and odors bleed
From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.
Here, we see that she seems responsible for their deaths, as she has folded them back into herself. They close together, like a flower, an almost pretty image until the description of the flower's odor-bleeding throats. Unlike Eden, or paradise, this garden is frightening and deadly, and it suggests a coarse vitality with its conflation of flower parts and body parts.
The moon, likewise, is compared to a part of the body, described as "Staring from her hood of bone." Personified, the moon "is used to this sort of thing": women made perfect in death, no longer bleeding or needing or tiring or failing in some way. There is some occult relationship among woman and night flower and moon, and perhaps this accounts for what kept this woman from being perfect in life (as her menstrual cycle is the same length as the moon's cycle).