The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Lucille Clifton’s “the lost baby poem” is an elegy—a poem written in mourning for one who has died—yet it is also a lyric of hope and a promise made to an absent presence: the lost baby.

The speaker is a woman who has been forced by her poverty to abort her baby. The “almost body” was swept out to sea with the sewage, she says—an observation both powerfully repulsive and grief-ridden. The questioning refrain, “what did I know about waters rushing back . . .” refers to her inexperience at the time. Could she have found some way to avoid her final choice? The line hints at her subsequent suffering: the terrible realization of what she has done, rushing back to her.

One recognizes that the waters are those “under the city,” but they also represent female waters. The author alludes to the ageless link between the female spirit and reproductive cycle and to the cycles of the moon and tides. Thus “the waters” are also the waters of the womb, or life-giving waters. Apart from the the obvious, the “waters rushing back” may refer to her sorrow: “what did I know about drowning/ or being drowned.” In stanza 1, however, the speaker wishes most simply to state what happened.

The second stanza explains further the circumstances that influenced the speaker’s actions. The images are cold and bleak; the memory is difficult for her to confront. Yet in stanza 2, the woman refuses guilt, blame, and self-pity....

(The entire section is 591 words.)