Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 425

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“Remedies, Maladies, Reasons” is a love poem. It examines a mother’s overbearing love for her daughter and the daughter’s attempt to come to terms with her memories of that, at times, misdirected love. It is also a poem of praise, however, a character study of a woman—warts, snot, bile, belches, mucus, gas, and all.

Van Duyn, in college, away from the cloying love of her mother, is able, for the first time, to bear “like a strange bubble the health of [her] body/ as [she] walked the fantastic land of the ordinary.” In this poem she is able, perhaps for the first time as well, to appreciate her mother as a larger-than-life character, one motivated by love. She is able to see, by the poem’s close, what it is like to walk in the land of love’s hallucinations.

The third section of this poem is a single line that has a double meaning. The line simply says, “Do you think I don’t know how love hallucinates?” This line explains how the mother can be both a “suppurating, rotting, stinking, swellingmachine” and an “attractive woman.” The love the mother felt for her daughter forced her to hallucinate about all the horrors that could befall her once-sickly child; but, on the other hand, love also allows the daughter to see the mother as something other than a sick flesh machine. Love purifies vision; the warts and all, accented so terribly in the first fifty couplets, are removed by the power of love. The loving mother is loved. She is attractive because of that love.

These hallucinations of love could, however, have another meaning. The poet imagines her mother “armed with pills, oils, drops,/ gargles, liniments, flannels, salves, syrups,/ waterbag, icebag,” doing heroic battle, over her daughter’s bed, with the Enemy—death. Van Duyn imagines that the mother will always drive her Enemy “from every sickening place where he hides and waits,” but this is the ultimate hallucination. The Enemy always must win eventually, and that is the final terror of the poem. The daughter must be separated from her mother by death, and Van Duyn must also be separated from “the fantastic land of the ordinary” by death. The love one feels from a mother and for a mother may allow one to imagine an escape from death’s sting, but the fantasy cannot last long. Van Duyn knows that it is only a hallucination when she imagines death always defeated. She knows that life, regrettably, is coupled with death.