The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Teeth Mother Naked at Last” is a long, frequently subjective, meditation on the American involvement in the Vietnam War. It describes the “harm” the war has done to America and to Americans “inwardly.” The poem is divided into seven numbered and self-contained sections ranging in length (in the final Selected Poems version) from eight to fifty-three lines. Each section is divided into stanzas of uneven lengths. Several sections are further divided into subsections, separated by asterisks, and section 3 contains two paragraphs of prose. One part of section 2 was originally published independently, in quite different form, in The Nation (March 25, 1968), and another part of this section originally appeared in Robert Bly’s play, The Satisfaction of Vietnam (1968).

The title refers to one of the “mothers” that make up the mystical cult of the Great Mother, which first appeared in ancient times. The Teeth or Stone Mother attempts to destroy consciousness and spiritual growth and has come to stand for the destruction of the psyche in Jungian psychology.

The poem begins with airplanes and helicopters (“death-bees”) lifting off from the decks of ships and flying over Vietnamese villages to bomb the people huddled in the “vegetable-walled” huts. This massive destruction, without mercy even for innocent children, is seen as the end result of what has happened in the American political system. The voices of soldiers are heard ordering the killing of “anything moving,” and the reed huts of the Vietnamese villagers are set afire. The...

(The entire section is 658 words.)