Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The main theme of “The Teeth Mother Naked at Last” is the age-old theme of the terror and the horror wrought by war. This poem reminds one of other powerful antiwar poems, both about the Vietnam War and other, earlier, wars. Now that war involves the prospect of and, indeed, the inevitability of, mass destruction—including the innocent as well as the “guilty”—the issues have become more demanding, just as the terrors have become more terrifying. There is, then, a greater pressure to protest. Bly’s poem leads the way.

“The Teeth Mother Naked at Last” is a poem that demands a response and a reaction. In form and theme, in its large and small design, it forces the reader toward making a response, toward a reaction, and toward taking action.

Like many of Bly’s shorter antiwar poems in The Light Around the Body (1967), “The Teeth Mother Naked at Last” is didactic, propagandistic, and controversial, both in terms of its theme and its “meaning” or significance. It is a political, social, even psychological analysis of the malaise of modern society, which came to a climax in the Vietnam War—a war here seen and described as the latest, the most immediate, and the most terrifying example of man’s inhumanity to man. In forcing these issues on the reader, Bly is attempting to awaken readers from the sleeplike state in which they have existed and continue to exist, to awaken them to what they are doing to themselves...

(The entire section is 491 words.)