The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Youngest Daughter” is a monologue in fifty-two lines of delicately cadenced verse divided into five stanzas of differing lengths. The speaker of the poem is the youngest daughter of her family, and she is burdened with caring for her aging parent. Her monologue reveals a conflict of emotions within her: Love and pity for her invalid mother clash with feelings of resentment and entrapment for having to deny herself.

In the first stanza, Cathy Song evokes the effects of aging upon both women. The housebound daughter describes her skin becoming “damp/ and pale,” while her mother’s skin is “parched” from having labored in the fields. Both images are joined referentially by sunlight or the lack of it. The daughter’s condition results from being cloistered and kept in the “dark/ for many years,” whereas her mother’s condition results from spending too much time in the “drying sun.” Thus one of the paradoxes in this poem emerges: The sufferings of mother and daughter, though different, are also similar. Another contradiction rests on the reversal of roles that continually takes place. The mother and daughter switch back and forth between being the caregiver and the cared for, the soother of pain and its cause. In stanza 2, the daughter’s eyes are burning with frustration. Ironically, it is suggested that the mother, who tries to soothe her daughter’s “migraine,” is also the cause of it.

In stanza 3, the daughter...

(The entire section is 481 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The cadences of Song’s verse are as unobtrusive as breathing. They ripple and eddy in her speaker’s stream of thought that seemingly proceeds from the very heart of her being. Upon this introspective stream, Song launches intricately contrasting images that create the poem’s irony and paradox. Light and heat, food, and the body are the primary sources of Song’s imagery. The poem begins by contrasting mother and daughter in terms of sunlight and skin. For the speaker-daughter, “The sky has been dark/ for many years,” a powerful image of long-term deprivation that suggests a seed with arrested germination. Expressed in terms of the body, her “skin has become as damp/ and pale as rice paper”: overly delicate, pallid, and friable. The daughter’s sunless state contrasts starkly with the mother’s overexposure to the sun that has parched her skin in the fields. The mother’s experience of the exterior heat and light of the sun is, in turn, contrasted with an internal fever and pain that sears the daughter’s body. The daughter says that when she touches her eyelids, they feel “hot enough to burn”; her “skin, aspirin colored,/ tingles with migraine”; and “pain flares up” on her face.

These two initial stanzas intimate the long-term situation of the two women. The rest of the poem describes two specific scenes, a morning bath and an afternoon meal, that are symmetrically balanced and contrasted: In the morning, the daughter is the...

(The entire section is 512 words.)


(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Chang, Juliana. “Reading Asian American Poetry.” MELUS 21, no. 1 (Spring, 1996): 81-98.

Chun, Gary. “Poet Sings of Journey of Life.” Honolulu Star-Bulletin, January 11, 2002.

Cobb, Nora Okja. “Artistic and Cultural Mothering in the Poetics of Cathy Song.” In New Visions in Asian American Studies: Diversity, Community, Power, edited by Franklin Ng et al. Pullman: Washington State University Press, 1994.

Fujita-Sato, Gayle K. “’Third World’ as Place and Paradigm in Cathy Song’s Picture Bride.” MELUS 15, no. 1 (Spring, 1988): 49-72.

Hugo, Richard. Foreword to Picture Bride, by Cathy Song. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1983.

Lim, Shirley. Review of Picture Bride, by Cathy Song. MELUS 10, no. 3 (Fall, 1983): 95-99.

Song, Cathy. “Cathy’s Song: Interview with Cathy Song.” Interview by David Choo. Honolulu Weekly 4 (June 15, 1994): 6-8.

Song, Cathy, and Juliet S. Kono. Introduction to Sister Stew: Fiction and Poetry by Women. Honolulu: Bamboo Ridge Press, 1991.

Sumida, Stephen. And the View from the Shore: Literary Traditions of Hawaii. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991.

Wallace, Patricia. “Divided Loyalties: Literal and Literary in the Poetry of Lorna Dee Cervantes, Cathy Song, and Rita Dove.” MELUS 18, no. 3 (Fall, 1993): 3-19.

Zhou, Xiaojing. “Intercultural Strategies in Asian American Poetry.” In Re-placing America: Conversations and Contestations, edited by Ruth Hsu et al. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2000.