‘Of Mothers, among other things’ is a five stanza poem that is separated into sets of four lines, or quatrains. These quatrains do not follow a specific rhyme scheme but there are moments of half, or slant, rhyme that help to unify the lines. These are seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line, or multiple lines of verse.
The poem begins with the speaker smelling the images of his mother’s youth. She was soft, flower-like, and silken. That couldn’t last forever though. As she aged, she met with adversity, seen through the rain imagery. It tried to tie her up, but she was an eagle and fought through it. But, that wasn’t the end of her troubles.
One very poignant moment in the poem shows the mother, like an eagle, getting one talon trapped in a mousetrap. She lost that finger/talon. The poem concludes with all the images of the previous stanzas come together to depict the mother, in her current, older state, reaching down to “pick a grain of rice from the kitchen floor.” The son sees her whole history in this movement,
You can read the full poem here.
Ppoetic techniques nad literary devices used by Ramanujan include enjambment, alliteration, and zoomorphism. The later is the opposite of anthropomorphism. It applies to moments in writing in which a person is given animal characteristics. This is the case in ‘Of Mothers, among other things,’ especially in stanzas three and four as the mother is compared to an eagle.
Another important technique that is commonly used in poetry is enjambment. This occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. It forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. The fourth line in the first stanza is a great example. A reader has to go to the second stanza to find out what is going on with her “ear-rings three diamonds”.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, the phrase “crying cradles” in the second stanza, “tree-tasselled” in the third, and the words “still,” “sensible” and “slowly” in the fifth.
Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
I smell upon this twisted blackbone tree
From her earrings three diamonds
In the first lines of ‘Of Mothers, among other things’ the speaker begins by explaining something important he smelled. It was the “silk and white /petal of [his] mother’s youth”. The scent was found on a “blackbone tree.” It speaks to her beauty, youth, and the materials the speaker associates with her.
Many of the images in this poem are obscure, but they are closely associated with the senses. For instance, the reference to silk and white petal. Here, these words bring up feelings of softness, images of flowers, and the smells associated with them, and a general aura of beauty. This is how the speaker sees his mothers youth.
Somehow, he is able to smell it upon a tree he refers to as “blackbone”. The word “blackbone” seems more like an adjective than a noun, describing the look of the tree, rather than a type of tree. It contrasts with the youthful images of beauty and softness in the next lines. These lines suggest that the speaker is able to tap into his mother’s youth, while also seeing her from a contemporary perspective. Perhaps, now that she is old, and more substantial in his mind, he sees her like his imagined “blackbone” tree. The fourth line of the stanza references her earrings and is enjambed.
splash a handful of needles,
The rains tack and sew
The second stanza picks up, somewhat, where are the first left off. The syntax is confusing, making the transition between stanzas and images complicated. But, it is clear the speaker is still comparing his mother as he knows her now to how she was in her youth. Her diamond earrings are part of a handful of needles, another reference back up to the tree. He goes on to speak to his mother’s energy and again, her youthfulness. He can imagine her running “from rain to the crying cradles”. Rain is commonly used to refer to negative experiences or general difficulties. This appears to be true in‘Of Mothers, among other things’ as well.
with broken threads the rags
two black-pink crinkled feet,
The third stanza describes how the rain attempted to use its broken threads to tie her down, or sew her up. The progression of her life leads her into difficulties. The “light” that was originally associated with her becomes harder to maintain.
The next two lines describe how her hands “are a wet eagle’s”. This brings back some of the strength the speaker has previously associated with her. An eagle represents power, and in this instance, strength in the face of adversity. The eagle’s feet might be wet, but they still have talons. There are a number of other contrast in the following lines as the eagle’s feet are both “black” and “pink crinkled”.
one talon crippled in a garden-
feather of a one time wing.
The fourth stanza is another example of how with age, the mother’s youthfulness, and softness were degraded. She experienced other setbacks, such as getting “one talon crippled in a garden trap set for a mouse”. She was permanently changed and to this day, as will be stated in the fifth stanza, the speaker can see the impact of this injury.
The imagery of the bird is continued in ‘Of Mothers, among other things’ as the speaker references the mother saris. They do not cling as they might’ve done in the past, but “hang loose“ like “feathers of a onetime wing”. She is no longer the eagle she used to be, but parts of her past still exist.
My cold parchment tongue licks bark
to pick a grain of rice from the kitchen floor.
The fifth stanza of ‘Of Mothers, among other things’ brings the description of the mother around to the speaker himself. He speaks of his own “cold parchment tongue”.There is a strangeness to this image that connects the eagle-like image of the mother to her son. He again taps into the reader’s senses to explain how he feels when he sees his mother’s four intact fingers.
All the images of the previous stanzas come together to depict the mother, in her current, older state, reaching down to “pick a grain of rice from the kitchen floor.” The speaker draws attention to the way her fingers “slowly flex”. They are “sensible” and simple in their actions. He sees her whole history in this movement, from her silken, soft youth to the rainy troubles of her aging years, to her current, sensible existence.