Grief by Barbara Crooker explores the process of grieving after a loved one has died. Crooker doesn’t want to let go of their memory. The poem is somber and heavy, yet has elements of happiness which promise eventual recovery from the grief.
Summary of Grief
The poem uses the extended metaphor of ‘wading’ through a river to explain the process of grieving. For Crooker, the rushing waters that flow past the poet as she stands in the freezing lake represent grieving – she wallows in the water, enjoying its icy sadness. She refuses to move from her location, submitting to grief, and not trying to change. There is an element of seeing the other side of the river, representing coming to terms with grief. Yet, Crooker never reaches the other side, not wanting to let go of the memory she holds of her deceased loved one.
Structure of Grief
Grief by Barbara Crooker is split into 17 lines, with no division, as one long stanza. In using this singular stanza form, Crooker could be reflecting the idea of the river always continuing, the water not slowing for the grieving poet. There is no rhyme scheme, with nothing to distract the reader from the palpable sense of mourning.
You can read the full poem here.
Alongside the choice of structure, Crooker also employs a frequent use of caesura to create a fractured and jolted reading experience. As we progress through the poem, Crooker creates unsettling pauses through her use of caesura, the interrupted style reflecting her inability to continue as normal after the death of a loved one.
Another technique that Crooker uses is the extended metaphor itself. The central topic of the poem, the movement from one side of a river to the other, is a reflection of the process of grieving, the difficulty in passing the fast-flowing waters being a representation of the inability to get over a love one’s death. Through this extended metaphor, and structural decisions, Crooker creates a poem that explains the pain of grief.
Analysis of Grief
is a river you wade in until you get to the other side.
But I am here, stuck in the middle, water parting
like a cranky baby, rock it in my arms.
I don’t want it to grow up, go to school, get married.
The poem begins En Medidas Res, with Crooker positioning the speaker of the poem directly in the water. We do not see the beginning of this situation, the death, or the moment in which the process of grieving began, only the current pain it is causing. By beginning in the middle of the process, Crooker leaves the reader uncertain about how long the speaker has been mourning, potentially elongating the process through this structural decision. This makes the process seem longer and more upsetting, Crooker instantly depicting an atmosphere of sorrow from the beginning line.
The use of the verb ‘wade’ suggests an innate difficulty to the movement. The waters are not easy to navigate, with the choice of verb compounding this sense of immobility. The sheer effort that Crooker must employ to continue moving through the river is stressed by ‘wade’, with the eventual promise of reaching ‘the other side’.
The use of caesura in the second line, ‘here, stuck in the middle, water’, quite literally places the speaker in the middle of the river. Both within the metaphor, and spatially within the poem, Crooker has positioned the speaker ‘in the middle’. The enclosing caesura on each side of the phrase pin the words in place, spatially trapping the speaker through Crooker’s use of language.
The harsh caesura after ‘move on.’, standing out body at the beginning of the fifth line, compounds the difficulty Crooker faces in getting over her loss. The use of a full stop brings the poem to a rhythmic halt, the poet stalling the progression of Grief just as the process itself has been halted. The following idea, ‘Instead, I’m going to stay here’, joins to this sense of immovability, firmly trapping Crooker in the metaphorical process of grief.
The sibilance of ‘shallows… sorrows’ could also be a reflection of the water passing her by. Although she is stuck in mourning, time continues to pass, the flowing river, represented through the sibilance in this phrase, symbolizing the continuation of the rest of the world.
It’s mine. Yes, the October sunlight wraps me
and the rocks are warm from the sun.
These lines offer a sense of optimistic promise within Grief. Although at this moment Crooker cannot see an escape from her feelings of grief, these lines illustrate the possibility that she will be able to overcome this emotion.
The use of ‘sunlight’ implies a sense of hope, light and goodness or promise often being connected ideas within literature. This is continued by the colour ‘yellow’, the brightness of the ‘shawl’ a symbol of a happy future, one away from the raging river.
Even the air changes when one reaches the other side of grief, ‘the air is sweet’, the promise of recovery a symbol of hope within the poem.
The bountiful display of nature compounds this sense of promise, ‘apples, grapes, walnuts’ all being examples of natural imagery which comforts the poet. Even the ‘rocks’, something used earlier in the poem as depressing, ‘flat rocks’, on the other side become something comforting, the surge of heat, ‘rocks are warm’ symbolising the better mental condition Crooker will eventually obtain.
But I’m going to stand here,
Then you really will be gone.
Although Crooker can see the other side of grief, one where things are easier and more comfortable, she is not quite ready to wade through the river. She is ‘going to stand here’, wallowing in the river as she hasn’t finished mourning the person she lost.
It seems that her very will to live is being drained by the constant mourning, Crooker ‘growing older, until every inch of my skin is numb’. This image is depressing, especially with the contrast created between the ‘numb’ state of Crooker and the ‘warm’ ’sunlight’ just on the other side of the river. It seems that Crooker understands that grief is not something that helps, only making the person feeling the emotion colder from within.
Yet, the odd paradox of the poem is that even though Crooker understands that this process of grief is not helping her, she is also unwilling to continue on. This is a telling depiction of grief, an emotion that although seemingly nonsensical, is one that profoundly impacts us all. Losing someone is not easy, and the process will hurt and take longer than you think to get through. This is encompassed by the final line of the poem, Crooker’s admission that she won’t move on because ‘then you really will be gone’, chiming to the reader a true depiction of loss. Crooker’s poem is a touching story of grief and loss. Sometimes it is okay to slow down and be still, you can get moving later, just focus on the process, ‘wade in’ little by little, eventually you will reach the ‘sunlight’.