‘Not Here’ is written by the modern American poet Jane Kenyon. In this thought-provoking poem, the speaker broods over the absence of her mother-in-law.
This poem presents an interesting idea with which one can easily connect. Though absence is an important theme of the poem, the major aspect of the work is the deepest sense of love. Moreover, ‘Not Here’ depicts how the speaker of the poem thinks about her loved one who has either died or absent. Whatsoever, the vibrant imagery of the poem helps readers to understand the poetic emotions. Each image has something new to tell the readers. One has to wait till the end for grasping the essence of the poem.
Summary of Not Here
The first-person speaker of the poem is searching for the pillowcases made by her mother-in-law. When she opens the chest of drawers she finds some mice have chewed the old clothes kept there. Those pests have made their nest there for a long time as the speaker does not open the drawers often. She can smell the odor of mice from those clothes. At last, she takes out the pillowcases to wash them. Along with that, she discovers a couple of hickory nuts and sunflowers shells that the mouse has stored there for future provision. However, these clothes remind the speaker of her mother-in-law and she starts to miss her presence.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of Not Here
This poem consists of four stanzas. The first, third, and fourth stanzas contain nine lines. While the second stanza has six lines. However, the poem does not contain a specific rhyme scheme. For this reason, it is a free verse poem. Along with that, the poet writes this poem from a first-person point-of-view. Hence, it is an example of a lyric poem too. Apart from that, in some instances, the poet uses slant rhymes and she maintains the flow of the poem by the use of internal rhymings. The overall poem is composed of the iambic meter along with a few metrical variations.
Literary Devices in Not Here
Enjambment is an important literary device of the poem, ‘Not Here’. This device helps the poet to internally connect the lines of the poem. In the title, Kenyon uses a litote. Thereafter, in the first stanza, she uses a metaphor in the line, “and bedded themselves.” Here, she compares some clothes kept in the drawers to the bedding of the mice. This stanza also contains a repetition of the “d” sound. It’s an example of consonance. The second stanza begins with a simile. Here, Kenyon uses hyperbole in the usage of the word “unforgettable”. “Attar of mouse”, in this stanza, contains irony.
Thereafter, at the end of the third stanza, the poet uses an ellipsis. This stanza also contains alliteration in the phrase, “sunflower shells.” The last stanza of the poem contains an epigram. Here, the poet depicts how humans forget their past, and the memories get buried deep inside one’s subconscious mind like the mouse that crept inside the drawers without anyone’s knowledge.
Analysis of Not Here
Searching for pillowcases trimmed
with lace that my mother-in-law
among embroidered dresser scarves
and fingertip towels.
The poem, ‘Not Here’ begins with a symbolic activity of searching old clothes made by the speaker’s mother-in-law. It is a reference to one’s recapitulation of memories. However, readers can see the speaker of the poem is searching for pillowcases trimmed with lace that her mother-in-law made once. Therefore she opens the chest of drawers upstairs to find it. Surprisingly, when she opens the drawers she finds that mice have chewed the blue and white linen dish towels to make their nest. Moreover, they bedded themselves among the embroidered dresser scarves and fingertip towels.
Tufts of fibers, droppings like black
on humid summer days.
In the second stanza of the poem, the speaker goes on describing what she sees inside the drawers. There are tufts of fibers and droppings like black caraway seeds. Here, the poet uses a simile. Thereafter, she can see the stains of birth and after birth on the clothes. Those clothes, thus, give off the “strong unforgettable” odor of mice. Here, the poet uses irony in the phrase, “attar of mouse.” Whatsoever, that strong odor permeates the speaker’s old farmhouse on that humid summer day. Such a description creates a nostalgic mood in the poem. Alongside that, the speaker’s tone is calm and somber throughout the poem.
A couple of hickory nuts
roll around as I lift out
to dry. There’s almost no one left
who knows how to crochet lace….
Thereafter, in this stanza, the speaker says when she lifts out the linens kept in the drawer a couple of hickory nuts roll around. While a “hail of black sunflower shells” falls on the pillowcases. At last, she has found the pillowcases that remind her of her mother. However, mice inhabiting that place have stored these nuts and shells. Thereafter, the speaker remarks the pillowcases became yellow with age but they are still intact. It means she has not used it for a long time.
In the last few lines, she says she will bleach them and hand them in the sun to dry. Along with that, she thinks there is almost no one left in her family who knows how to crochet lace. In the last line, the use of ellipsis reflects a sense of continuity. As the poet has discovered the pillowcases made by her mother, the clothes make her think about the days when they were together.
The bright-eyed squatters are not here.
They’ve scuttled out to the fields
and we read the mail
or evening paper, unaware.
The last stanza of this poem, ‘Not Here’, begins with a sentence that prolongs the sense of the previous stanza. In the first line, the speaker remarks the “bright-eyed squatters”, a metaphorical reference to her mother, are not there. It also means that she cannot crochet lace herself. This art of embroidering clothes and needlework has died along with the departure of her mother-in-law.
Thereafter, the poet zooms out to the activity of the mice once again. According to her, the mice have scuttled out to the fields for summer. During winter, they scuttle in their house. Then they quickly but silently make their way from the wall to the chair and make their way to the drawers. The poet depicts how they make themselves flat and scarce to stay out of reach of the cat. But the cat dozed with her paws in the air just like the unaware inhabitants of the farmhouse who read the mail or evening. In this way, the old memories, symbolically represented as “mice”, crept in the drawers of the mind while one keeps oneself busy in her daily life.
Historical Context of Not Here
Jane Kenyon, the poet of ‘Not Here’, was an American poet and translator. Her poetry is known for simplicity and emotional resonance. She married the poet, editor, and critic Donald Hall who made her the focus of his many poems. Moreover, Kenyon’s four collections of poems were published during her lifetime. Like ‘Not Here’, her poems contain rural imagery and household metaphors. The essence of modernism is also there in her poems along with the elements of romanticism. Kenyon was the poet laureate of New Hampshire when she died on 22 April 1995.
The following poems center on similar kinds of themes present in Kenyon’s poem, ‘Not Here’.
- To My Mother by Edgar Allan Poe – In this one of the best Edgar Allan Poe poems, Poe describes his feelings for his mother and mother-in-law.
- In Memory of My Mother by Patrick Kavanagh – This poem is a reflection on the happy memories the poet has of his mother after her death.
- To My Mother by George Barker – This is an elegy for the speaker’s deceased mother.
- Mother, Any Distance by Simon Armitage – This poem by the poet laureate of the UK describes how the mother helps her son to decorate his house. It is an interesting piece concerning the mother-son relationship.