My Mother at Sixty-Six by Kamala Das

My Mother at Sixty-Six’ is an emotional poem that describes a daughter’s feelings towards her mother. Kamala Das has written this poem. She is an acclaimed Indian woman writer in English. She expresses her concern over her mother’s aging in this poem. Through the lines of this poem, the poet has poured her fear of losing her mother as a daughter. This is a confessional poem that presents the common feelings daughters have for their mothers. In this regard, this poem is a representational work.

My Mother at Sixty-Six by Kamala Das

 

Summary of My Mother at Sixty-Six

My Mother at Sixty-Six’ is a poem that confesses a daughter’s fear of losing her mother. Firstly, the daughter, that is the poet, is surprised to realize that her mother is aging. Secondly, she notices how the rest of the world appears young and energetic. This is in contrast to her mother who continues to age. Thirdly, the poet expresses her apprehension over losing her mother if the old woman dies. Finally, the poet says how she hides her true feelings and smiles outwardly. She wishes to show her love for her mother.

The poet is the confessor of feelings in this poem. She describes her feelings for her mother while traveling in a car. It is during one of her visits to her mother’s place. The poet looks at her mother’s face and realizes that her mother had grown old. She is disturbed by the fact that her mother may soon die of old age. She becomes emotional and tries to distract herself by looking out at the passing scenery. The poet records the contrasting nature of the scenery: there are young trees and playing children. They represent the freshness and youth of what is on earth, while her mother looks old and frail.

In the final part of the poem, the poet expresses her fear of losing her mother to death. Even as a young girl, the poet had similar feelings and fears. She was so afraid of losing her mother that she would never leave her for a moment. The poet, even as a grown-up daughter, experiences a similar emotion. However, she can hide her fears. She smiles at her mother. She tries to express her love and affection to her aging mother, as the poet bids goodbye.

You can read the full poem My Mother at Sixty-Six here.

 

Analysis of My Mother at Sixty-Six

Lines 1 – 9

Driving from my parent’s

home to Cochin last Friday

morning, I saw my mother,

beside me,

(…)

that she was as old as she

looked but soon

The opening segment of the poem, ‘My Mother at Sixty-Six,’  presents the poet’s realization of her mother’s aging. The poet notices the old appearance of the mother during her car journey from her place to the airport at Cochin. The mother is sleeping with her mouth open. As the car travels, the daughter observes her mother. The mother’s face appears ashen. The pale complexion of the old woman is similar to that of a corpse. The mother looks as old as her age. The thought of the corpse forces the poet to think of her mother’s death. The sleeping form of her mother allows the poet to observe her uninhibitedly. This makes her emotional.

 

Lines 10 – 13

put that thought away, and

looked out at Young

(…)

out of their homes, but after the airport’s

In these lines, the poem, ‘My Mother at Sixty-Six,’  alludes to the disturbed state of the poet’s mind when she thinks of her mother’s death. She puts the thoughts away. Then, she looks out through the window of the car. She looks at the passing green trees and young children coming out of their homes to play. The world around the poet appears young and energetic. It forms a contrast to the state of her mother. The poet describes the youthful scenery of the world to underscore the mature years of her mother. Furthermore, the scenery distracts the poet for a while during the car journey.

 

Lines 14 – 20

security check, standing a few yards

away, I looked again at her, wan, pale

(…)

but all I said was, see you soon, Amma,

all I did was smile and smile and

smile……

These lines of the poem, ‘My Mother at Sixty-Six,’  highlights how reality haunts the poet about her mother’s condition. The poet tries to distract herself from her surroundings. But her mother’s appearance pulls her back again during the airport security check. Once again, the poet observes her mother. Her mother looks pale and grey. Then, the poet compares her mother to a winter moon. This highlights that her mother is in the last stage of her life, much like winter. The poet is once again reminded of the mother’s imminent demise.

The thought of her mother’s death brings back the poet’s childhood fears. As a child, the poet was so afraid of her mother’s death. She would never leave her side at any moment. But now, the poet says that the old fears have surfaced again. The poet is now a grown-up woman and she can hide her fears. The daughter (poet!) simply smiles at her mother and bids farewell as she moves towards her flight. The poet says, “See you soon Amma,” and leaves with a smile. The poem concludes by underscoring the optimistic behavior people display towards their loved ones.

 

Central Theme of My Mother at Sixty-Six

The poem, ‘My Mother at Sixty-Six,’  is an intimate work presenting the poet’s thoughts. It deals with the feeling of fear and emotions that daughters experience with their mothers. Any child is attached to its mother. Similarly, children generally are afraid of losing their mothers. This poem brings out this ordinary but profound human nature through a personal reverie. Death is inevitable but people are afraid of losing their dear ones. As the poet expresses, the bond between a mother and her child is special; and therefore, the anxiety in losing the relationship is also strong. As its thematic concern, the poem brings out the inner thoughts of a daughter for her mother.

 

Form, Style, and Literary Devices in My Mother at Sixty-Six

The poem, ‘My Mother at Sixty-Six,’ is confessional. As such, it is a first-person monologue. It runs like an aside. The poet expresses her inner thoughts and her reactions to those thoughts. The language is conversational. The arrangement of the lines is free and fluid. The poetic touch appears when the poet describes her mother and her old age. She first compares her mother’s appearance to that of a corpse. She then describes her mother as the winter moon. In both instances, the poet alludes to the imminent death of her mother. It is usually mothers who describe their children as moons, but here, an affectionate daughter describes her mother as a moon. The last lines of the poem repeat the word ‘smile’, indicating that people helplessly display such gestures to express their true feelings for their loved ones.

 

About the Author, Kamala Das

Kamala Das is an Indian writer in English. She wrote lots of confessional poems expressing the experiences of being an Indian woman. The poet wrote under the pen-name, Madhavikutty. Some of her popular works include ‘An Introduction,’ ‘A Hot Noon in Malabar, and ‘My Grandmother’s House’. She writes in a matter-of-fact tone and her honesty and boldness in expressing her thoughts often keep her critics and readers spell-bound. Kamala Das has written poems, short stories, memoirs, and novels as well. “The Times” had called her the Mother of Modern English Indian Poetry.

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