The poet uses very simple, short lines that are easy to read. They are combined in rhyming couplets that describe a narrative that is meant to remind readers that they should take care of their fellow humans, even if they’re strangers.
Somebody’s Mother Mary Dow BrineThe woman was old and ragged and grayAnd bent with the chill of the Winter's day.The street was wet with a recent snowAnd the woman's feet were aged and slow.She stood at the crossing and waited long,Alone, uncared for, amid the throngOf human beings who passed her byNor heeded the glance of her anxious eyes.Down the street, with laughter and shout,Glad in the freedom of "school let out,"Came the boys like a flock of sheep,Hailing the snow piled white and deep.Past the woman so old and grayHastened the children on their way.Nor offered a helping hand to her —So meek, so timid, afraid to stirLest the carriage wheels or the horses' feetShould crowd her down in the slippery street.At last came one of the merry troop,The gayest laddie of all the group:He paused beside her and whispered low,"I'll help you cross, if you wish to go."Her aged hand on his strong young armShe placed, and so, without hurt or harm,He guided the trembling feet along,Proud that his own were firm and strong.Then back again to his friends he went,His young heart happy and well content."She's somebody's mother, boys, you know,For all she's aged and poor and slow."And I hope some fellow will lend a handTo help my mother, you understand,"If ever she's poor and old and gray,When her own dear boy is far away."And "somebody's mother" bowed low her headIn her home that night, and the prayer she saidWas "God be kind to the noble boy,Who is somebody's son, and pride and joy!"
Explore Somebody's Mother
‘Somebody’s Mother’ by Mary Dow Brine is a poem about caring for other people, even if they’re strangers.
The poet describes a scene in which the speaker is observing an old, poor woman on a winter’s day trying to cross the road. She’s in the snow, like everyone else, but no one is stopping to help her. People run past her, totally focused on their own worlds. That is until one young man stops and helps her across the road.
He explains to his friends that he did so because he knew she was in need and that she’s “somebody’s mother.” When the older woman goes to bed later, she prays for the young man, referring to him as “somebody’s son.”
Structure and Form
‘Somebody’s Mother’ by Mary Dow Brine is a sixteen-stanza poem that is divided into sets of two lines, known as couplets. The couplets are simple, rhyming in a pattern of AA BB CC, and so on, with perfect rhymes throughout the entire poem. Some end sounds are repeated, like “snow” and “slow” in stanza two and “low” and “go” in stanza eleven.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Anaphora: the repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “And” starts lines in stanzas one and two.
- Simile: a comparison between two things using “like” or “as.” For example, “ Came the boys like a flock of sheep, / Hailing the snow piled white and deep.”
- Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words, for example, “heart happy.”
The woman was old and ragged and gray
And bent with the chill of the Winter’s day.
The street was wet with a recent snow
And the woman’s feet were aged and slow.
She stood at the crossing and waited long,
Alone, uncared for, amid the throng
In the first lines of ‘Somebody’s Mother,’ the poet begins by describing a woman walking down the street on a winter day. She was “old and ragged and gray.” The speaker also notes that the woman was “bent” over, suggesting that she’s had a hard, long life.
In the following lines, the speaker describes how the woman is walking, and no one is paying attention to her. She’s struggling and has clearly been struggling for a long time. The poet describes her standing at a crossing (about to walk across the street) entirely alone. She’s “amid the throng,” meaning that there are people moving around her like any busy street and ignoring her.
Of human beings who passed her by
Nor heeded the glance of her anxious eyes.
Down the street, with laughter and shout,
Glad in the freedom of “school let out,”
Came the boys like a flock of sheep,
Hailing the snow piled white and deep.
In the next few lines, the speaker describes the people passing in very simple terms as “human beings.” None of them stopped to look at her with “anxious eyes” or concern.
They breezed past her and moved down the street “with laughter and shout.” They’re concerned with their lives and no one else. That is, except for the speaker, who is observing and paying attention.
There is a simile in the sixth stanza in which the poet compares a group of boys “like a flock of sheep.” They move as though they have no independent thought. They’re interested in the snow that’s “piled white and deep.”
Past the woman so old and gray
Hastened the children on their way.
Nor offered a helping hand to her –
So meek, so timid, afraid to stir
Lest the carriage wheels or the horses’ feet
Should crowd her down in the slippery street.
In the next lines, the speaker goes back to focusing on the woman, who she describes as “old and gray.” The poet conveys how timid and fearful the woman is. She moves slowly, afraid of slipping and getting hurt on the street or falling in the snow.
No one is willing to stop and help her or even think about whether or not she’s in trouble. The use of “slippery street” at the end of stanza nine is a great onomatopoeic phrase. The sibilance in this line imitates the act of slipping.
At last came one of the merry troop,
The gayest laddie of all the group;
He paused beside her and whispered low,
“I’ll help you cross, if you wish to go.”
Her aged hand on his strong young arm
She placed, and so, without hurt or harm,
Finally, one of the young men walking on the street stops near the woman and offers to help her across the street. He was the “gayest,” or most upbeat and kindest of the group. He held her “aged hand on his strong arm” and was very gentle as he guided her across the street.
This is a good example of juxtaposition. The man’s kindness is even more striking after the poet has already described the disregard the other people on the street showed her.
He guided the trembling feet along,
Proud that his own were firm and strong.
Then back again to his friends he went,
His young heart happy and well content.
“She’s somebody’s mother, boys, you know,
For all she’s aged and poor and slow,
The following couplets describe the two crossing the street. Her feet are “trembling,” indicating how unsteady she is and how much trouble she would’ve had crossing the street on her own.
He was content with his good deed, the speaker says, and then conveys his words explaining why he took the time to help her across the street. He uses a casual tone that indicates helping the woman was an obvious choice. She’s “somebody’s mother,” he tells his friends, who were likely questioning him at the time. She’s “aged and poor and slow,” but she’s loved by someone, he says. This leads into stanza sixteen, which expands his description.
“And I hope some fellow will lend a hand
To help my mother, you understand,
“If ever she’s poor and old and gray,
When her own dear boy is far away.”
And “somebody’s mother” bowed low her head
In her home that night, and the prayer she said
Was “God be kind to the noble boy,
Who is somebody’s son, and pride and joy!”
He adds that he helped her because he imagines his own mother in that situation and how he’d want someone to help her if he wasn’t around when she was “poor and old and gray.” He’s thinking about how kindness is passed on. His example likely also inspired his friends to think in a similar way.
That night, the old woman, who is described as “somebody’s mother” in the second to last stanza, prays for the man who helped her across the street, calling him “somebody’s son.” This reversal shows how much the woman appreciates his act of kindness and how she recognizes him in the same way he did her.
The meaning is that one should respect everyone they encounter, even if they don’t know them personally. The poet demonstrates how most people don’t care about strangers who may be in need. But, one young man who goes unnamed throughout the poem does.
The main theme of this poem is caring for other people. The poem depicts a specific scenario where a young man stops to help an elderly woman cross the road while everyone else passes by.
The poet wrote this unique poem in order to share her interest in sharing a certain way of treating other people. She wanted to depict a sad scene that then transforms into something optimistic due to one act of kindness.
‘Somebody’s Mother’ uses a critical tone in the first few lines and an optimistic one in the second part of the poem. The speaker is clearly judging those who don’t take the time to help the older woman cross the road and is on the side of the young man who does help her.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other related poems. For example:
- ‘Poverty’ by Marinela Reka – is a unique poem about poverty that’s only sixteen lines long.
- ‘The Complaints of the Poor’ by Robert Southey – speaks about the struggles of the poor.
- ‘To the Poor’ by Anna Lætitia Barbauld – is a moving poem in which the poet considers the struggles of the poor.