‘The Lost Woman’ by Patricia Beer is a profound poem that discusses the feelings of loss and grief between a deceased mother and her young daughter. Although she speaks of the death and loss of her mother with compassion, aggressive undertones are very obviously showcasing the struggle she is facing coming to terms with the death and loss. This poem highlights the topics of blame and identity as the daughter sifts through her emotions to find the voice of her mother, not to comfort her, but to guide her into realizing the truth about who exactly the lost woman is. You can read the full poem here.
The Lost Woman Analysis
My mother went with no more warning
than a bright voice and a bad pain.
I saw the back of a shocking white
Ambulance drawing away from the gate.
Beer starts her poem by informing her readers that a mother had lost her life quite suddenly. The character who is voicing the poem came home from school one day to witness an ambulance leaving from the front of her house; that is how unexpected the incident was. The diction in this stanza gives a lot away about the emotions the narrator has packed in her words. Firstly, she states her mother “went” without much warning. This indicates that the speaker is placing blame on the mother, almost as if to say she chose to leave. She was not taken away, but rather “went away. From the very beginning we get a feeling of hostility from the narrator. Secondly, the warning she claims she did receive, was not “more than a bright voice and a bad pain”, indicating that even though her mother had been suffering bad pains, she had been optimistic, and cheerful perhaps o shelter her daughter from the distress she was facing. Instead of being grateful for that, the daughter is distraught because it left her unprepared for her sudden death.
She never returned and I never saw
Her buried. So a romance began.
The avenue as I approach.
My tendrils are the ones that clutch.
In the second stanza of ‘The Lost Woman’, it is expressed to the readers that the mother never came home after the ambulance took her away, and the narrator “never saw her buried”. She thinks of her mother often and knows she cannot ever be in her company again. The daughter continues to place blame on her mother by claiming that “she never returned”, again highlighting that she was responsible for not coming back. This repetitive behaviour of holding her mother accountable for the loss she feels displays to the reader that she has not forgiven her for not preparing her for the death and grief that she had to face. The daughter then goes on to call the experience of losing her mother “a romance”. This is accurate and quite telling, as romances are full of not only love and loyalty but also of yearning; giving the reader a hint that her heart still yearns for the company of her mother. The daughter continues to describe that her mother went from being ivy to a tree that is just as unattainable as a rainbow. This is important because again, it gives the reader insight into the daughter’s emotions. Ivy is generally known as an evergreen, and stating that her mother went from being a dependable evergreen that thrives in almost all conditions, into a tree ( something more seasonal ) that is hard for her to reach, she is describing how lost she feels because every time she tries to get closer she notices that a great distance still remains.
I made a life for her over the years.
Class and the OU summer school.
The third stanza reveals that the narrator viewed her mother’s marriage as one of frustration and lifelessness. It is also explained that her mother used to run “a canteen” for many years and was an intelligent woman, who was also involved in getting an education part-time. This section of the poem shows the reader that the daughter felt like she knew her mother extremely well, (perhaps that’s why the suddenness of losing her is hurtful to her) and thought very highly of her since she praises her wit and her ability to get a part-time education while running a canteen during the difficult times of war.
Many a hero in his time
And every poet has acquired
A corpse they need never get to know.
In this stanza of ‘The Lost Woman’, the narrator speaks about the fact that every poet has “a lost woman” that “haunts the home”; so the topic of the loss and emptiness will always be more captivating no matter how many inspiring heroes there are at the time. This idea really highlights the grief the daughter truly feels. She emphasizes that although heroes are a great focus of one’s time, the raw relatability of “a lost woman to haunt the home” is more attractive for a writer; because the feeling of emptiness and grief creates very real barrenness ( the inability to make use of the good that is present in their life) in any individual that is suffering these emotions.
She is nearly always benign. Her habit
Her country is bland and she does not chide.
Stanza five discusses a softer, more tender image of the narrator’s mother. She is described as kind, gentle, and a great loss to those who were around her. This stanza really promotes that yearning of the daughter that we noticed in the previous stanzas. She eloquently points out that her mother was very kind and soft, but also tactfully counteracts that with her word choice of “benign” and “dead of night”. This word choice is able to portray to the reader the hurt she still feels at behind left behind by her mother. The last two lines of this stanza are powerful because the daughter is openly stating that the loss of her mother has had an impact on the people that knew and celebrated her, because even though she lived in a place that was “cliché” in terms of how ordinary it was, she never complained or wanted more out of it.
But my lost woman evermore snaps
With the bat-voice, my dear. I am not lost.’
In this last stanza, we realize that the narrator considers her inner voice as the lost woman, who feels unloved by the mother who left her so suddenly. The daughter reveals that her “lost woman snaps from somewhere else”; signifying that the voice of the woman who is lost belongs to herself and it is screaming out for attention, claiming not to be loved. Here we learn that the insecurity of the daughter stems from this fear of not being loved. She feels that had she been loved more, she would have noticed the suffering of her mother despite her betrayal of not telling her. Had she been loved more, perhaps she wouldn’t feel so lost and empty and would have been more comfortable cherishing her memories with her mother. This last stanza really focuses on the negativity that the daughter has been living in since the passing of her mother. She calls her mother a ghost (usually associated with haunting and fright) with a “bat-voice”, which is obviously not the most endearing way to remember your mother’s voice. An interesting thing to note is that bats use echolocation to find their prey, so the bat voice would basically be an echo ringing in her head. This ringing says nothing more than “I am not lost” clarifying to the readers that the title of the lost woman is not the mother who had suddenly died ( as the opening of the poem would have you guess) but the daughter herself, and she knows it. Her mother may not be with her, but as she grieves and feels completely lost without her, the voice of her mother is never lost.