Ross Gay’s ‘Ending the Estrangement’ is a poem capturing a speaker’s longing to be with his mother who has died.
Ross Gay is an American poet of the contemporary age. In ‘Ending the Estrangement’ his art of expressing thoughts is innovative and thought-provoking. The lucid diction of his verse gives readers a key to open the poet’s heart, to know how simple a poet can be. Simplicity is what makes a piece of art more beautiful than ever. Likewise, in this poem, a reader can find how the poet misses his mother. For him, death can only end this estrangement from his mother. Surprisingly, he wishes to accept death’s leaden hands as she will help him to unite with his mother.
In this poem, the poet starts to talk about his mother’s sadness that he tries to understand. Somehow he cannot understand what pained his mother when she was alive. Later he tells readers that it was the thoughts of death or dying that made his mother sad. Thereafter, the poet contemplates what it feels like to be dead. Interestingly, it appears a “form of gratitude” to him. Lastly, the speaker of the poem wants to be a hummingbird. Besides, he wishes to imitate its “nectar-questing song” along with his mother in heaven.
You can read the full poem here.
Being a modern poem, the text does not follow any regular poetic form. The poet even leaves the capitalization rule used in sentence structure. The only capitalized word of the poem is “I”. So, this poem is written from a first-person point-of-view. Hence, it is an ideal example of a lyric poem. Along with that, it is a free verse poem and does not have any specific rhyme scheme. Besides, the line-length is irregular. Some lines are extremely short in comparison to the neighboring lines. Apart from that, the poet mostly uses the iambic meter form while writing this poem. However, there are some metrical variations too.
This poem by Gay, ‘Ending the Estrangement’ begins with several pauses that are known as a caesura. It is a poetic device that helps a poet to halt the flow of the verse for a moment. The readers have to be aware of such sudden pauses to make sure they are emphasizing the next word following each pause. Thereafter, readers can find the use of alliteration in this poem. As an example, “unbearable, until” contains an alliteration of the “u” sound. Being a consonant sound, this phrase also comes under the example of consonance. Moreover, the fourth line contains a litote. The poet uses a simile in the line, “to her, and so felt inside myself—like death.” Thereafter, the poet uses a metaphor in “a form of gratitude.” In “nectar-questing song” the poet also uses a metaphor.
from my mother’s sadness, which was,
to me, unbearable, until,
have rather done, though adding to her sadness
would rather die than do—
The poem, ‘Ending the Estrangement’ gives a hint to a reader what the poet is about to speak in this poem. This technique is also called anticipation. Besides, the title is also a reference to ending the gap between two persons. Here, the bereaved son whose tone reflects a sense of loneliness and longing, and his beloved mother, are the two persons. The speaker of the poem says his mother’s sadness is unbearable to him. When he felt what his mother felt when she was alive, he realized he was wrong about his mother’s feelings.
Inside his soul, he felt it was like dead or dying. Something is withering gradually and a speaker badly wants to stop this process. However, the irony of life appears when a person realizes that this process is irrevocable. However, the speaker tries to feel like his mother and accept death. But, it will increase his mother’s pain. Lastly, he remarks he “would rather die than do” anything else.
but, by sitting still, like what, in fact, it was—
when a hummingbird hovered nearby,
While he is thinking about such things, suddenly it occurs to him, this thought is a form of gratitude to his mother. This process of thinking about one’s loved one, even if she is not there, reflects how important she was. However, when death appeared to him, he imagined the feeling as being in “a meadow lit by torches/ of cardinal flower.” Here, “cardinal” is a kind of bird. Gay compares it to red flowers. So, it’s a metaphor. Thereafter, he says one of the “crimson blooms” was a hummingbird. This bird hovered nearby when he was inside the imaginary meadow.
I slipped into my mouth
I now sing along.
The last section of ‘Ending the Estrangement’ captures an unusual description. The imagery present here deals with what the speaker thinks. It seems as if he is dreaming or having a vision. However, the speaker says he slipped the hummingbird into his mouth. To do that, he had to coax the bird before. Then when it was pleased by the speaker’s hospitality, it accepted his request. He told the bird to scrawl its “heart’s frenzy” on his tongue. Here, “heart’s frenzy” is a metaphor for the spontaneity of life.
Thereafter, the speaker makes it clear to the readers why he did so. He wanted to sing like the hummingbird. Hence, he wanted from the bird its “nectar-questing song.” Happily, it gave the poet so. Having acquired this ability, now he can sing with his mother eternally. In this way, the estrangement between the mother and son ended.
Ross Gay, the poet of ‘Ending the Estrangement’ is an American poet. He received the National Book Critics Award for poetry. This poem appears in his book of poetry “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude” published on 16th January 2015. In 2015, he was a finalist in the National Book Award for poetry for this book. Thereafter, in 2016, he got the National Book Critics Award for the same book. Along with that, he also received the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. However, this poem features a son’s longing to be united with his mother. As the title of the poetry collection says, it’s about the poet’s unabashed gratitude for his loved one. This poem also expresses the poet’s gratitude for his mother.
Here is a list of some poems that similarly talks about the themes present in Ross Gay’s lyric ‘Ending the Estrangement’.
- My Mother at Sixty-Six by Kamala Das – This poem deals with a daughter’s feelings toward her aging mother while she leaves her mother behind.
- To My Mother by Edgar Allan Poe – In this sonnet, Poe describes his feelings for his biological mother and his wife’s mother. It’s one of Poe’s well-known poems.
- Mother Night by James Weldon Johnson – In this poem, the poet includes the theme of mortality, and here he compares death to a “brooding mother.”
- Mother to Son by Langston Hughes – It’s one of the popular Hughes poems. Here, the poet concerns the theme of the mother-son relationship through the metaphor of the staircase.