Stabat Mater by Sam Hunt is commentary on the complexities of time that can take a person from weak and timid, to strong and capable, and back to weak and timid. Still, old age feels distant to those journeying through youth, and this overall situation is paralleled in the story of the described family. There is distance at the beginning of this “married” couple’s lives, and distance exists as well between the “mother” and child, though never in enough quantity to ruin the relationships by completely forsaking affection. Time changes things, and though it feels distant, it is with us all the time. These concepts are the theme of the poem. You can listen to the full poem here.
Stabat Mater Analysis
The choice of narrator within this poem, one initially noted as the child of the woman being described, is instantly a telling detail. From the stanza, we understand a crucial aspect of the poem—that his “mother called [his] father” by the title, “‘Mr Hunt’,” and this alone speaks of great distance between the “married” couple. The perspective, as it happens, furthers this concept in that it is not so personal as to be either the husband or “his loving wife” giving this account. If such were the case, the story would come with an inside look that is more revealing and understanding. The “loving wife,” for instance, could explain in detail how she felt in regard to referring to her husband in this manner, and the husband could detail his reaction to it.
Rather, the reader is given the outside commentary of an offspring, meaning only what has been inferred or relayed can be presented instead of in-depth, uninhibited examination. Still, the child would have better understanding of this situation than nearly anyone else who could write this story, outside of the couple. In this, we have closeness that still indicates distance, which is a perfect representation of the couple where the “wife” is involved enough to “inscribe” that she is “loving” on “a book” that she gave to her “dear” husband, but still feels enough distance to refer to him by his surname.
Also adding to this distant element is that the child never gained any of this information, thus far, from his “mother” having told him. Instead, he “learned this from a book.” Because this happened within “the first few years of married life,” it is likely the child would not have a strong memory of his own that includes this name variation, meaning that element of distance is reasonable. However, discovering it in “a book” makes the circumstance feel more disjointed and divided, as if no member of this family was on the same page.
The distance continues in that the “mother” did not automatically answer the child’s questions about “why” she referred to her husband in such a way. The reasoning came “later on.” This, once more, mirrors the close-but-distant relationship the “mother” had early in “married life” in that she felt close enough to her child to offer a reason, but distant enough to take time to do so. Once this distance is again established, the narrator dives into the rationale of the “‘Mr Hunt’” detail.
Specifically, the “mother” felt “so small” “call[ing] him any other name at first” since she had committed to a man who was “[h]er father’s elder.” This speaks of an age gap as the difference that caused the division between husband and “loving wife,” and this distance was so strong that years later, she still felt “embarrassed.” Perhaps this “embarrass[ment]” turned to shame regarding having ever felt such distance from her husband, but no matter the reasoning, the age gap left a gap in their family that the “loving wife” had yet to fully recover from.
The age gap, it seems, has created a new complication within the relationship in that, by years, the “loving wife” is “still like a girl” to the husband with her youth and capabilities. “Now,” however, the husband depends on those elements since “he roams old age” and needs her there to “guid[e] him.” What made her “so small” in the early days of “married life” has reversely made her the strength of the relationship.
The narrator indicates that she “calls [his] father every other sort of name,” which has a very interpretative meaning due to the vagueness of the comment. This idea could cause the reader to think of pet names, loving nicknames, or even insults since “every other sort of name” is utilized. There is no indication given that any category of “name”—good or bad—is overlooked, and there is no information provided in regard to how often a good “name” or a bad one is used. In the end, the reader cannot know if the “loving wife” is being “loving” for most of these “name[s]” or if she is being cruel for a larger percentage of time—or perhaps something different, like indifference.
Once more then, the reader arrives at a place of distance. The child would likely have further information that would help the reader to sort through this detail and decide what “sort of name” is the basis for most of the scenario, but the narrator has chosen to omit such particulars. This time, then, the division is not within the family, but between the family and outsiders, which indicates a unity that has grown over time. This unity is reinforced in that the “mother” “turns to” her child while she leads her husband about “as if it were a game,” like she is letting him in on the secrets of the couple’s situation. Perhaps this is because she has already told him how she felt “so small” and is quietly noting the irony of being the one the husband currently depends on—or perhaps it is more.
This final stanza offers an answer as to why the “mother” would include the child in her “guid[ance]” of her husband, and that is because she is reaching out a lesson she wishes her child to hold to. Specifically, she wants him to “learn [t]o walk away and know there’s no return” “once [he] stand[s] up straight.” What this entails, overall, is the basic essence of mortality. People grow from children to adults—those who “stand up straight” to indicate strength—but as time passes, those basic elements of independence and ability can fade so that “there’s no return” to what used to be. Essentially, the “mother” is revealing to her child by “turn[ing] to” him in these moments that he or she must “walk away” from youth and ability, though that child can never retrieve it once it is gone. Rather, that child will become feeble and dependent, like the “father.”
On the reverse side of things, however, the “mother” has also had to “learn” this lesson since she was meek and unsure during “the first few years of married life,” but she had to “stand up straight” to deal with her discomfort. She had to “learn [t]o walk away” from her timidity, and she cannot “return” to who she was beforehand because she has grown into something different—something her older husband can depend on. Either way, both endured irrevocable change, and the child is essentially looking into the future when watching this couple.
This seems to be the theme of the work—that age can make us competent, timid, strong, needful, and a number of other things, while we are at its mercy. This is a lesson we all must “learn” in longer lives, just as the child is seeing from his parents. As well, the distance that was a part of the relationships noted in this poem is indicative of what people feel for time. Old age feels so distant, yet it is nearing, just like the family kept distance at points while still being connected. Even the relationships among the family, in this estimation, are a representation of the relationship people have with time.
About Sam Hunt
Born in New Zealand, Sam Hunt is a poet and actor who is known for his in-person delivery of his art as well as the smooth vernacular that occurs within the works themselves. He was born in 1946 and has dabbled in writing for the music industry.