Song Of The Worker’s Wife by Alice Gray Jones is a four stanza poem with an ABAB pattern. This poem is about an empty nest and focuses on the feelings of a mother as she watches her kids grow older and not need her as much. The title of the poem itself takes the credit of motherhood and the hard work that is involved away from her by addressing her as the wife of “the worker” instead of her personal identity. By going through the entire poem the reader is able to absorb te heartache of a mother whose children have grown up and left her behind feeling quite inadequate with only memories of their childhoods to hold on to. You can read the full poem here.
Song Of The Worker’s Wife Analysis
“My hands are none too white,
Nor lovely nor tender either,
They’re rough and ugly to your sight,
Because of the constant labour,
But my hands are not complaining,
There’s no whinging in my breast,
When I recall my tidy house, containing,
My happy little family, like a Nest.
The first stanza introduces the character of “the worker’s wife” by using first person to give the reader a more genuine connection to the character’s emotions. Lines one to three describe the hands of the wife by stating that “they are none too white”, “lovely” or “tender”, rather they are “rough and ugly” for others to see. From these lines, the reader is informed that this woman feels inadequate in the eyes of others. She does not feel important or beautiful or loved and feels that she may not look attractive to the eye of a stranger. Line four goes on to explain why: “because of the constant labour”; the wife of the worker evidently works hard herself. She is very quick to mention in the next line that her “hands are not complaining” about the way they look, which implies that she is satisfied with the work that she does. Lines six through eight conclude the stanza with the character revealing that her heart is content with the work that she put in especially when she “recalls” what her house used to look like and how happy her family was as a result of it. She describes her home to be like a nest, this is important because it conveys her feelings of motherhood through a bird and its nest. The nest is a home that the bird works very hard to build for the safety and nurturing of its family and this is what this character feels connected to the most. It is also understood that she is at a point in life where she is able to look back at her life’s work. Overall this stanza paints a picture of a woman who is old in age and the wear and tear of the labours she participated in for her family are physically visible on her body, but she is depicted as being quite content with her hard work and looks back at her memories quite fondly.
The kids would go early to bed,
And i’d set to doing the wash,
The little snow white clothes all aired,
I’d get them up so nice and posh,
I’d sew a button on David’s shirt,
And put a nail in Sam’s shoe,
And i’d mend Enid’s red skirt-
Those chores that all mothers do.
In the second stanza, she continues to be nostalgic as she enjoys the memories of caring for her children. The first line of the stanza describes her daily routine of getting her kids to bed early, this is significant because it illustrates that her service towards her children didn’t stop even after they had turned in for the night. She continues to describe her memories of doing laundry and laying out the “snow white clothes” to dry. The white clothes are important as they enhance the peaceful mood that the character is trying to recreate for her readers. The brightness of the clothing represents the purity of her love of the role she played in her family: the caretaker. It is clear that she feels important by caring for her loved ones, the feeling of being needed is essential to her identity as a mother and wife. Line twelve displays the pride she takes in her work as she fondly remembers that she made sure the clothing looked “nice and posh”, this relays that not only did she care about keeping things tidy, she was also attentive to details that would give her family respect in terms of social expectations. Lines thirteen through fifteen give details of the little things that she used to enjoy doing for her children, like mending their clothes; this indicates that even the simplest or the most tedious tasks were done with such love and affection that she not only remembers it but truly enjoys the memory of them many years later. The last line of this stanza conveys the notion that she realizes the tasks she performed were not unique to her, she did not value them for being exceptional rather she valued them because they connected her to her identity as a mother; an identity that she holds very dear.
And Oh! They were all around me,
Like glad little chicks in a throng,
And my single purpose was to see,
My children happy, fit and strong,
To keep an eye on their progress,
To care for them all day long,
To keep their language spotless:
I was happy, all smiles and song.
The third stanza is focused on the fulfilment the character received and continues to receive in return for playing her role as a mother. The first line exposes what she probably misses the most about her children now, their company and their presence. She affectionately remembers how they were “all around her”, this line also brings attention to the fact that she felt important and relevant for the reason she was so heavily needed. She compares her children to excited little chicks gathered as a crowd in line eighteen, this highlights her endearment towards their neediness; it also underlines her need to be the caretaker and a means of support for them. Lines nineteen through twenty-three help the reader truly connect with the characters intense love for her children as she openly declares what her “single purpose” was. She first describes that her purpose was to see her children “happy”, “fit”, and “strong”; so she wanted to see them visibly content due to her efforts, which is a mother’s reward for the hard work she put in silently and tenderly. The character then goes on to declare that her purpose also includes making sure that there are no hindrances or hiccups in their general “progress” as they grow from dependent children to independent adults. Added to the list of things this mother has a purpose to ensure is to “care for them all day long” and to keep their “language spotless”. Again, to care for them all day gives a sense of purpose and achievement to this character and by keeping their language free from street slangs and foul language she ensures that they are being guided towards being respectable individuals. The last line of this stanza concludes it by professing that she “was happy, all smiles and song”; indicating that having these purposes, and especially this intense investment of time and energy in her children she felt a great amount of contentment and immensely valued her experiences.
But, alas, they’ve all grown up,
And all have left the nest,
They’ll no more come home to sup,
And their old toys are all at rest!
The workbox for mending their things,
And for putting a nail in Sam’s shoe,
Is now quite useless- a bird without wings;
A mam’s initiative unwanted, no more for her to do!”
The final stanza of this poem is the voice of the character in her present, realizing that all she has now are the memories. The first line discloses her disappointment at the fact that her children are no longer children who are dependent on her. Just as baby birds learn to fly and build nests of their own, line twenty-six describes her own children also having grown up to leave her “nest” that she had put together with so much affection and dedication. The rest of the stanza is an obvious expression of a mother who does not have her children coming to her for their every need. The stanza concludes with the character feeling quite upset about the fact that she feels as if she is unwanted and has nothing to do. These feelings are not unique to her but are well acknowledged by every mother who has poured herself and her existence into raising her children in the best way possible that she could manage. How heartbreaking it must be to watch the loves of your lives walk away with so many pieces of yourself without even realizing that they are leaving you in a state in which you aren’t whole.