Sujata Bhatt

The Need to Recall the Journey by Sujata Bhatt

‘The Need to Recall the Journey’ by Sujata Bhatt is a poem about the past and a speaker’s desire to return to the moment her child was born. It was too fleeting, she feels, and she can’t help but wish she was there again.

The poem takes a unique approach to depictions of childbirth. It does not focus on pain and suffering as many poems do, nor entirely on childbirth’s joys. ‘The Need to Recall the Journey’ rests somewhere in-between, in the reality of what one mother experienced and how special her child’s birth was to her, particularly when the child was starting to emerge from her body, and she could feel her baby’s hair. 

The poem is also as much about storytelling and reliving the past as it is about childbirth. It’s not truly a specific journey that the speaker is wondering about in her final stanza; more, it’s about a human need to tell stories of the past. 

The Need to Recall the Journey by Sujata Bhatt


Summary 

‘The Need to Recall the Journey’ by Sujata Bhatt depicts a mother’s desire to return, time and time again, to memories of childbirth. 

The poem starts with the speaker describing how it’s very easy to take herself back to the moments her child was only partially born. She nurses her baby and remembers what it was like to be in labor and feel her child being born but not having her in the world yet. 

As her child was born, it was like letting go of a loved one about to embark on a long ship voyage, she writes. It’s sorrowful but something that one has to accept. Now, time has passed, and her body has healed. But, this only seems to inspire the speaker to retell stories of her child’s birth with more urgency, trying to recapture what the experience was like. 

You can read the full poem here

Themes 

The main themes of ‘The Need to Recall the Journey‘ are childbirth and motherhood, along with storytelling and the past. The poet asks readers to consider why it is that we always long to retell stories of the “journey.” In this case, the speaker uses childbirth as an example. She can’t help but give in to the urge to talk about it, feeling as though it’s the best way she has to recapture the moments right as her baby was being born. Now that her child’s birth is in the past and her body has healed, she only feels the longing to return to the birth more intensely. 

Structure and Form 

‘The Need to Recall the Journey’ by Sujata Bhatt is a nine-stanza poem that is divided into uneven stanzas. Some are only two lines, while others stretch to eleven lines. The poem is written in free verse, meaning that the poet did not make use of a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. The lines are of different lengths, some as short as one word and others around five or six. Throughout, the poet uses some elements of repetition and rhythm to help the poem acquire some form of unity. For example, the repetition of imagery or the use of “pass” in stanza seven. 

Literary Devices 

This poem uses several literary devices, including: 

  • Simile: a comparison that uses “like” or “as.” For example, “like seeing a beloved one off / to a harbour, to a ship.” 
  • Imagery: the use of particularly effective descriptions. These are meant to trigger the reader’s senses and help him imagine a scene in great detail. For example, “her hair – / a thick, fuzzy heat.”
  • Allusion: a reference to something outside that’s never fully described or defined. In this case, childbirth. The poet alludes to elements of childbirth throughout the poem but never mentions it by name. 
  • Anaphora: occurs when the poet repeats the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “Now” at the beginning of line one of the first stanza and line one of the second stanza. 
  • Metaphor: a comparison between two things that does not use “like” or “as.” For example,  describing childbirth as a “journey” in the final stanzas or the comparison between the child’s head and “Sticky feathers / clung wet to runny whites of eggs …”


Detailed Analysis 

Stanzas One and Two 

Now when she cries

for milk,



now as she drinks

I drift back

to the moments when she was 5

almost out

In the first lines of the poem, the speaker begins by describing her child drinking milk and crying for her. The sounds her child makes and the feeling of her nursing are all the speaker needs to take her back to the moments when she was giving birth. She returns to this time willingly, very much so, in fact, as the following lines reveal. She wants nothing more than to return to these memories. They mean something special to her. 

It’s important to note that while it’s quite obvious from the beginning that the poem is about childbirth, it’s never named. Never does the poet say the word “childbirth” or “birth” at all. The stanza is enjambed, as most of the lines are. This helps maintain the speaker’s conversational tone. It’s clear these are emotional memories, but the syntax remains that which one would expect in an everyday conversation

Stanzas Three and Four 

still part of me 

but already I could reach down 

(…)

I want it to go on – 

The third stanza is only three lines. The speaker recalls, in a unique and perhaps surprising way, reaching down to feel her child partway out of her body. This was a fleeting moment, one that readers can easily interpret, means a lot to her. She could reach down and feel her child’s “hair” as she was giving birth. 

But, at the same time, the child was still a part of her. They still existed together. It’s this unique juxtaposition of a new human being coming into the world and two human beings being for one last moment united that feels special in these lines. 

The speaker notes quite clearly that she’d like to “return / to her moment of birth.” This is a statement that one might be surprised to see, as giving birth is normally associated with pain that one would like to forget. But, this mother feels differently. The experience was life-changing, and she feels as though she’d like to go back to it and live in that moment forever. 

As the next lines reveal, the mother was not devoid of pain in these moments, but it didn’t define the experience for her. 

Stanza Five 

When the pain was suddenly 

defined by her head,

(…)

you’ve never been to … 

The fifth stanza is the longest of the poem at 11 lines. The poet describes what it is exactly about that moment that she remembers and what she misses about it. She remembers the pain as her child’s head moved out of her body, right when she was “about to slide out / safely.” It went by too quickly, she believes. The mother can’t get back the moment and the piece of her “heart” that went out with her. 

The speaker sees her child as a part of herself, someone that used to exist within her and who, during these life-changing moments, was at once her own person and still a part of her body. 

She describes feeling her child being born like “seeing a beloved one off / to harbour.” Her child was on a methodical ship to a “far away place / you’ve never been.” This last line emphasizes the uncertainty the mother feels about her child’s life. She doesn’t know what the future holds for her baby, and now that she’s been born, it’s something she can more actively worry about. 

The image she used in these lines, which takes the form of a simile, evokes feelings of love, longing, and sorrow. One is asked to imagine watching a loved one sail away on a ship, unsure of where they’re going. 

Stanzas Six and Seven

But I could touch

(…)

What I thought could never heal

actually heals. 

While she knew that her daughter being born was going to mean both of them were entering a new stage of life, the mother could feel her daughter’s “hair” while still knowing that her baby was not yet fully born. They existed in an in-between world between one stage of life and the next. 

She uses a metaphor, one of the best examples of imagery in the poem, to describe her child’s hair as “thick, fuzzy heat” on her body and as “sticky feathers clung / wet to runny whites of eggs.” She couldn’t see her baby, but through feeling, she experienced her near birth. 

There is a transition between this stanza and the next where the poet notes that the child has been born. Time has passed, and already the baby has a “favourite sleeping position.” She’s her own person already, no longer a part of her mother (something that the speaker, in a way, seems to mourn). 

The mother also notes that her bleeding, which she felt would never stop, finally has. Her body has also healed, something that she felt it would never do. The world is moving on, she’s saying. The impossible has happened, and now she has to face life beyond the birth of her child. It’s something that she’s never going to get to return to. 

Stanzas Eight and Nine 

And still there is this need 

to recall the journey, 

(…)

trying to understand?

The final two stanzas are six lines and two lines. The poet’s speaker concludes by saying that although the healing has been completed and her child is already becoming a unique person, she feels a need to “recall the journey” and “retell the story” of her child’s birth.

By speaking about it and sharing her experiences, she can feel closer to the moment. It’s the only way she can feel a part of it again. It’s an “urge” she can’t resist to share what she loved through and “reopen” all the details until she feels it again at that moment. 

The poem concludes with a rhetorical question that’s directed at the readers as much as it is a question for the speaker herself to consider. She wonders what it is about life that “we” are trying to understand when we return again and again to stories of the past.

Specifically, this story relates to the creation of life and a powerful transitionary period. It seems likely that answers to this question, if there are any, will vary from person to person. Each reader is asked to consider why one would ever want to return to a moment like that which the speaker describes and relive what happened. 

FAQs 

What is the purpose of ‘The Need to Recall the Journey?’ 

The purpose is to highlight how life-changing some experiences can be and how storytelling is one of the only ways that one can relive those experiences. Giving birth to one’s child is a one-time experience. You don’t get to go back and experience it again. This is something that brings the speaker a great deal of regret. 

What is the message of ‘The Need to Recall the Journey?’ 

The message is that storytelling is the primary way that human beings connect to the past and relive some of our happiest and most emotional moments. In this case, the poet’s speaker can’t help but retell the story of her child’s birth, feeling as though it helps her return to her labor and experience it all over again. 

Who is the speaker in ‘The Need to Recall the Journey?’ 

The speaker is a mother who has recently given birth to a female child and who has a deep emotional connection to the experience of giving birth. Although it was painful, the speaker longs to return to the moments when her child’s head was emerging, but the two were not yet separated. 

What is the tone of ‘The Need to Recall the Journey?’ 

The tone is passionate and filled with longing. The speaker loves her child and loves the memories she has of her child’s birth. So much so that she’d like to return and live through them again. Her labor went too quickly and was over before she knew it. 


Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Sujata Bhatt poems. For instance: 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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