‘Baby Song’ by Thom Gunn depicts the experiences, emotions, and thoughts of a baby who has been born recently. The poem portrays a different perspective, as the world is seen through the baby’s eyes. Thus, the poem introduces the baby’s perceptions and feelings in order to vividly portray a child’s mind a few moments after being born.
Thom Gunn’s poem consists of seven stanzas formed by rhyming couplets (a series of two lines that rhyme). This structured and consistent rhyme scheme represents an innocent way of speaking related to lullabies or Nursery rhyme. Hence, the form of the poem constructs a constant and soft childlike rhythm that imitates cradle songs. Nevertheless, the baby’s words and thoughts emphasize the child’s uneasiness, as they contrast with the soothing rhythm of the poem.
‘Baby Song’ builds two main spaces that contain contrasting images. On one hand, there is the womb, the inside, where the baby feels safe and protected. On the other hand, there is the room, the outside, where the child is uncomfortable and feels in danger constantly.
You can read the full poem here.
Baby Song Analysis
From the private ease of Mother’s womb
I fall into the lighted room.
The first stanza sets the scene and the tone of the poem. The lyrical voice starts by describing his/her primary state: “From the private ease of Mother’s womb”. The womb is described as secure and comfortable, a place where the baby feels “private ease”. Nevertheless, this first picture of comfort and safety is disturbed by the outside the world. The baby is born so he/she is forced to go from the inside of the womb to the outside world (“I fall into the lighted room”). This is described as an unsettling passage, where the first image (“the lighted room”) presents the harshness and violence of the world. Moreover, the use of the verb “fall” can also be read religiously as the “fall” of mankind from paradise. Notice that, despite of the harshness of the words, the stanza is constructed with very soft sounds which build a contrast between what it is being said and what is being heard.
The second stanza presents a question that expresses the baby’s thoughts. The lyrical voice communicates a very simple message: he/she wants to be where he/she was before (“Why don’t they simply put me back”). This previous stage, as it was mentioned in the previous stanza, is a warm and secure place that is further described in the second line of this stanza. The womb is “warm”, “wet”, and “black”. Notice the alliteration on this line and how the monosyllabic rhythm of the stanza portrays the security and the womb in a simple and direct way. The baby doesn’t understand why he/she is in such a place and he/she expresses his/her simple desire to go back to happiness that can never be retrieved.
But one thing follows on another.
Things were different inside Mother.
The third stanza depicts a realization that the baby has. There is a powerful force in life that can’t be controlled: time doesn’t stop and it only goes forward. Thus, the baby becomes aware that all of this is inevitable and he/she can’t do anything to stop it (“But one thing follows on another”). There is a big difference between the uneasiness that the child feels towards this inevitability and the security of the mother’s womb. The lyrical voice constructs this important difference, as he/she says that “Things were different inside Mother”.
The fourth stanza of ‘Baby Song’ describes what the baby felt before he/she was born. The lyrical voice emphasizes the qualities of the womb by saying that “Padded and jolly I would ride”. The womb is not just a comfortable place (“Padded”) but a happy place too (“jolly”). Then, the lyrical voice will emphasize what he/she has lost: “The perfect comfort of her inside”. The mother’s womb was the most comfortable place and, after birth, it is impossible to go back to it. Notice how the tone of the poem intensifies through the stanzas in order to portray how hopeless the baby feels outside his/her mother’s womb.
They tuck me in a rustling bed
–I lie there, raging, small, and red.
The fifth stanza furthers on the outside world. The lyrical voice mentions how he/she is tucked into a “rustling bed”; a bed that is not comfortable and that is very different from his/her mother’s womb. The contrast between the womb and the outside world intensifies, as the lyrical voice continues to depict the outside world with more dramatic impressions than the soft images that portray the womb. Moreover, the lyrical voice says: “I like there, raging, small and red”. The baby is in his/her cradle and he/she is unable to do anything about his/her surroundings and present situation. Notice the difference between the adjectives in the previous stanza and in this one. The outside is described as unsettling and rough for the baby.
The sixth stanza of ‘Baby Song’ explores the possibilities of the lyrical voice. The child says: “I may sleep soon, I may forget”. He/she presents his/her possibilities in this outside world with a simple longing tone. Then, the child establishes his/her regret of the previous comfortable and secure place (“But I won’t forget that I regret”). This is accentuated in order to make an emphasis on the lesson of inevitability that the child is learning. Notice the alliteration on both lines and how they create a rougher sound to convey the child’s feelings.
A rain of blood poured round her womb,
But all time roars outside this room.
The final stanza presents a powerful image that summarizes the entire poem. The lyrical voice talks about a “rain of blood poured round her womb”. This strong image portrays the comfort and the security that the baby feels wrapped in the womb. Moreover, this provides a sustaining bond between the mother and the child, generating a stronger emotional attachment that the child has towards the womb. However, this image is contrasted in the second line, as “all time roars outside this room”. The image of the rain in the previous line is substantially different to that of the “roars”, which are painful and unpredictable. This line implies the future events that will happen in the child’s life, creating an unsettling connotation. Notice the rhyme in these two stanzas and how the inside (“womb”) plays melodically with the outside (“room”). This outlines perfectly the distinction that the poem constructs between inside and outside. Furthermore, this final stanza serves as an emotional climax, as the baby is now aware that his/her control over things has been taken away.
About Thom Gunn
Thomson William Gunn was born in 1929 and died in 2004. He was an Anglo-American Poet. Gunn’s works were both praised in England and in America. During his early stage as a poet, Thom Gunn was associated with The Movement, a group of English poets who were considered anti-romantic because of their simple content and conventional form. When he moved to San Francisco, Gunn’s poesy merged into a looser verse with a wider variety of topics. His most famous work is The Man With Night Sweats, published in 1992, which featured a portrait of the bohemian lifestyle, drug use, sex, and gay-related topics.