poem index

Poems about Motherhood


December 10, 2004
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Looking for Mother's Day poems? Read a new selection of poems appropriate for sharing with Mom on Mother's Day.

Whether singing or scolding, loving or smothering, mothers tend to occupy a mythic space—children may see them as creators, god-like beings who nourish and mend; adults may have to learn how to see them as humans, real people with their own histories and flaws and personalities. They may be resented, quietly tolerated, or loved to the point of melodrama, as in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem "To My Mother":

     The angels, whispering to one another,
     Can find, among their burning terms of love,
     None so devotional as that of "Mother"

Poets have often celebrated this complicated relationship. Some see mothers as teachers, offering both practical and emotional lessons, advice about domestic tasks as well as compassion and strength. Their memory can be a source of inspiration. In "For My Mother," for example, May Sarton writes:

     I summon you now
     Not to think of
     The ceaseless battle
     With pain and ill health,
     The frailty and the anguish.
     No, today I remember
     The creator,
     The lion-hearted.

Of course, mothering is not an easy task, and relationships between mothers and children can disintegrate. Sylvia Plath wrote one of the most searing poems about a mother-child relationship in the poem "Medusa," addressing the mother who calls often on the telephone:

     In any case, you are always there,
     Tremulous breath at the end of my line,
     Curve of water upleaping
     To my water rod, dazzling and grateful,
     Touching and sucking.

But in the best familial circumstances, poets remember both the good and the bad about their relationships with their mothers, and are able to portray to complexities of a relationship in which the mother is both mysterious and intimately known. In Seamus Heaney’s sequence "Clearances," written in memory of his mother, he includes a sonnet about the lovely mundane moments that happened while Heaney and his mother peeled potatoes in the kitchen, the rest of the family away at church:

     So while the parish priest at her bedside
     Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying

     And some were responding and some crying
     I remembered her head bent towards my head,
     Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives--
     Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

For poems about mothers and motherhood, consider the following:

"Sonnet to My Mother" by George Barker
"My Mother Would Be a Falconress" by Robert Duncan
"Kaddish" by Allen Ginsberg
"Portrait" by Louise Glück
"Clearances" by Seamus Heaney
"Kaddish" by David Ignatow
"In Memory of My Mother" by Patrick Kavanagh
"Mother ‘o Mine" by Rudyard Kipling
"Mother, Summer, I" by Phillip Larkin
"The 90th Year" by Denise Levertov
"Parents" by William Meredith
"Medusa" by Sylvia Plath
"To My Mother" by Edgar Allan Poe
"From Childhood" by Rainer Maria Rilke
"To My Mother" by Christina Rossetti
"[Sonnets are full of love, and this my tome]" by Christina Rossetti
"For My Mother" by May Sarton
"To My Mother" by Robert Louis Stevenson
"My Mother on an Evening in Late Summer" by Mark Strand
"Mother Doesn't Want a Dog" by Judith Viorst
"Mama, Come Back" by Nellie Wong

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