The Books of My Numberless Dreams

For My Mother (May I Inherit Half Her Strength)

Posted on: May 13, 2007

My mother loved my father
I write this as an absolute
in this my thirtieth year
the year to discard absolutes

he appeared, her fate disguised,
as a sunday player in a cricket match,
he had ridden from a country
one hundred miles south of hers.

She tells me he dressed the part,
visiting dandy, maroon blazer,
cream serge pants, seam like razor
and the beret and the two-tone shoes.

My father stopped to speak to her sister,
till he looked and saw her by the oleander,
sure in the kingdom of my blue-eyed grandmother.
He never played the cricket match that day.

He wooed her with words and he won her.
He had nothing but words to woo her,
on a visit to distant Kingston he wrote,

“I stood on the corner of King Street and looked,
and not one woman in that town was lovely as you.”

My mother was a child of the petite bourgeoisie
studying to be a teacher, she oiled her hands
to hold pens.

My father barely knew his father, his mother died young,
he was a boy who grew with his granny.

My mother’s trousseau came by steamer through the snows
of Montreal
where her sisters Albertha of the cheekbones and the
perennial Rose, combed Jewlit backstreets with French-
turned names for Doris’s wedding things.

Such a wedding Harvey River, Hanover, had never seen.
Who anywhere had seen a veil fifteen chantilly yards long?
and a crepe de chine dress with inlets of silk godettes
and a neck-line clasped with jeweled pins!

And on her wedding day she wept. For it was a brazen bride in those days
who smiled.
and her bouquet looked for the world like a sheaf of wheat
against the unknown of her belly,
a sheaf of wheat backed by maidenhair fern, representing Harvey River
her face washed by something other than river water.

My father made one assertive move, he took the imported cherub down
from the heights of the cake and dropped it in the soft territory
between her breasts…and she cried.

When I came to know my mother many years later, I knew her as the figure
who sat at the first thing I learned to read: “SINGER,” and she breast-fed
my brother while she sewed; and she taught us to read while she sewed and
she sat in judgment over all our disputes as she sewed.

She could work miracles, she would make a garment from a square of cloth
in a span that defied time. Or feed twenty people on a stew made from
fallen-from-the-head cabbage leaves and a carrot and a cho-cho and a palmful
of meat.

And she rose early and sent us clean into the world and she went to bed in
the dark, for my mother came in always last.

There is a place somewhere where my mother never took the younger ones
a country where my father with the always smile
my father whom all women loved, who had the perpetual quality of wonder
given only to a child…hurt his bride.

Even at his death there was this “Friend” who stood by her side,
but my mother is adamant that that has no place in the memory of
my father.

When he died, she sewed dark dresses for the women amongst us
and she summoned the walk, straight-backed, that she gave to us
and buried him dry-eyed.

Just that morning, weeks after,
she stood delivering bananas from their skin
singing in that flat hill country voice

she fell down a note to the realization that she did
not have to be brave, just this once,
and she cried.

For her hands grown coarse with raising nine children
for her body for twenty years permanently fat
for the time she pawned her machine for my sister’s
Senior Cambridge fees
and for the pain she bore with the eyes of a queen

and she cried also because she loved him.

Lorna Goodison

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85 Responses to "For My Mother (May I Inherit Half Her Strength)"

WHat are your views? INterpretations etc. of the poem? I think a stanza by stanza analysis of the poem in your view might be interesting to read….

THIS WAS ONE OF MY FAVORITE POEMS BACK IN HIGH SCHOOL

im doin dis poem in exams an i need u to help m to summarize it

Thanks for commenting! I will keep your request in mine and maybe do a close reading of the poem. But I can’t make any promises. 😉 I’m pretty bad about keeping blogging commitments.

This poem is so the best one i read so far … have an exam 2morrow on poetry…i
wish me luck…

Good luck, debbie! and thanks for commenting. 🙂 It is a great poem, isn’t it.

its the worst poem ever and ive red a lot of poems in my life

fair enough that it explains a lot of things bt the poem is really boring and sorry to anyone thats offended

This poem is on of My favorite poems!! it really touch me! it also so shows me the struggles a mother has to go through t to ensure the BEST for her children.

lol u have the name of a character from the hummingbird tree which is a novel by Ian McDonald that I am doing this year for English B in class

Thanks for commenting, Kaizer. It’s one of my favourites too so I’m always pleased to see how popular it is according to my stats.

I do not understand stanza four to some extent, “sure in the kingdom of my blue-eyed drandmother.” Is that family tree related??
“He never played the cricket that day.” That is ironic, right? because, if you look at it, he did play the mother ( he had other women). In stanza two, when it says “as a sunday player in a cricket match,” in that line, the word “player”, I look at it as a pun, he was a player as in he actually played cricket and also as a “player” as in he played/cheated on women as shown in the poem he had other women, but I am not looking at the entire poem from this view, just the stanza I am not sure of, so if you can explain a bit that will be nice. Thanks!

tsure in the kingdom of my blue eyed grand mother tells the reader that the persona’s grand mother was white ergo “blue eyed”. He never played the cricket that day tells us that he fell in love with speakers mother and when love happens things change so what he came to do was far from his mind. and i guess your take is also valid btw i had to do several essays on this for my regional exam curse of study (CXC)

sure in the kingdom of my blue eyed grand mother tells the reader that the persona’s grand mother was white ergo “blue eyed”. He never played the cricket that day tells us that he fell in love with speakers mother and when love happens things change so what he came to do was far from his mind. and i guess your take is also valid btw i had to do several essays on this for my regional exam curse of study (CXC)
Reply

I’m preparing for CXC this June and I thought maybe you coud help me out with a question I have. My teacher gave us an assignment to look at ”Ana” and “For my mother” and comment on how the hopes and aspirations of the parents are unfulfilled. However I’m having trouble answering this for “For my mother”. Any suggestions?

Viola,

the word is actually “grandmother” not drand, so nothing to do with trees. The poet is of mixed descent so her grandmother is white. Your take on the “player” word play is certainly an interpretation you could support.

sure in the kingdom of my blue eyed grandmother is a saying like, i swear

This is one of my all time favorite poems. It totally captures the struggles of so many women. Lorna Goodison is the best.

the father cheats on her, but why didnt the mother leave him? what kept her loving him so much and although he didn’t contribute much to the wedding, why did she still marry? what about him she loves? i need d answer for class

The mother stayed married to show her kids that in life, if you make mistakes, you must take responsibility for your actions and do whatever you have to do in order to clean it up, trying your best to avoid it from hindering other people’s development, while maximizing the ways you can change it back on the right course. This can be seen in the passage because in spite of her circumstances the mother did not run out of the situation she was in, she stayed there until the very end, trying to make the best for her children to the best of her ability, even though she helped to deprive herself of a better life. She never let the children know that what they had on or eat everyday was an ultimate sacrifice from the day their mother gave up her dream. This gave her child-the poet-an inspiration to follow and a path of overcoming her struggles, she wanted to follow.

DESCRIBE THE PERSONA IN THE POEM

what year was this poem written ???

The poem was written in 1986

this poem is really great and it shows how men sucks.

note to kayonah, the poem does state that the father wooed the mother with words…. go in her shoes for a while… wen a man cums an fulls ur head, tells u how much he luvs u, first impression he seem like a gentleman…. onli afta yall get married u realize the truth, u go still hav the hots for him, even though he meks u pull out ur hair…. this was evident wen the persona says ” wen he dies she sewed dresses for the women amongst us an she summoned that walk, str8 backed that she gave to us an she buried him dried eyed………. she fell down a note….she did not have to be brave, jus dis once she cried” she was aware of the father’s evil deeds, buh she was strong and proud. up until she realized the truth

got this poem in an exam dis week… hope i doo good

the main theme is treatment of wman right?

the main theme is treatment of women right?

Women in society ties in with that too.

Please Tell me what the The Stanza “My mother loved my father
I write this as an absolute
in this my thirtieth year
the year to discard absolutes” ?

An absolute is something that is envitable….such as…death and the existance of God, as well as the sun being out there in the atmosphere….In the thirtieth year, is speaking about the childs age…the child is 30 years old…when she said the year to discard absolutes, what she was saying is, what she now know is not an absolute, she should let them go from that bracket….but the love her mother had for her father is so strong, that she believes her mother realy loved her father with all her heart.

the word ‘absolute’ means sure e.g. “I am absolutely right” means that I am sure about something. The personna was sure about her mother’s love for her father. At age 13, the start of teenage years, a person becomes unsure about many things.

can you please interprete this poem please

I’ve been trying to translate this into Serbo-Croatian, but I can’t quite grasp what the “Jewlit backstreets” refers to. It must be some culture-specific reference, and I would be really grateful if you could enlighten me on this. Thank you!!

“he was a boy who grew with his granny”
Is there a pun by the use of boy. That is was a boy then and a boy still and is there a Significant difference between the use of her mother grandmother in stanza 4 as compared to her father granny in stanza 6 .

i need help with this poem

The father had appeared from a country south of hers. Sometimes, it can be interpreted those who live in the south might be…ya know, a little more uncouth. No behavior or social standing. (Sometimes)

However he dressed quite well, his appearance leading when his background was false.

Viola did comment correctly. His being a “player in a cricket match” would be a pun, as seen later on in the poem, he was “loved by all women” and “with the always smile”. A player. A cheat. One who forgets he has a wife and frolics with others.

What I found amusing is that he had seen the sister first, since he stopped to talk to her but then he saw the narrator’s mother and soon made himself known to her.

The reference of the mother coming from a different race, at least mixed with one valued so highly *blue eyes, white grandmother?*, is another nod to the difference in social class, behavior.

“He wooed her with words and he won her.”

Doesn’t it seem that she appeared to be only a conquest?

“He had nothing but words to woo her.”

An obvious statement, the man had nothing but his flattery to his name.

He wrote to her and stated that when he was in Kingston, not one woman in the town was as lovely as she.

Another piece of evidence that he was a player, if he was so besotted with her, wouldn’t he needn’t bother looking at other women? Also, it was another piece of flattery on his part.

Now it is mentioned just how richly a family the narrator’s mother was from. And she was educated. The narrator’s father grew with his granny, barely knew his father and mother died young. An unstable home…though you’d think a boy who grew with his grandmother would have a little more sense, would you not?

The wedding was extravagant. However, held at Harvey River, Hanover, which had never seen such a wedding. Probably they’re marrying where he, the father, lives?

I would like to continue but CXC is this Weds and it is time for me to be off. Good luck to the rest!

hii cindy, your piece is REALLY helpful sdo thanks alot (: but uhmm….i would like to know what you meant when you said that you’d think that a boy who grew with his grandmother would have a little more sense. Do you mean that as in to say that old people have more sense or something of the sort?? S=

Good analysis. That was really helpful.

Good stuff Reanne.

I neeed moreee information about this poem
i’ve read all your comments and they are very imformative but i need more

d info so far is gr8 but i need more…thanks cindy…i wanna undastan d rest ah d poem

this story is 1 of d best through out d world of poetry.its 1 of d easiest to relate to.i like he d persona use of words can b identify differently through out d poem.”he was a boy who grew up wit is granny”,dis showed dat d boy was from a lower class,bcuz dem alne style dere grandmother as granny.we cud c dat d mother was from a upper class society,shown in d poem dat her grandmother has blue eye n referred to her grandmother as “grandmother”

When it says ” Even at his death there was this ‘Friend’ who stood by her”
Who was the friend whats the significance of this?

This FRIEND was one of his women, who his wife happen to know, but obviously could have done nothing about it, so she accepted her. Even when he died she was there grieving with the family.

Maybe the friend might be his…mistress? The one whom he was involved with other than his wife.

Im not sure.. but i think the reason they married was because she was pregnant.

“And on her wedding day she wept. For it was a brazen bride in those days
who smiled.
and her bouquet looked for the world like a sheaf of wheat
against the unknown of her belly”

Why would he put unknown of her belly there?? And thats why she was crying, because she HAD to get married to him because she was pregnant or she would put her family to shame. Maybe thats why they paid for the whole thing, because they wanted it to happen quickly. She had to sacrifice herself, her dreams and ultimately her life possibly for a child she didnt plan to have.

It could mean that but my opinion is that the unknown of her belly could be attributed to nerves or an unknown of what the future would hold for her in marriage.
And brazen bride seems to mean a woman who was experienced with men and sex. Since Doris (the mother) cried and not smiled we can assume that she was innocent and not experienced or aware of post-wedding ‘activities’ hence being nervous.
Therefore I do think she was a pure bride but this point can be argued.

I would tend to agree with merkim– it seems Doris is an innocent bride.

The point is first backed up by her tears (I don’t blame her for being nervous in the middle of an extravagant wedding ceremony far from home, and about to experience sex: a very mysterious thing for a young woman of the early 20th century) whereas perhaps a sexually experienced woman wouldn’t be nervous about her wedding night, but rather be excited or even filled with anticipation–neither feeling being generally associated with tears.

Too, with Goodison’s writings, one must always be on the lookout for multiple meanings, so when she wrote “For it was a brazen bride in those days who smiled,” almost as an explanation, which it might just be. Along with her fears of sex and marriage, Doris could be crying because that was the thing to do as a bride at that time; since she is of wealthy family, one could come to the conjecture that she also is protecting the appearance of her innocence by allowing herself to cry.

As for believing the girl was pregnant based on the allusion to her belly, I would first interpret that “belly” could be more related to the womb, and the “known” of “unknown” would be in the biblical sense,(i.e. her womb has not been known by man) thereby further implying that Doris is innocent. And still, if “belly” is taken entirely at face value, syntactically speaking, it becomes the noun phrase “of her belly,” which is modified by the adjective “unknown.” This makes her belly seem as if it is in a state of being unknown.

Again, keeping in mind Goodison’s tendency for double meanings, it may also be interesting to note the juxtaposition of the girl’s belly and her bouquet, which “looked for the world like a sheaf of wheat.” Now, considering that wheat has long represented fertility and the bounties of ‘Mother Earth,’ we can probably read that Doris’ belly (womb) will be… fruitful. Near the end of the poem, in fact, her very fruitfulness is proved as readers learn that Doris has borne and raised NINE children.

There IS also the fact that Goodison never so much as alludes to physical relations between Doris and the poetic voice’s father, although she has no problem mentioning his indiscretions with women other than her mother (e.g. the “Friend”)

I love Lorna Goodison so, so much. My favorite poem of all time is “Mother, The Great Stones got to Move” by her. It’s about the unity mankind and its plights–it is absolutely beautiful. check it out if you want 🙂

the title is also very significant :For My Mother (may i inherit half her strength)…the part that says may i inherit half her strength says that the mother was indded VERY strong and that to inherit barely half of her strength would be just enough to sustain any regular person..the mother had ALOT OF STRENGTH…

^^^^ continuation to my comment posted above… the title also implies that the persona admires the mother very much for he/she would like to inherit some of the mother’s strength

i dnt think she got married because of she was pregnant. she loved him . ‘ for my mother loved my father’. when the poet states ‘ against the unknown of her belly’i think tht suggests that she was a virgin. never touched so no-one would knw what secrets it held.

she was pregnant ….i studied this poem and yh she got married because she love him….

what is a song that will match this poem?

the poem is boring and theres no other way to that bt anyone feelin offended sorry bt i get the message bt she(lorna goodison)shoulda b more direct and passive

how does this relate to the poem “coolie mother” ? what are the similarities and differences…?

this poem is similar to “coolie mother” as they both speak of women in society and how hardworking they are: they will go to any length to ensure their children receive the best of things.
however, they are different in that Jasmattie (from “coolie mother”) has a child, while Doris (from “for my mother”) has 9 children. Jasmattie seem to have born poor, living in a house as small as a shoe box; while Doris is of middle class, but married a ‘sweet talker’ who had no material advantages with which to entice her.
there are others too.

could somebody pl tell me what this poem is all about

could somebody please tell me what this poem is all about.

please help me with this poem

hey……can someone help me with the 10th stanza………my father made one assertive move…in the soft territory between her breasts ..and she cried

what does it mean?

The father simply took a cherub, which is very significant in terms of purity , that was at the top of the wedding cake and dropped it in her cleavage. Symbolically that movement foreshadows the husband cheating,promiscuous and perverted ways. It also suggests him bring her down from her ‘height’ in society to his level of poverty where he had “nothing to woo her”.

hope this helped

was he such a perv …he couldn’t wait for their honeymoon to touch her …so he had to play with her boobs

I honestly doubt it had much to do with being pervy… it was a young groom trying to be funny, make her equal to him socially. It could be a dirty joke–typical fodder at weddings–or even (in the style of Goodison) foreshadowing of the wedding night and their future together.

all the same, it appears the teasing jangled Doris’ nerves (wedding jitters, wedding night jitters) and it probably just pushed her over the edge again.

not all the mom good for me. that’s all

maybe i’m not a good sister for my mom but..’ everytime i see her i ask my self.. ‘ i got anything wrong for her’ i cant say sorry but.. i promiz i really love her so much!! i wanna die because i know i’m too young for the situation i’ve got for me and my boyfriend..’ but i really really sorry’!!! how to born a new life again??

..help me plz..!!!

i need help 2

can someone tell what this is about i need 2 do my home work

This poem is very touching and its definitely not boring…..it shows what a single mother has to go thru for her children….i think its amazing and for all those who hate the poem….sad to say but u dont have a heart….

THIS POEM OBVIOUSLY SUCKS AS WELL AS THE SITE BECAUSE THERE ARE NO DEVICES ATTACHED TO IT THAT I CAN COPY DOWN………………………*thumbs down*

i love this poem so much i remember it everyday

good poem

I’m preparing for CXC this June and I thought maybe you coud help me out with a question I have. My teacher gave us an assignment to look at ”Ana” and “For my mother” and comment on how the hopes and aspirations of the parents are unfulfilled. However I’m having trouble answering this for “For my mother”. Any suggestions?

i like this poem

is there a summary for this poem, one that helps non-poetry lovers as my self to understand?

Reason for this, i think personally that it can be argued in terms of the different cultures, unbringining and the beliefs that people hold within our society.

can u explain ‘combed Jewlit backstreet’ plzz

THIS WILL ALWAYS BE MY ALL TIME FAVORITE……BECAUSE AS IT STATES” FOR MY MOTHER MAY I INHERIT HALF HER STRENGTH………..MY MOTHER IS THE STRONGEST WOMAN I KNOW,,,AND HER STORY IS SONG IS OF SOMEWHAT THE SAME MELODY….

Nice one it’s boiling down the tears of losing mother’s love. Good

I remembered this poem from high school. I can never forget it some 18 years later, I had to search for it. Thanks for sharing it online.

I did this poem back in high school about 16 years ago. I doubt whether I did understand it back then. But from what I gather now is that the woman(mother) married a womanizer who cheated on her. And I feel that’s why she didn’t cry. She put up with him and the children while neglecting herself and that call for real strength. But despite it all she still love him.

I’m not very good with poetry. But I know what’s it like to want help with something and not get it. That’s why I try to comment again the poem. Hope it help a little. Wish person would try to explain it to help those suffering with the understanding of the poem.

anyone needing help with this poem I will be glad to give a line by line analysis. hit me up on my email ddonnalee8@gmail.com

Reblogged this on Kulture Shocked and commented:
Did this poem in high school. It’s one of my favourites!

[…] She had her expenses, and a little support from my aunt abroad, but she always managed her responsibilities well. The rent was always paid. The lights and phone never went off. There was always food on the table. She was good at managing her small piece. And she even had a lil ‘kitty’ as they call it, which was basically a cookie tin or a hidden bag with a rainy-day fund stashed in it. She trusted me with the location, and I’m proud to say I never disappointed her. Because she taught values while she was out making sure I was taken care of. May I inherit her strength. […]

[…] “For My Mother (May I Inherit Half Her Strength)” – Lorna Goodison […]

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