Mother of the Groom

A compassionate poem in which Heaney moves from decoding the thoughts and feelings of characters he knows less well in Wedding Day to a person he has known all his life. Mother of the Groom focuses on the poet’s own mother listening to the wedding breakfast speeches. He imagines her feelings as she sits silently through the proceedings.

Heaney imagines that at this life-changing moment his mother is remembering him, first as a babe in arms, bath-water reflected on his glistening back then, once he has learnt to walk, as a kind of Baby Bear figure his small boots In the ring of boots at her feet.

The hands that once held the child on her knee lie now in her voided lap: her son has committed to a new domesticity: She hears a daughter welcomed.

She always knew that the youngster she once bathed would one day wriggle free and move to pastures new: It’s as if he kicked when lifted/ And slipped her soapy hold.

The ring on his mother’s finger symbolizes her long-term dedication as wife and mother: if once upon a time it could be slipped off with a little help (soap would ease off/ the wedding ring) her thickened fingers now hold it fast: bedded forever.

His mother’s natural grace is confirmed by her acceptance of the new bride: her clapping hand.

  • glisten: shine (of something wet);
  • voided: emptied; void: empty space, airless vacuum;
  • ease: remove gradually
  • bedded: firmly fixed;
  • MP suggests much deeper feelings in play: ‘In the companion piece to ‘Wedding Day’, ‘Mother of the Groom’ – and in many of the poems which follow it – Heaney articulates his enhanced awareness of women’s lot and losses. The lonely, unappreciated wife and mother-figures found at the heart of Door into the Dark reappear in the latter half of Wintering Out in a variety of guises. From his portrayal of the displaced mother in ‘Mother of the Groom’ one senses a son’s guilty unease … he captures vividly the mother’s feelings of emptiness, redundancy, The separation which began at birth is completed … Despite her grief at ‘losing’ her firstborn, her companion and champion, the older woman is generous to her ‘rival’. She rallies and applauds’ (MP109);
  • a rather self-conscious early poem called ‘Undine’ … announces Heaney’s inter­est in assuming (as in ‘The Wife’s Tale’, ‘Mother’, ‘Limbo’, ‘Shore Woman’ and elsewhere) a special type of anonymity: what it might mean to imagine oneself inside a woman’s experience. (HV22-3)
  • 3 quartets in 3 sentences; unrhymed lines of 5-8 syllables;
  • the balance of enjambed lines and punctuation regulates the breath groups of oral delivery;
  • 3rd person pronouns used; identification in the title; the mother does not speak or express judgement;
  • the action unfolds within her head, notions placed there by a son confident in his judgement;
  • metonymy: young son/ the pair of ‘small boots’ within the wider family all wearing farmyard footwear: ‘ring of boots’;
  • mother the homemaker and dominant figure: ‘at her feet’;
  • irony: an intimate bathing event of his early childhood is recalled at the very instant of his irreversible independence;
  • old saying: ‘a daughter gained rather than a son lost’; the mother listens silently as another voice welcomes;
  • poet puts this moment of his independence down, not as an act of maternal carelessness ‘slipped’, but to his determined nature (‘kicked’);
  • soap’ comes to symbolize the longevity of marriage;
  • bedded’: both embedded in the chubby fingers of the ageing process and associated with the intimacy of the marital bed;
  • forever’ echoes the marriage vow ‘ till death do us part’;
  • we can only infer the mother’s feelings towards the woman her son has chosen to marry via her gesture of approval: ‘clapping hand ‘; no words shared;
  • Heaney is a meticulous craftsman using combinations of vowel and consonant to form a poem that is something to be listened to;
  • the music of the poem: eleven assonant strands are woven into the text; Heaney places them grouped within specific areas to create internal rhymes , or reprises them at intervals or threads them through the text.

alliterative effects allow pulses or beats or soothings or hissings or frictions of consonant sound to modify the assonant melodies:

  • the first lines, for example, brings together a cluster of plosives, velar [k] [g], bilabial [b] alongside nasals [n] and [m]and sibilant [s] variants;
  • it is well worth teasing out the sound clusters for yourself to admire the poet’s sonic engineering:
  • Consonants (with their phonetic symbols) can be classed according to where in the mouth they occur
  • Front-of-mouth sounds voiceless bi-labial plosive [p] voiced bi-labial plosive [b]; voiceless labio-dental fricative [f] voiced labio-dental fricative [v]; bi-labial nasal [m]; bilabial continuant [w]
  • Behind-the-teeth sounds voiceless alveolar plosive [t] voiced alveolar plosive [d]; voiceless alveolar fricative as in church match [tʃ]; voiced alveolar fricative as in judge age [dʒ]; voiceless dental fricative [θ] as in thin path; voiced dental fricative as in this other [ð]; voiceless alveolar fricative [s] voiced alveolar fricative [z]; continuant [h] alveolar nasal [n] alveolar approximant [l]; alveolar trill [r]; dental ‘y’ [j] as in yet
  • Rear-of-mouth sounds voiceless velar plosive [k] voiced velar plosive [g]; voiceless post-alveolar fricative [ʃ] as in ship sure, voiced post- alveolar fricative [ʒ] as in pleasure; palatal nasal [ŋ] as in ring/ anger.

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