Emotions of Poetry In the poem "The Slave Mother," Frances Ellen Watkins Harper uses imagery, figures of speech and voice to help the reader feel the poem. The emotion portrayed by the character is put into words and comes alive. The narration is in third person, which allows the reader to view the poem from the outside in. Imagery is used to help the reader become connected to the characters.
"Heard you that shriek? It rose."(1) The reader immediately uses imagery to visualize hearing a shriek. Personification is given to the shriek when Harper states that the shriek rose. As if the sound has human qualities like a person rising out of bed. Lines 5 and 9 start the same with Harper stating a question "Saw you." The voice implies concern and helps the reader look within and ask the question how in tune the reader is to the poem.
"Saw you those hands so sadly clasped-"(5) and "Saw you the sad, imploring eye?"(9) The reader is given a picture of someone who is pleading for something with his or her whole body. As written by Robin Behn and Chase Twichell, "It's the speaker who must provide these…informing details in the fabric of the poem itself." "She is a mother, pale with fear."(13) Anne Hamilton states when speaking of poets, "His great or lesser contact with inspiration is foreshadowed in the poet's manner of using and combining words." The beginning of the poem paints the image of someone suffering. By line 13 the reader is told who this someone is and she is a mother. The joy this child has brought his mother is described in the body of the poem. The figure of speech with, "A fountain gushing ever new, amid life's desert wild."(27-28) The boy's presence is compared to a fountain of water quenching the dry desert. Life is the desert that needs the boy. The mother needs her son. As stated by Melvyn Bragg, "It is only very rarely that a single reading of a poem will discover all that the work has to offer." When reading and re-reading, "She is a mother, and her hear is breaking in despair."(39-40) The mother is in despair because she has lost her son. Lost her son in a way in which she will never get him back. It is as if the boy were stolen from her.
The mother may also have this feeling because she wishes she were never born into this slavery lifestyle. Her feeling of despair gives the reader the imagery of a slave mother. Her feelings of despair because she will never be free or have children that will be free. The guilt she may carry because she brought her own child into this lifestyle and now he will be a slave.
The figures of speech in, "The only wreath of household love"(23) and "Of music round her heart"(30) and "They tear him from her circling arms"(33) all have a similar piece, the image of a continuous circle. This same figure may represent truly, the circle of love, which connects the mother and her son. The circle of the mother's arms around her son and the music, which circles her heart, may represent the connection, the continuous bond. The circle image may also represent the circle of life; the life of the son will be as the mothers'. The cycle of slavery will continue.
Harper narrates this poem with images the reader may have experienced or has seen or read before. The symbols that are given allow the reader to look deeper within the poem. They allow the reader to see things that were not so obvious the first time reading the poem. The figures of speech which are used gives emotion to the words and draws the reader in deeper, emotionally. The theme of a grieving mother helps the reader understand the depth of pain in which the mother is going through. Most readers can relate to their own mothers or from a relationship with a parent or caregiver. The narration is very powerful and allows the reader to feel the emotion within the poem. Instead of straightforward reading there are questions put out to the reader, which involves the reader in the poem and makes the reading interactive.
Works Cited Bogarad, Carley and Jan Zlotnik Schmidt, eds. Legacies. Fort Worth: Harcourt Inc. 2002.
Harper, Frances Ellen Watkins. The Slave Mother. Bogarad and Schmidt. eds. 427-428.
Behn, Robin and Chase Twichell. The Practice of Poetry. New York, NY. HarperCollins. 1992.
Bragg, Melvyn. How To Enjoy Poetry. Loughton, Essex. Piatkus. 1983.
Hamilton, Anne. The Seven Principles of Poetry. Boston. The Writer Inc. 1958.