My Mother at Sixty-Six Explanation and Analysis And Extra Questions

My Mother at Sixty-Six,Kamala das

Poem 1, Kamala Das’ “My Mother at Sixty-Six” Summary, Theme, Line-by-Line Explanation, Analysis, Question Answers with Extract-Based Questions.

Poem 1- My Mother At Sixty-Six by Kamala Das:

Kamala Das

Kamala Das (1934-2009), also known as Kamala Suraiyya, was a prominent Indian poet and writer. She fearlessly explored themes of love, sexuality, and identity in her works, challenging societal norms.

‘My Mother At Sixty-Six’ is from the collection ‘Best of Kamala Das‘ publisged in 1991.

My Mother at Sixty-Six Explanation and Analysis And Extra Questions

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Vocabulary:

Ashen: Pale or grey, often associated with death or illness.
Corpse: A dead body, especially of a human being.
Doze: To sleep lightly or briefly; to nap.
Merry: Cheerful and lively.
Open-mouthed: Having the mouth open, often due to surprise or fatigue.
Pale: Light in colour; lacking intensity or brightness.
Spilling: Flowing or pouring out in large quantities.
Sprinting: Running or moving quickly over a short distance.
Yards: Units of measurement for length.
Wan: Pale or sickly in appearance; lacking vitality or colour.

Summary “My Mother at Sixty-Six”:

In “My Mother at Sixty-Six,” Kamala Das takes readers on a journey where she confronts the stark reality of her mother’s ageing during a drive to the airport. Witnessing her mother’s frailty, symbolised by her ashen face, triggers a wave of emotions – from denial to fear and eventually resignation. Despite the vibrant scenes outside the car window, the poet’s attention is drawn to the inevitable passage of time and the fragility of life.

Das captures the universal experience of coming to terms with a loved one’s mortality through simple yet profound imagery. The poem serves as a poignant reminder of the transient nature of existence and the enduring bond between parent and child.

Central Idea: My Mother at Sixty-Six:

In Kamala Das’ poem “My Mother at Sixty-Six,” the poet shares her emotions as she drives her mother to the airport. The poem captures the feelings of coming to terms with a parent’s ageing, the fear of loss and the attempt to hide these emotions with a smile. The poet observes her mother as she sleeps with an open mouth and sees her as a reflection of mortality. Despite the vibrant scenes outside, the poet feels the stark contrast of her mother’s frailty. “My Mother at Sixty-Six” reflects on the inevitable passage of time and the complexities of the parent-child relationship.

Justification of the title “My Mother at Sixty-Six”:

The title, “My Mother at Sixty-Six,” justifies/signifies itself by directly presenting the poem’s subject: the poet’s mother and her age at sixty-six. Through this title, Kamala Das establishes the poem’s central theme, which revolves around the poet’s observations and reflections on her mother’s ageing process. By specifying her mother’s age, the title emphasises the passage of time and the inevitability of ageing, key elements explored throughout the poem.

Also, the possessive pronoun “My” in the title personalises the poem, indicating that the speaker’s relationship with her mother is central to the narrative, further highlighting the emotional significance of the subject matter. Thus, the title succinctly sums up the poem’s focus on the poet’s poignant contemplation of her mother’s advancing age.

Explanation “My Mother at Sixty-Six”:

In ‘My Mother at Sixty-Six,’ Kamala Das takes us on a poignant journey as she drives with her mother from their family home to Cochin. The poem reflects the poet’s emotions and thoughts as she witnesses her mother’s old age and mortality.

The poem begins with the speaker driving with her mother on a Friday morning. She notices her mother dozing off beside her, with her mouth open and face looking ashen, like a corpse’s. This sight shocks the speaker and makes her painfully aware that her mother is as old as she appears. The word “pain” indicates the emotional turmoil the speaker experiences as she confronts her mother’s ageing.

However, the speaker quickly tries to push away these thoughts and diverts her attention to the surroundings outside the car window. She observes young trees sprinting past and merry children playing outside their homes. This portrayal of life and vitality contrasts with the ageing and frailty of her mother.

After reaching the airport and going through the security check, the speaker looks at her mother again, standing a few yards away. At this moment, she sees her mother as wan and pale, resembling a late winter’s moon. The comparison to a moon adds a sense of coldness and remoteness, signifying the emotional distance between the mother and daughter.

The poet then reveals her own vulnerability as she experiences the old familiar ache,” which refers to her childhood fear of losing her mother. This fear becomes even more apparent as her mother grows older, and the poet becomes acutely aware of the inevitability of losing her.

Despite the internal turmoil and fear, the speaker puts on a brave face. She bids her mother farewell with a casual “see you soon, Amma” and forces herself to smile repeatedly. The repetition of “smile” indicates the poet’s attempt to suppress her genuine emotions and present a facade of strength.

‘My Mother at Sixty-Six’ by Kamala Das is a touching portrayal of the complex emotions that arise when witnessing a loved one’s ageing. The poem delves into themes of mortality, fear, and the emotional bond between a mother and daughter. Through her evocative language and reflective tone, Kamala Das captures the bittersweet reality of ageing and the need to cope with our emotions when facing the inevitable passage of time.

Analysis “My Mother at Sixty-Six”:

‘My Mother at Sixty-Six’ is a touching and introspective poem by Kamala Das, where she reflects on her mother’s ageing and mortality during a car journey from her parent’s home to Cochin. 

Tone:

The tone in the poem is a mixture of nostalgia, tenderness, and a sense of impending loss. The speaker’s emotions shift from observing her mother’s frailty and ageing to attempting to mask her anxiety and sadness. The tone evolves as follows:

  1. Observation: The tone at the poem’s beginning is observant and contemplative. The speaker notices her mother dozing off in the car and notes her appearance, comparing it to a corpse. The tone here is reflective and thoughtful.
  1. Realisation: As the poem progresses, the tone becomes more sombre as the speaker realises the impact of her mother’s ageing. The word “pain” indicates sorrow upon recognising her mother’s frailty and advancing age.
  1. Distraction: The tone shifts as the speaker tries to push away her thoughts and distract herself by looking at the surroundings—the young trees and merry children. This part has a slightly lighter and distracted tone.
  1. Reevaluation: The tone becomes more serious when the speaker passes the airport security check. She looks at her mother again and describes her as “wan, pale as a late winter’s moon.” The tone conveys a more profound sadness and an intensified emotional connection.
  1. Acceptance and Concealment: The tone changes to emotional restraint in the closing lines. The speaker hides her feelings behind a smile, implying that she’s attempting to shield her mother from her emotions. The repetition of “smile” highlights her effort to mask her feelings and project reassurance. (Read ahead in Themes).

Type:

Free Verse poetry emphasises natural speech patterns and focuses on imagery, symbolism, and emotional expression. In ‘My Mother at Sixty-Six,’ Kamala Das employs free verse to convey her observations, emotions, and reflections about her mother’s ageing and feelings.

Theme “My Mother at Sixty-Six”:

  1. Ageing and Mortality: The poem’s central theme is the ageing process and the poet’s realisation of her mother’s mortality. The poet is acutely aware of her mother’s old age, evident by her ashen face and open-mouthed dozing during the car journey. The image of her mother resembling a corpse highlights the stark reality of ageing.
  1. Transient Nature of Life: The poem emphasises the transient nature of life’s moments. The rapid movement of the trees and the cheerful children spilling out of their homes contrast the mother’s ageing appearance. This contrast highlights how life moves swiftly, and youthful energy contrasts with the reality of ageing.
  1. Fear of Loss of a Loved One: The speaker’s reminiscences of her childhood fear associated with her mother’s ageing form a recurring undercurrent. This adds depth to the poem’s emotional landscape and showcases the universal fear of losing a loved one or grappling with mortality.
  1. Unspoken Emotions: The poem also touches on unspoken emotions. The speaker notices her mother’s ageing, yet she doesn’t vocalise her feelings of concern or sadness. The smiles exchanged and the phrase “see you soon, Amma” suggest a mix of tenderness, restraint, and perhaps an attempt to shield herself and her mother from acknowledging the problematic reality.
  1. Filial Love and Duty: The poem subtly hints towards the speaker’s love for her mother and her sense of duty as a daughter. While she grapples with her emotions, she chooses to convey warmth and comfort through her smiles and casual words, embodying the idea of caring for one’s parents in their old age.

Contrasts and Imagery:

The poem employs vivid imagery to contrast the vibrant outside world and the mother’s fragility. The “Young Trees sprinting” and “merry children spilling out of their homes” represent life’s vitality and the passage of time. In contrast, the mother’s pale and wan appearance symbolises the fading of youth and vitality.

Emotional Conflict:

The poet grapples with her emotions during the journey. She initially tries to dismiss her mother’s aged appearance and suppress her feelings of fear and sadness. However, as she witnesses her mother standing a few yards away at the airport, the emotions resurface, and the poet experiences an “old familiar ache” from her childhood fear of losing her mother.

Maternal Bond:

The poem also explores the deep bond between the poet and her mother. Despite feeling the pain of her mother’s ageing, the poet chooses to smile and reassure her with the words, “see you soon, Amma.” This gesture reflects the poet’s love and concern for her mother.

Symbolism ‘My Mother at Sixty-Six‘: 

The poem uses symbolism, such as the “late winter’s moon,” to represent the waning phase of life. The mention of the “security check” at the airport can symbolise life’s journey and the uncertainties ahead.

Repetition of word ‘Smile‘: 

The repetition of the word “smile” at the poem’s end reinforces the poet’s attempt to hide her emotions and present a cheerful facade. It also accentuates the conflict between her inner turmoil and outward composure.

In conclusion, ‘My Mother at Sixty-Six’ is a poignant portrayal of a daughter’s emotional journey as she witnesses her mother’s ageing and confronts the reality of mortality. Kamala Das skillfully combines vivid imagery, emotional conflict, and symbolism to create a powerful and relatable depiction of the universal experience of ageing parents and the love between mother and child.

(Additional but Important)

Significance of the Ellipses

Ellipses at the poem’s end create a sense of open-mindedness and leave the poem unresolved. The poet, Kamala Das, ends the poem with a series of ellipses after repeating the word “smile” three times, which indicates that the poet’s emotions are complex and difficult to express fully in words.

The ellipses suggest that there is more to be said or felt. Still, the poet chooses to leave it unsaid, perhaps because the emotions are too overwhelming or because the relationship between the poet and her mother is deeply personal and cannot be fully conveyed through words alone.

By ending the poem with ellipses, Kamala Das invites readers to reflect on their own emotions and experiences related to ageing, mortality, and their relationship with their parents. It allows for a sense of universality in the poem, as readers can relate their own experiences to the emotions expressed by the poet. The open-ended nature of the poetry also leaves room for interpretation and encourages readers to ponder on the significance of the poet’s final smiles and the emotions behind them.

Video Explanation:

Duration: 12 Minutes

Line-by-Line Explanation “My Mother at Sixty-Six”:

1. “Driving from my parent’s”  

The poem starts with the speaker, presumably Kamala Das herself, driving from her parents’ home.

2. “home to Cochin last Friday” 

The speaker travels from her parent’s home to Cochin on a Friday morning.

3. “morning, I saw my mother,”  

4.   “beside me,” 

During the journey, the speaker observes her mother, who accompanies her. The mother is sitting beside the speaker in the car.

5. “doze, open mouthed, her face” 

The mother is dozing off with her mouth open, showing signs of old age.

6. “ashen like that” 

Her face appears pale and lifeless.

7. “of a corpse and realised with pain” 

The speaker realises with sadness that her mother’s appearance reflects her age and frailty.

8. “that she was as old as she looked” 

The speaker accepts that her mother’s appearance accurately represents her age.

9. “but soon put that thought away” 

The speaker tries to suppress the thought of her mother’s ageing, possibly to avoid confronting the emotions it brings.

10. “and looked out at Young Trees sprinting,” 

The speaker shifts her attention to the young trees passing by, contrasting her mother’s ageing.

11. “the merry children spilling out of their homes,” 

The sight of cheerful children adds to the contrasting emotions, emphasising the cycle of life.

12. “but after the airport’s security check,” 

The poem shifts to a different location, the airport, where the speaker and her mother are separated due to security protocols.

13. “standing a few yards away,” 

The speaker is standing a few yards away from her mother after the security check.

14. “I looked again at her, wan, pale” 

The speaker looks at her mother again and notices her paleness and weariness.

15. “as a late winter’s moon” 

The comparison to a late winter’s moon suggests her mother’s fading vitality.

16. “and felt that old familiar ache, my childhood’s fear,” 

The speaker experiences a familiar pain and fear reminiscent of her childhood when she might have feared her mother’s mortality.

17. “but all I said was, see you soon, Amma,” 

Despite her emotions, the speaker tries to remain composed and casually bids farewell to her mother using the endearing term “Amma” (Mother).

18. “all I did was smile and smile and smile……” 

The poem ends with repetition, emphasising the speaker’s efforts to mask her emotions with a smile, even though she feels a mix of sadness and love for her ageing mother.

Literary DevicesMy Mother at Sixty-Six

Question Answers “My Mother at Sixty-Six”:

Textbook Question Answers:

Q1: What is the kind of pain and ache that the poet feels?

A1: The pain and ache the poet feels are twofold. First, she acknowledges her mother’s ageing, seeing her as frail and mortal, which evokes a sense of sorrow and fear of loss. Second, nostalgia and childhood memories ache her, reminding her of the passage of time and the shifting dynamics of their relationship.

Q2: Why are the young trees described as ‘sprinting’?

A2: The young trees are described as ‘sprinting’ to convey a sense of vitality and energy. This description juxtaposes the image of the poet’s ageing mother, highlighting the stark contrast between the vigour of youth and the frailty of old age.

Q3: Why has the poet brought in the image of the merry children ‘spilling out of their homes’?

A3: The image of the merry children ‘spilling out of their homes’ contrasts the poet’s mother’s condition. It symbolises youth’s vibrancy and exuberance, emphasising life’s cyclical nature and the inevitability of change.

Q4: Why has the mother been compared to the ‘late winter’s moon’?

A4: Comparing the mother to the ‘late winter’s moon’ evokes a sense of pale, distant beauty tinged with melancholy. Like the moon in late winter, her mother appears wan and pale, reflecting the passing of time and the fleeting nature of life.

Q5: What do the parting words of the poet and her smile signify?

A5: The parting words of the poet, “see you soon, Amma,” and her persistent smile despite her inner turmoil signify her attempt to mask her emotions and maintain a facade of normalcy. It reflects the universal experience of hiding one’s pain and sorrow behind a smile, especially when faced with the inevitability of separation and the passage of time.

Extra Questions “My Mother at Sixty-Six”:

Q1: Why does the poet describe her mother’s face as “ashen like that of a corpse”?

A1: The poet describes her mother’s face as “ashen like that of a corpse” to emphasise the paleness and fragility of her ageing mother’s appearance. The comparison to a corpse also hints at the poet’s realisation of her mother’s mortality, making her face look lifeless and vulnerable.

Q2: What does the poet mean when she says she “put that thought away” about her mother’s ageing?

A2: When the poet says she “put that thought away,” she means momentarily pushed aside the painful realisation of her mother’s ageing. The poet tries to avoid dwelling on her mother’s frailty and mortality, focusing on the present moment instead.

Q3: How does the poet’s childhood fear resurface while travelling with her mother?

A3: The poet’s childhood fear resurfaces while travelling with her mother when she sees her looking pale and weak, resembling a “late winter’s moon.” This visual resemblance triggers the poet’s memories of her mother’s mortality, leading to the re-emergence of the fear she experienced during her childhood.

Q4: What does the repetition of “smile” in the last line signify?

A4: The repetition of “smile” in the last line signifies the poet’s attempt to conceal her emotions and create a facade of happiness. Despite feeling nostalgic and fearful, the poet smiles repeatedly to hide her pain and show her love and concern for her mother. This reflects the complexity of her emotions while trying to cherish their time together.

Q5: What is the significance of the poet’s observation of young trees and merry children spilling out of their homes?

A5: The observation of young trees and merry children symbolises the vitality of youth and the cyclical nature of life. It contrasts with the image of the poet’s ageing mother, emphasising the passage of time and the inevitability of ageing and mortality.

Q6: How does the poet’s childhood fear of her mother’s mortality manifest in the poem?

A6: The poet’s childhood fear of her mother’s mortality manifests in the old familiar ache she feels when she sees her mother looking pale and ashen. This fear, rooted in her childhood, resurfaces as she confronts her mother’s ageing during the car journey.

Q7: How does the poet’s perspective change after the airport security check?

A7: After the airport security check, the poet looks at her mother again and notices her wan and pale appearance, resembling a late winter’s moon. This sight intensifies the poet’s emotions, making her feel a renewed sense of her mother’s vulnerability and mortality.

Q8: What does the phrase “see you soon, Amma” indicate about the poet’s feelings?

A8: The phrase “see you soon, Amma” indicates the poet’s reluctance to acknowledge the possibility of separation from her mother. It implies that the poet wants to make the most of their time together and that she is not ready to say goodbye yet.

Q9: How does the poem reflect the universal theme of the parent-child relationship?

A9: The poem reflects the universal theme of the parent-child relationship by portraying a child’s love, concern, and fear that a child feels for an ageing parent. It resonates with readers who have experienced similar emotions and situations in their own lives. The poem reminds us of the inevitable passage of time and the importance of cherishing our loved ones.

Extract Based Questions ‘My Mother at Sixty-Six

Extract 1:

“Driving from my parent’s
home to Cochin last Friday
morning, I saw my mother,
beside me,
doze, open mouthed, her face
ashen like that
of a corpse and realised with pain
that she was as old as she
looked but soon
put that thought away,”

Q1: What does the speaker notice about her mother while driving to Cochin?

A1: The speaker notices her mother dozing with her mouth open, and her face looks pale, like a corpse’s. The speaker realises that her mother’s appearance reflects her actual age.

Q2: How does the speaker react to the realisation of her mother’s age during the drive?

A2: The speaker initially feels pain realising her mother’s actual age but decides to dismiss that thought and focuses on the passing scenery.

Extract 2:

“looked out at Young
Trees sprinting, the merry children spilling
out of their homes, but after the airport’s
security check, standing a few yards
away, I looked again at her, wan, pale
as a late winter’s moon and felt that old
familiar ache, my childhood’s fear,”

Q1: What does the speaker observe outside the car during the drive?

A2: The speaker sees young trees moving quickly and cheerful children playing outside their homes.

Q2: How does the speaker’s perception of her mother change after the security check at the airport?

A2: After the security check, the speaker looks at her mother again and notices her looking pale and weak, reminiscent of a pale winter’s moon. This sight triggers a sense of familiarity and sadness in the speaker, reminding her of a fear she experienced during childhood.

Extract 3:

“all I said was, see you soon, Amma,
all I did was smile and smile and
Smile……”

Q1: How does the speaker bid farewell to her mother before parting ways?

A2: The speaker simply says, “See you soon, Amma,” and responds with smiles, repeating the act of smiling.

Q2: What is the significance of the speaker’s repeated smiles in this context?

A2: The repeated smiles could suggest that the speaker is masking her inner sadness or concern with a cheerful facade, attempting to reassure her mother.

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