Lorna Goodison: ‘I am becoming my mother’, a closer look

I am becoming my mother        By Lorna Goodson


Yellow/brown woman

Fingers smelling always of onions


Lorna Goodison cover pic

published by New Beacon Books 1986

My mother raises rare blooms

and waters them with tea

her birth waters sang like rivers

my mother is now me.


My mother had a linen dress

the colour of the sky

and stored lace and damask


to pull shame out of her eye.


I am becoming my mother

brown/yellow woman

fingers smelling always of onions.


This is a poem of fourteen lines.   A classic format is the sonnet, a poem of 14 lines, most expected as a love poem and considered to have a strict format of scan and rhyme, divided into two verses. (Note: this is poem isnot a sonnet). Such models as Shakespearean and Spencerian are common but several other variables are also set.  However, where does variation move a poem away from being a sonnet?

The paragraph above is probably slightly misleading but this poem does have fourteen lines and it’s subject would seem to be ‘love’ between mother and daughter/ daughter and mother.  Other than that it falls away from any standard sonnet form so is not a sonnet!

Another interesting section is the repeat of the first two-lined verse as the last verse but with an additional first line of: ‘I am becoming my mother’.    This line is the core of the poem and the repeating of the first verse’ two lines completes a circle……..     A circle that satisfies in many respects:  as the ending of the piece, a reinforcement of the original idea (image/emotion), and is a technique especially used in poems.  (Rondel, Rondeau are classic French verse styles).  Short stories may well use this repetition idea but using the idea rather than exact words:

‘I am becoming my mother  //   brown/yellow woman  // fingers smelling always of onions.’

In the second verse:

‘My mother raises rare blooms’      Seems to odd with her watering them with tea?

There may well be benefits to watering plants with tea and this is the initial image that we see.  A nice image but could it be the author is describing her mother raising her children with special care, attention and love, yes, even tea?  Problems and tempers are said to be solved ‘with a nice cup of tea’.  A subject repeat comes in this verse too, starting with ‘my mother’ to ‘blooms’ and the last line of the verse with ‘my mother is now me’.    Seemingly similar to the main idea of the poem but has less weight as in this line the emphasis is on ‘mother’ rather than ‘me’, the author.

Verses two and three have rhymes on lines two and four and two and five.    The other lines do not have pure rhyme but half-rhyme (or is it sibilance, assonance or alliteration?  I stick with half-rhyme)  with the words: blooms, rivers; dress, damask and tablecloths.

‘tablecloths’ gets a line to itself.    This brings the poem into fourteen lines but is likely to have been separated as it would make the previous line too long and visually unbalanced for the poem. It has enough weight and the assonance to appear alone plus it enables a slight pause before the next line that starts with the harder sounding ‘to pull’.  ( t of to pull echoing t of tablecloths).

Storing the lace and damask tablecloths, is common as saving the best for special occasions, visitors,  as would be the blue linen dress, it would seem.  Perhaps less common today.     The mother cares about what others may think of her and her home: ‘to pull shame out of her eye’.    This is a simplistic explanation and there is more that can be considered from this verse about a caring, hardworking woman, mother.

Returning to the last verse and it’s repeat of the first.  ‘Mother’ was previously the subject, now the author  ‘I’  has become the subject.  A simple image from the first verse has been amplified in some ten short lines into a description of a mother and family, a loving childhood and adulthood and more widely, on the ‘circle of life’ and its continuity.

Often acknowledged in life but beautifully celebrated here, is simply the fact that children frequently see the ways, genetic and learned habits, of their parents in themselves as they mature.  Not only see but feel. (In a similar way that parents can see the visual and emotional elements of themselves in their children.)



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