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Showing posts with label Mother and Child. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mother and Child. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Mother in a Refugee Camp

(Mother and Child by Henry Moore, 1898-1996,
English sculptor and artist)

In 1967, the south-eastern part of Nigeria tried to break away from the federal government to form the Republic of Biafra. In the brutal civil war that followed, the Nigerian government imposed a blockade around Biafra, and many hundreds of thousands of civilians died of starvation and disease. The secession ended three years later, in 1970, when Nigeria retook control over the rebel area.

Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian poet and novelist, wrote this poem during the hostilities.


No Madonna and Child could touch
Her tenderness for a son
She soon would have to forget. . . .
The air was heavy with odors of diarrhea,
Of unwashed children with washed-out ribs
And dried-up bottoms waddling in labored steps
Behind blown-empty bellies. Other mothers there
Had long ceased to care, but not this one:
She held a ghost-smile between her teeth,
And in her eyes the memory
Of a mother’s pride. . . . She had bathed him
And rubbed him down with bare palms.
She took from their bundle of possessions
A broken comb and combed
The rust-colored hair left on his skull
And then — humming in her eyes — began carefully to part it.
In their former life this was perhaps
A little daily act of no consequence
Before his breakfast and school; now she did it
Like putting flowers on a tiny grave.

~ Chinua Achebe, born 1930, Nigerian poet, novelist, and critic

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Holy Child’s Song

A favorite subject for artists has been the image of Mother and Child, with painters and sculptors creating countless variations on this theme.

One particular version, the Madonna and Child, depicting the young Mary and her child Jesus, is the most popular religious image in Christianity, surpassing even the Nativity and the Crucifixion.

The works of art below suggest the variety of artistic approaches to this subject across the centuries.

(Madonna and Child, two of at least thirty such paintings
by Raffaello Sanzio, known as Raphael, 1483-1520; with
Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, one of the three
shining stars of the High Renaissance)

(Icon of the Enthroned Virgin, sixth century,
located at the Saint Catherine Monastery, Sinai,

(Madonna and Child, Western African
wood figure, nineteenth century, in the
collection of the Museum of Ethnology,
Hamburg, Germany)

(Virgin and Child by Henri Matisse, 1869-1954, French
sculptor, printmaker, and painter)

(Madonna and Child by Henry Moore,
1896-1986, one of half a dozen such
sculptures by the English sculptor and
artist; he also created several sculptures
of the image of Mother and Child)

(Madonna with a Flower by Leonardo
da Vinci, 1452-1519, Italian artist of the
High Renaissance; this most tender and
loving of images is my very favorite)


“And when My Mother, pretty as a church,
Takes Me upon her lap, I laugh with love,
Loving to live in her flesh, which is My house and full of light!
(Because the sky My Spirit enters in at all the windows)
O, then what songs and what incarnate joys
Dance in the brightest rays of My childish voice!

“In winter when the birds put down their flutes
And winds plays sharper than a fife upon the icy rain,
I sit in this crib,
And laugh like fire, and clap My golden hands:
To view my friends the timid beast —
Their great brown flanks, muzzles and milky breath!”

~ Thomas Merton (1915-1968), American Trappist monk, poet, and author of many essays and books

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Sad Mother

(Orange Maternity, lithograph
by Marc Chagall, 1887-1985,
Russian-French artist)

“To be a mother, to feel maternally, means to turn especially to the helpless, to incline lovingly and helpfully to every small and weak thing upon the earth. . . . Therefore the principle of motherhood is a dual one; it attaches itself not only to the birth of the child, but to the fostering and protecting of that which has been born. To become a mother physically means but the first breaking forth of the powers of maternity; it is only the first moving symbol of something that is much more universal. . . . Not alone is the child born through the mother, but the mother also is born through the child. . . . The child that at its birth breaks through its mother’s womb breaks through her heart also, opening it to all that is small and weak.” ~ Gertrud von le Fort (1876-1971), German writer and poet, from The Eternal Woman


Sleep, sleep, my beloved,
without worry, without fear,
although my soul does not sleep,
although I do not rest.

Sleep, sleep, and in the night
may your whispers be softer
than a leaf of grass,
or the silken fleece of lambs.

May my flesh slumber in you,
my worry, my trembling.
In you, may my eyes close
and my heart sleep.

~ Gabriela Mistral (1889-1957), Chilean poet, diplomat, and teacher, and winner of the 1945 Nobel Prize in Literature

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Song for Bringing a Child into the World

(Hopi Mother and Child by Edward Curtis,
1868-1952, American photographer)

Lullabies calm a baby to sleep. Some also introduce the child to the rhythms of life.


You day-sun, circling around,
You daylight, circling around,
You night-sun, circling around,
You poor body, circling around,
You wrinkled age, circling around,
You spotted gray, circling around,
You wrinkled skin, circling around.

~ Anonymous, Seminole American Indian

Monday, June 27, 2011


(Mother and Child by Paul Klee, 1879-1940, Swiss

Some of Sylvia Plath’s poems are intense expressions of her inner turmoil. They can be difficult to read.

This poem reveals her deep conflict within. As a mother, she writes tenderly and hopefully of the happiness she wishes for her child. But then, in the final stanza, she cannot avoid exposing her own pessimism and pain.

Two weeks after writing this, she committed suicide, leaving two children behind. She was only thirty years old. Decades later, her husband, the poet Ted Hughes, published a collection of his own verse,
Birthday Letters, in which he broke his silence about his grief at losing her.


Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing.
I want to fill it with color and ducks.
The zoo of the new

Whose names you meditate —
April snowdrops, Indian pipe,

Stalk without wrinkle,
Pool in which images
Should be grand and classical

Not this troublous
Wring of hands, this dark
Ceiling without a star.

~ Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), American poet, and writer of novels and short stories

Sunday, June 26, 2011

To My Mother

(Mother and Child by Pablo Picasso, 1881-1973,
Spanish artist)

After he finished writing his poems for children, entitled A Child’s Garden of Verses, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about them to a friend, noting that there was “something nice in the little ragged regiment . . . they seem to me to smile, to have a kind of childish treble note that sounds in my ears freshly — not song, if you will, but a child’s voice.”

This is one of the poems from that collection.


You too, my mother, read my rhymes
For love of unforgotten times,
And you may chance to hear once more
The little feet along the floor.

~ Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), Scottish poet, novelist, and travel writer

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Now That I Am Forever with Child

(Mother and Sleepy Child by Kitagawa
Utamaro, 1753?-1806, one of the greatest
of Japanese woodblock printmakers; his
work had a profound influence on the
Impressionist painters of the nineteenth

The intimate connection that a mother makes with her child in the womb doesn’t end at birth.


How the days went
While you were blooming within me
I remember each upon each —
The swelling changed planes of my body —
And how you first fluttered, then jumped
And I thought it was my heart.

How the days wound down
And the turning of winter
I recall, with you growing heavy
Against the wind. I thought
Now her hands
Are formed, and her hair
Has started to curl
Now her teeth are done
Now she sneezes.
Then the seed opened
I bore you one morning just before spring —
My head rang like a fiery piston
My legs were towers between which
A new world was passing.

Since then
I can only distinguish
One thread within running hours
You . . . flowing through selves
Toward you.

~ Audre Lord (1934-1992), American poet

Friday, June 24, 2011

Wanting a Child

(The Mother by Elizabeth Nourse, 1859-1938,
American landscape and portrait painter)

Over time, the unfulfilled wish for a child can change a woman as the ceaseless flow of a river changes the landscape.


How hard it is for the river here to re-enter
the sea, though it’s most beautiful, of course, in the waste
of time where it’s almost
turned back. Then
it’s yoked,
trussed . . . . The river
has been everywhere, imagine, dividing, discerning,
cutting deep into the parent rock,
scouring and scouring
its own bed.
Nothing is whole
where it has been. Nothing
remains unsaid.
Sometimes I’ll come this far from home
merely to dip my fingers in this glittering , archaic
sea that renders everything
identical, flesh
where mind and body
blur. The seagulls squeak, ill-fitting
hinges, the beach is thick
with shells. The tide
is always pulsing upward, inland, into the river’s rapid
argument, pushing
with its insistent tragic waves — the living echo,
says my book, of some great storm far out at sea, too far
to be recalled by us
but transferred
whole onto this shore by waves, so that erosion
is its very face.

~ Jorie Graham, born 1950, American poet

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Song of a Woman in Labor

(Assiniboine Mother and Child by Edward Curtis, 1868-1952,
American photographer)

The sounds of birth resonate in sympathetic vibrations with nature.


towering rocks
in the evening
with them
I cry

~ Anonymous, Tohono O’odham American Indian

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Étude Réaliste

(Sleepy Baby by Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926,
American painter and printmaker)

For those so inclined, the theory of evolution offers an explanation for our affection for children.

In his book
The Panda’s Thumb, the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) discusses the features that make babies look “cute and friendly.” He points to the work of Konrad Lorenz (1903-1989), the Austrian zoologist who studied animal behavior and its application to an understanding of human behavior.

“In one of his most famous articles,” writes Gould, “Konrad Lorenz argues that humans use the characteristic differences in form between babies and adults as important behavioral cues. He believes that features of juveniles trigger ‘innate releasing mechanisms’ for affection and nurturing in adult humans. When we see a living creature with babyish features, we feel an automatic surge of disarming tenderness. The adaptive value of this response can scarcely be questioned, for we must nurture our babies.”

Lorenz lists among his so-called “releasers” the following features of babyhood: “a relatively large head, predominance of the brain capsule, large and low-lying eyes, bulging cheek region, short and thick extremities, a springy elastic consistency, and clumsy movements.”

“Our affectionate response to babyish features,” according to Lorenz, “is truly innate and inherited directly from our ancestral primates.”

The poet, on the other hand, takes a different approach. He has been looking into what makes us love the loveable.

Whose work is the more realistic study?



A baby’s feet, like sea-shells pink,
Might tempt, should Heaven see meet,
An angel’s lips to kiss, we think,
A baby’s feet.

Like rose-hued sea-flowers toward the heat
They stretch and spread and wink
Their ten soft buds that part and meet.

No flower-bells that expand and shrink
Gleam half so heavenly sweet
As shine on life’s untrodden brink
A baby's feet.


A baby’s hands, like rosebuds furled,
Whence yet no leaf expands,
Ope if you touch, though close upcurled,
A baby’s hands.

Then, even as warriors grip their brands
When battle’s bolt is hurled,
They close, clenched hard like tightening bands.

No rosebuds yet by dawn impearled
Match, even in loveliest lands,
The sweetest flowers in all the world —
A baby's hands.


A baby’s eyes, ere speech begin,
Ere lips learn words or sighs,
Bless all things bright enough to win
A baby’s eyes.

Love, while the sweet thing laughs and lies,
And sleep flows out and in,
Sees perfect in them Paradise.

Their glance might cast out pain and sin,
Their speech make dumb the wise,
By mute glad godhead felt within
A baby’s eyes.

~ Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), English lyric poet

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Time, You Old Gypsy Man

(Mother Sewing with Child by Mary Cassatt,
1844-1926, American painter and printmaker)

All parents have similar wistful thoughts.


Time, you old gypsy man,
Will you not stay,
Put up your caravan
Just for one day?
All things I’ll give you
Will you be my guest,
Bells for your jennet
Of silver the best,
Goldsmiths shall beat you
A great golden ring,
Peacocks shall bow to you,
Little boys sing.
Oh, and sweet girls will
Festoon you with may.
Time, you old gypsy,
Why hasten away?

Last week in Babylon,
Last night in Rome,
Morning, and in the crush
Under Paul's dome;
Under Paul’s dial
You tighten your rein —
Only a moment,
And off once again;
Off to some city
Now blind in the womb,
Off to another
Ere that’s in the tomb.

Time, you old gypsy man,
Will you not stay?
Put up your caravan
Just for one day?

~ Ralph Hodgson (1871-1962), English poet

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Table and the Chair

(The Dancing Lesson, Dorothea
and Francesca
, 1898, by Cecelia
Beaux, 1855-1942, American
portrait painter, often compared
to John Singer Sargent and Mary

“Don’t tell me of a man’s being able to talk sense. Everyone can talk sense. Can he talk nonsense?”~ William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778), a prime minister of England


Said the Table to the Chair,
“You can hardly be aware,
How I suffer from the heat,
And from chilblains on my feet!
If we took a little walk,
We might have a little talk!
Pray let us take the air!”
Said the Table to the Chair.

Said the Chair to the Table,
“Now you know we are not able!
How foolishly you talk,
When you know we cannot walk!”
Said the Table with a sigh,
“It can do no harm to try,
I've as many legs as you,
Why can't we walk on two?”

So they both went slowly down,
And walked about the town
With a cheerful bumpy sound,
As they toddled round and round.
And everybody cried,
As they hastened to their side,
“See! the Table and the Chair
Have come out to take the air!”

But in going down an alley,
To a castle in a valley,
They completely lost their way,
And wandered all the day,
Till, to see them safely back,
They paid a Ducky-quack,
And a Beetle, and a Mouse,
Who took them to their house.

Then they whispered to each other,
“O delightful little brother!
What a lovely walk we've taken!
Let us dine on Beans and Bacon!”
So the Ducky and the leetle
Browny-Mousy and the Beetle
Dined and danced upon their heads
Till they toddled to their beds.

~ Edward Lear (1812-1888), English artist, poet, and writer of limericks and other nonsense

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Mary’s Girlhood

(Education of Mary by Anne, Her Mother,
from a 14th-century altar front with scenes
of the life of Mary)

(Saint Anne Teaches the Child Mary to
, from the breviary of John the
Fearless, Duke of Burgundy, 1371-1419,
kept in the British Library; note the stylus
Mary is using to follow the words in the text)

(Education of the Girl Mary by Georges de la Tour, 1593-1652,
French painter)

“In every literate society, learning to read is something of an initiation, a ritualized passage out of a state of dependency and rudimentary communication. The child learning to read is admitted into the communal memory by way of books, and thereby becomes acquainted with a common past which he or she renews, to a great or lesser degree, in every reading.” ~ Alberto Manguel, from his book A History of Reading

Beginning in medieval times, images of Anne’s teaching her daughter Mary, the future mother of Christ, to read was a popular theme of stained glass windows and altar pieces in churches, of paintings, and of illuminations on the pages of books of hours and breviaries.


Gone is a great while, and she
Dwelt young in Nazareth of Galilee.
Unto God’s will she brought devout respect
Profound simplicity of intellect.
And supreme patience. From her mother’s knee
Faithful and hopeful; wise in charity;
Strong in grave peace; in pity circumspect.

~ Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), English poet, painter, and illustrator

Monday, February 7, 2011

Evening Benediction

(The Cradle by Berthe Morisot, 1841-1895,
French Impressionist painter)

The story about brother and sister Hansel and Gretel is one of the many German folk tales collected by the linguists Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm in the first decades of the nineteenth century.

Years later, this Brothers Grimm fairy tale was transformed into an opera by Engelbert Humperdinck. It was first performed in 1893 under the baton of Richard Strauss, and remains popular, especially during the Christmas holiday.

The words below are sung by the two children when they become lost and scared in a dark forest.


When at night I go to sleep,
Fourteen angels watch do keep:
Two my head are guarding,
Two my feet are guiding,
Two are on my right hand,
Two are on my left hand,
Two who warmly cover,
Two who o’er me hover,
Two to whom ’tis given
To guide my steps to heaven.

~ Engelbert Humperdinck (1854-1921), German composer

Sunday, February 6, 2011


(Mother Holding Baby by Keith Haring, 1958-1990,
American artist, famous for his street art)

“A baby, however, sells itself and needs no advertising copy; few people can resist it. There is something about babyness that brings out the softness in people and makes them want to hug and protect this small thing that moves and dribbles and produces what we poetically call poopoo. Even that becomes precious, for the arrival of a baby coincides with the departure of our minds. My wife and I often summoned the grandparents of our first baby and proudly cried, ‘Look! Poopoo!’ A statement like this is the greatest single disproof of evolution I know.” ~ Bill Cosby, from his book Fatherhood


Clownlike, happiest on your hands,
Feet to the stars, and moon-skulled,
Gilled like a fish. A common-sense
Thumbs-down on the dodo’s mode.
Wrapped up in yourself like a spool,
Trawling your dark, as owls do.
Mute as a turnip from the Fourth
Of July to All Fools’ Day,
O high-riser, my little loaf.

Vague as fog and looked for like mail.
Farther off than Australia.
Bent-backed Atlas, our traveled prawn.
Snug as a bud and at home
Like a sprat in a pickle jug.
A creel of eels, all ripples.
Jumpy as a Mexican bean.
Right, like a well-done sum.
A clean slate, with your own face on.

~ Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), American poet, and writer of novels and short stories

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Lullaby of the Iroquois

(Hoopa Indian Mother and Baby by Edward
Curtis, 1868-1952, American photographer)

Pauline Johnson (1861-1914) was a popular Canadian poet, writer, and entertainer. Her father was Mohawk-Canadian and her mother English. Pauline took on her great-grandfather’s name Tekahionwake, or “double life,” as she toured the country to perform her works on stage, wearing traditional Mohawk dress. She is best-known now for one of her poems, “The Song My Paddle Sings,” and a collection of short stories based on west-coast Squamish legends.


Little brown baby-bird, lapped in your nest,
Wrapped in your nest,
Strapped in your nest,
Your straight little cradle-board rocks you to rest;
Its hands are your nest;
Its bands are your nest;
It swings from the down-bending branch of the oak;
You watch the camp flame, and the curling gray smoke;
But, oh, for your pretty black eyes sleep is best, —
Little brown baby of mine, go to rest.

Little brown baby-bird swinging to sleep,
Winging to sleep,
Singing to sleep,
Your wonder-black eyes that so wide open keep,
Shielding their sleep,
Unyielding to sleep,
The heron is homing, the plover is still,
The night-owl calls from his haunt on the hill,
Afar the fox barks, afar the stars peep, —
Little brown baby of mine, go to sleep.

~ Pauline Johnson

Friday, February 4, 2011

Minnie and Winnie

(The Cholmondeley Ladies, dated to 1600-1610, by an
unknown English painter)

The painting is of two young women sitting on a bed and holding, we may assume, their babies wrapped in red christening robes. The painting is named after Thomas Cholmondeley (pronounced Chumley), to whose collection this portrait originally belonged. The women may be his daughters or nieces, or sisters who married into the Cholmondeley family.


Minnie and Winnie
Slept in a shell.
Sleep, little ladies!
And they slept well.

Pink was the shell within,
Silver without;
Sounds of the great sea
Wandered about.

Sleep, little ladies,
Wake not soon!
Echo on echo
Dies to the moon.

Two bright stars
Peeped into the shell.
“What are they dreaming of?
Who can tell?”

Started a green linnet
Out of the croft;
Wake, little ladies,
The sun is aloft!

~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), English poet

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Crying, My Little One

(Mother and Child by Diego Rivera, 1886-1957,
Mexican painter and muralist)

“The maternal instinct . . . is a Gift-love, but one that needs to give; therefore needs to be needed. But the proper aim of giving is to put the recipient in a state where he no longer needs our gift. We feed children in order that they may soon be able to feed themselves; we teach them in order that they may soon not need our teaching. Thus a heavy task is laid upon this Gift-love. It must work towards its own abdication. We must aim at making ourselves superfluous. The hour when we can say ‘They need me no longer’ should be our reward. But the instinct, simply in its own nature, has no power to fulfill this law. The instinct desires the good of its object, but not simply; only the good it can itself give. A much higher love — a love which desires the good of the object as such, from whatever source that good comes — must step in and help or tame the instinct before it can make the abdication”. ~ C. S. Lewis, from his book The Four Loves


Crying, my little one, footsore and weary?
Fall asleep, pretty one, warm on my shoulder:
I must tramp on through the winter night dreary,
While the snow falls on me colder and colder.

You are my one, and I have not another;
Sleep soft, my darling, my trouble and treasure;
Sleep warm and soft in the arms of your mother,
Dreaming of pretty things, dreaming of pleasure.

~ Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), English poet

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


(Mother and Baby by Ruth Orkin, 1921-1985,
American photographer)

Life is often compared to a journey.

The Roman poet Lucretius (99?-55? B.C.) writes of the new-born babe as “a sailor cast up by the sea, / Lying naked on the shore, unable to speak, / Helpless, when it comes to the light of day.”

And René Graziani’s wonderful collection of poems on birth and birthdays is entitled
The Naked Astronaut, “that nine-month traveler into time, attached by the umbilicus to its mother and her life-support system.”


I am the ship in which you sail,
little dancing bones,
your passage between the dream
and the waking dream,
your sieve, your pea-green boat.
I’ll pay whatever toll your ferry needs.
And you, whose history’s already charted
in a rope of cells, be tender to
those other unnamed vessels
who will surprise you one day,
tug-tugging, irresistible,
and float you out beyond your depth,
where you’ll look down, puzzled, amazed.

~ Maura Dooley, born 1957, English poet

Sunday, September 12, 2010


(Seventh-century icon of Santa Maria Nova, Rome,
from Sister Wendy Beckett’s Encounters with God:
In Quest of the Ancient Icons of Mary

I was named after both of my grandmothers, my maternal one from Germany, and my paternal one from Hungary.

In some European countries, like Hungary, Catholics celebrate “Patron Saint Days” or “Name Days,” the feast day in the liturgical calendar of the saint after whom one is named. September 12 is the Feast Day of the Name of Mary. Since my father is Hungarian, we commemorated this day, only five days after my birthday, and I had two celebrations in one week.


Miriam, Mary, Maria, Marie,
What voweled jewel might this be?

Is it a sapphire love,
Of purest water true?
Or is it water of
A sapphire hue?

Miriam, Marie, Maria, Mary,
So crystal-cut, yet limpid, airy!

It flows in regal tones,
Glitters like both of these:
The sea-reflecting stones,
The jeweled seas.

Mary, Marie, Maria, Miriam,
Ocean of beryl,* sea-lit beryllium!

Gem for the Father’s Ring,
Stone of the Son’s great crown,
Glint on the Spirit’s wing,
Light poring down.

Miriam, Mary, Marie, Maria,
Pendant for my lips, Maria!

~ Angélico Chávez (1910-1996), Franciscan priest, poet, writer, fresco painter, and historian of New Mexico

* beryl - emerald and aquamarine are two varieties of this mineral; beryllium - rare metallic chemical element highly resistant to corrosion