Unseen Poetry Response


W –

R –

I –

T –

E – complicate the representations of motherhood, sardonic, dark

R –

Three different interpretations: literal – metaphorical.


Lockhead presents motherhood as something both complicated and selfishly human. The title surprisingly flows with jarring enjambment into ‘The Mother/is always two faced’. This colloquial language seems to be childlike and therefore undermines the attempted authoritative tone of wisdom the voice is presumably attempting to establish. This tone foreshadows the attack on motherhood that the poem appears to be on the first reading. However, the poem exclaims ‘yes’ to acknowledge that mothers have to pay a physically painful price for motherhood; the sensual imagery represented in the repeated similes referring to the stark colours of ‘red’ and ‘white’ show how there is a naïve innocence perhaps expected of mothers, and that maybe the passion and danger of ‘red…blood’ symbolises the innate human interests of mothers that is meant to be subsumed when motherhood is attained. This reading is given further credibility by focusing on the emotional adverb ‘crazily’ when the mother metaphorically ‘bargain[s with] fate’ – whatever is causing the mother to be two-faced, it is clearly something that involves being in an altered state of mind, at least to the voice in the poem.

This altered state of mind is developed later in the poem by the connection to the strange reference to the mother ‘dying early’, something she is ‘always’ prone to do (which highlights that this is a metaphorical death perhaps). This allusion to folk-tale mothers who abandon their children is a complication of the diligent mother role that is expected by both children and society at large. Indeed, the proper noun reference ‘Worst Mother’ seems to take this offensive superlative and sardonically mock this implicit criticism of mothers who are perhaps either not perfect for their children, or who dare to have self-interest outside of motherhood. The two lines placed after the criticisms of the mother – ‘jealous…casket’ – contrast the flowing, irregular structure so far throughout the poem. Given that the immature voice established at the start (and heart) of the poem has been railing against mothers without given structure (perhaps symbolising the poet’s implicit criticism of the ignorant incoherence of such thoughts) these two self-contained lines therefore seem to portray that the voice is maybe scrabbling for understanding as to why mothers should be so poorly considered – it is an emotional attack rather than an intellectual one.

This undermining of the voice’s attacks on motherhood seems to resolve somewhat in a final, rambling rhetorical question about why children are treated as ‘wolf-bait’, again a childish, colloquial image perhaps intended to suggest that the poet does not agree with the voice’s attitude. I believe that this question is linked to the most potent and complicated image presented in the penultimate section of the poem where the mother, seemingly ‘selflessly’ eats the ‘sour…green’ half of an apple and ‘poison[s]’ the second person ‘you’ with a ‘sweet…pulp’. Initially, this can be read as an attack on the alluded evil mother who simply hates her child. However, the mother is suffering here from eating an immature, sour apple. The image is further complicated by the presence of both sweet and sour in the same apple – maybe this symbolises a situation that has multiple possibilities that only the mature adult can experience. The reader here, if sufficiently mature and perhaps responsible for others themselves, might detect the idea that selfless actions are not always appreciated by those who are immature to the true circumstances of some situations. It is therefore significant that while the voice declares that we should not ‘trust’ the mother, the colloquial reference to ‘an inch’ perhaps urges us to ignore and challenge the immaturity of this voice, and instead to question why the voice is so mistrusting of mothers anyway.


Title break –

Similes: sensual: birthing process

A mother

Pulp – saving Worst Mother

Rhetorical questions


Trust at the end