Changing Seasons Metaphor in ‘Mother, Summer, I’
In ‘Mother, Summer, I’, through a mother and son’s shared distaste for summer weather, Larkin focuses on the dangers of ‘perfection’ which works to hide underlying issues and faults of any given situation. Larkin, through the extended metaphor of changing seasons, hones into the faults and negativity ingrained into a relationship between a mother and her child, and whilst the speaker is characterised as eager to rejuvenate a healthy relationship with his mother- the structure of the poem warns of the ultimate futility of this quest.
In the poem, Larkin uses the transition between the seasons summer and autumn as a metaphor for the fluctuating emotions felt within a mother-son relationship. Imagery surrounding warm weather in the first stanza is immediately eclipsed by a bleak autumn setting in the lines ‘brittle frost/ Sharpens the bird-abandoned air’, in order to mark out rainy weather as able to sedate and subdue the ‘suspicions’ and negative feelings brought on by summer. Indeed, the alliterated plosive ‘b’s’ of this lines further hone into autumn’s capacity to ‘sharpen’ and clarify the mother’s mindset, with the compound adjective ‘bird-abandoned’ perhaps used as a metaphor for the lack of worries in the mother’s mind once summer has passed. The even rhyme pattern ‘A B A C B D C D’ paired with the even 8 line stanzas reinforces the capacity of the winter months to soothe and ease any pain brought on by summer, evident in the personification of summer in the opening lines in which the mother ‘Holds up each summer day and shakes/ It out suspiciously’ in order to present a character attempting to humanize nature and shackle it into her control, with the sibilance and use of enjambment reflecting the action of ‘shaking’, evoking the meticulous detail in which the mother seeks for faults of ‘grape-dark clouds… lurking there’ in a seemingly perfect summer scene: the metaphor of ‘grapes’ suggests that summer allows for the mother’s emotions to sour- like rotting fruit- due to the worries of faults within the summer season, and additionally is just one of the many compound adjectives scattered throughout the stanzas, used to suggest that the emotional relationship between mother is son is one that defies the general constraints of language, whilst also suggesting the speaker’s attempts to repair their relationship through crafting new linguistic terms to describe it: this idea is drawn upon in the closing lines ‘I must await/ A time less bold, less rich, less clear’- in which the monosyllabic diction coupled with the form of imperative is suggestive of the speaker’s desire to put aside his status as a ‘summer-loving’ child in order to please his dissatisfied mother. The form of list here creates a sense of pace, suggesting that the rapid speed at which the speaker feels he must act in order to rejuvenate a healthy relationship with his mother, with the use of enjambment mirroring the action of smoothing out any faults or irregularities within the pair’s relationship. Furthermore, that each stanza is one sentence long additionally echoes the continuous passing of the seasons, perhaps suggesting that the relationship will inevitably change- for better or for worse- with the continuous progression of time.
Whilst the metaphor of seasons might be seen to strengthen the relationship of the characters, it might also be read as a divisive force able to fracture the bonds between the pair. Such ideas are immediately set up from the poem’s title- ‘Mother, Summer, I’, in which the syntactical positioning of noun ‘summer’ literally fragments the two words referring to the poem’s characters, suggesting that the uncomfortable summer months will create an unbridgeable divide within the characters’ relationship: indeed, whilst the the possessive pronoun in the opening line ‘my mother, who hates thunderstorms’ is suggestive of the speaker’s desire to reconnect with his emotionally distraught mother, to separate her through caesura from the rest of the stanza implies that she will ever remain psychologically distant from her son, due to her suspicions wrought by summer months- and to immediately classify her through the pejorative description of a hater of thunderstorms creates a pessimistic presentation of the mother that will dampen the reader’s perspective of her throughout the poem, implying that the son will never truly be able to rid himself of those negative perceptions gained of his mother, which will ever taint their relationship. Indeed, the toxicity of this familial relationship is mirrored in the structure of the poem, with the use of two stanzas- the first describing the mother, the second the son- suggests that summer weather has driven an irreparable divide between the pair that will not, in fact, be bridged by cooler and calmer weather. Furthermore, that the poem is a form of monologue implies that despite his attempts, the speaker’s mother will ever remain emotionally isolated from her son- and that ‘rain’- the traditional natural symbol of sorrow- is said to renew the relationship, implies the rather unfortunate idea that sorrow and negativity is ingrained into the very structure of the pair’s life, and thus they will never truly be able to enjoy a heartfelt and fulfilling connection as should be the case for any mother and son.
In conclusion, Larkin in ‘Mother, Summer, I’ explores the underlying issues in a relationship between mother and son, with the extended metaphor of fluctuating weather patterns in addition to the format of the poem placing ultimate blame for the fragmentation of the relationship on the mother, for her irrational and unpredictable thought.
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In ‘Mother, Summer, I’, through a mother and son’s shared distaste for summer weather, Larkin focuses on the dangers of ‘perfection’ which works to hide underlying issues and faults of […]