Grief is a state of powerful emotion, when friends and relatives are plagued with guilt and regret over unspoken words and wasted moments. This is the emotive basis for the powerful poem ‘You ” ll take a bath’ by Scot’s poet Iain Crichton Smith. Throughout the poem Crichton Smith successfully creates a haunting portrayal of his guilt-laden grief over his mother’s final years and the role he played in her neglect. This neglect is evident in the vivid image of his mother’s home combined with her frailty. Crichton Smith adds to this his own role in failing to rescue her and subsequently emphasizes the extent to which he is plagued by regret. The poem is divided into three stanzas, the first dealing with Smith’s memories of the past when his mother was alive; whilst the remaining two explore the present.
The first stanza, dealing with the past, is twice as long as the remaining two. It may therefore be assumed that Crichton Smith uses the structure to reflect the fact that to him the past seems more substantial or dominant than the present. Crichton Smith initially uses the first stanza to convey then threatening nature of his mothers tenement home, referring to: ‘the second turning of the stony stair.’ At this point, Crichton Smith effectively employs alliteration on the words ‘stony’ and ‘stair.’ Using harsh sounds to emphasise the harsh nature of the place. In addition to this the poet also uses the phrase ‘stony stair.’ Which also has double meaning – referring both to the cold hard stone and also to threatening looks from other inhabitants.
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Furthermore we are told that this cold harsh location had been vandalized. The phrase ‘graffiti were black letters in a book.’ The word choice of ‘were’ used out of context emphasizes the volume of vandalism. This is supported by the effective imagery of ‘letters in a book’s uggesting that the graffiti covered the wall from top to bottom as in ‘a book.’ . Crichton Smith adds to the sense of menace by describing the writing a ‘miss pelt and menacing’.
At this point, the poet employs words which have connotations of threatening ignorance. Such techniques are successfully combined to convey an image of a place that is both harsh and threatening. The concept of the malign nature of the tenement is developed throughout the first stanza with Crichton Smith exploring his own role in his mother’s confinement. He tells the reader that whilst he drove away, his mother would ‘wave from the window.’ Again the poet successfully employs alliterative words to draw our attention – this time to the image of his frail mother still lovingly ‘waving’ from her prison ‘window’.
This notion is supported by Crichton Smith comparing himself to ‘a knight abandoning her to her tower.’ This metaphor powerfully inverts the traditional notion of a heroic knight, placing emphasis both on Crichton Smith’s own failure and upon the comparison of the tenement to a prison tower. In addition to this, the poet also indicates that he visited his mother on ‘each second Sunday’ which again uses alliteration to draw our attention to the infrequency of his visits. These techniques are skilfully employed to given a clear indication of the poet’s own guilt. And the main focus of this guilt can be clearly seen in the final image of the stanza. ‘ each flower in the grudging garden died in trampled clay ” At this point the poet uses symbolism substituting a flower for his mother. This is an appropriate symbol as, like his mother, a flower is feminine, delicate and requires nurturing to bloom.
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It is therefore understandable that, in the absence of such nurturing his mother died. The harsh sounds of the phrase ‘grudging garden.’ Also serves to effectively reinforce the nature of the place where his mother lived and indeed died. The second stanza opens with the line: ‘Standing by headstone’. This indicates a change in tense, telling the reader that the poet is actually in a cemetery and remembering his mother.
This line links via the word ‘headstone’ directly to the previous stanza and leaves the reader in no doubt that the woman died. However Crichton Smith also returns to his guilt with the word choice of ‘standing by’ which refers both to his physical proximity to his mothers grave, but also to his current loyalty which now, given her death is useless. The reader is therefore given the clear impression that Crichton Smith’s thoughts and feelings are dominated by grief and guilt.