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Analysis of Poem 'With Child' by Genevieve Taggard

Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Genevieve Taggard

Genevieve Taggard

Genevieve Taggard and a Summary of 'With Child'

'With Child' is a poem that focuses on the mother and her reaction to the baby growing inside her.

It's a three-stanza poem, 20 lines in total, made up of mostly full rhyming couplets, for example:

No slim and languid girl — not glad

With the windy trip I once had,

Basically, the three stanzas explore what it is to be a pregnant mother, how physicality can affect feelings, how a new life can be a spiritual awakening.

Genevieve Taggard based this poem on her own experience of motherhood, eventually giving birth to Marcia, her only child with first husband Robert Wolf, poet and novelist, whom she married in 1920.

Taggard was brought up in a strongly Christian household, in Waitsburg, Washington state, her parents being missionaries. She spent an idyllic few years in Hawaii before moving to the mainland to study at Berkeley in California, when she was 20 years old.

Interested in literature and social justice, she moved to New York and became a teacher and author, publishing For Eager Lovers in 1922 (featuring 'With Child') and a biography of Emily Dickinson in 1930.

She divorced Wolf in 1934 and a year later married a known socialist Kenneth Durant, American agent of the Soviet News Agency Tass. Her involvement in politics and social change increased, and many of her friends began to think of her as a red, especially when she published poems such as the controversially titled Salute to the Russian Dead. But underneath, all she wanted was better conditions for workers and families.

'I am a poet, a wine-bibber, a radical, a non-churchgoer' she wrote. She was certainly one to break with convention, becoming a member of the communist party later on whilst continuing as activist, author and teacher.

'With Child' by Genevieve Taggard

Now I am slow and placid, fond of sun,

Like a sleek beast, or a worn one:

No slim and languid girl—not glad

With the windy trip I once had,

But velvet-footed, musing of my own,

Torpid, mellow, stupid as a stone.


You cleft me with your beauty’s pulse, and now

Your pulse has taken body. Care not how

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The old grace goes, how heavy I am grown,

Big with this loneliness, how you alone

Ponder our love. Touch my feet and feel

How earth tingles, teeming at my heel!

Earth’s urge, not mine,—my little death, not hers;

And the pure beauty yearns and stirs.


It does not heed our ecstacies, it turns

With secrets of its own, its own concerns,

Toward a windy world of its own, toward stark

And solitary places. In the dark,

Defiant even now, it tugs and moans

To be untangled from these mother’s bones.

Stanza-by-Stanza Analysis of 'With Child'

First Stanza

Six lines in, this opening stanza focus on the personal feelings of the speaker, the mother, having to cope with the extra weight, the effects of a growing embryo, the inertia. She compares herself to a sleek beast, or a worn one which sums up her state: she feels worn out, slow.

It's a natural enough reaction. Gone is the slim girl enjoying a breeze of a life. Now she has to step carefully, entertain herself despite feeling like a mindless lump.

So in summary, the mother speaker is a changed entity. She's carrying a beautiful new child but in this first stanza cannot get over how heavy she has become. She's an animal fit only for lounging in the sun, chilling out unable to think herself into action.

Second Stanza

These eight lines start off with an address to the baby itself . . . You cleft me . . . which is the mother talking directly to her child and beginning a true relationship, a bonafide dynamic.

That word cleft means to split, create a space, and it is joined to pulse, the blood-beat of the bairn as it grows and becomes part of the mother's anatomy. The mother is relaying to her child the change in physical ability and form—no longer full of grace but heavy and lonely. Only the baby can know the love.

She encourages the child to feel the earth through her feet, the remarkable earth, which is the ultimate reason they're both together. There's mention of death, the mother's sacrifice of her former personality. The blameless child, who is a thing of beauty (note this word is repeated, from first line to last in this stanza). The child moves, the mother is moved by the beauty of this phenomenon.

Third Stanza

Six lines to echo the first stanza, the speaker looking inside as the baby moves and makes sounds in the dark. Here concentration is solely on the child—note the word own used three times to reinforce the idea that baby is all, the mother merely a carrier.

The baby is ready to be born and to become an individual in its own right. The diction speaks for itself: turns, defiant, tugs, untangled. This reflects the struggle that is pregnancy, between adult mother with all the complex feelings, and the innocent child, beautiful yet destined to change everything.

Poetic/Literary Devices in 'With Child'

Alliteration

When words close together have the same consonants:

With the windy

stupid as a stone

grace goes

how heavy

windy world

Enjambment

When a line runs on into the next without punctuation, as in:

Big with this loneliness, how you alone

Ponder our love. Touch my feet and feel

Sources

  • Poets
  • Genevieve Taggard | Modern American Poetry


© 2021 Andrew Spacey

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