Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.
Introduction and Text of “Maturity Pains”
Many readers have fallen for the twin notion that poetry is too difficult to understand and that meaning in poetry is hidden. Some folks have even landed on the absurd notion that a poem can mean anything the reader wants it to mean. Other reactions range from avoidance to hatred. But the “trickiness” of poems often involves mere nuances of meaning.
Robert Frost said of his own poem, “The Road Not Taken,” “You have to be careful of that one; it's a tricky poem—very tricky.” That claim should alert readers to the possibility that many of Frost’s other poems could contain a trick or two. My own personal perusal of Frost’s poems has revealed that Frost did, in fact, bake trickiness into many of his other poems, such as “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and “Birches.”
Malcolm M. Sedam’s poem, “Maturity Pains,” offers an opportunity for cutting through trickiness. It may be considered as “tricky” as any of Robert Frost’s tricky poems, and yet as confrontational as any other Sedam poem in which the poet has created characters who fight with the Divine Reality or God.
I have resolved my quarrel with the snake
And I will accept him a one of God’s creatures
But with the bit of a small boy that is left in me,
You may expect that I will from year to year,
Throw a few rocks in His direction.
This commentary will feature a line by line analysis because of the intensity and concentration built into this little versanelle.
First Line: “I have resolved my quarrel with the snake”
The speaker begins with a very bold statement: he has brought an end to his struggle with evil. A bold statement, indeed, because the consensus of humankind in the superficial mainstream of ideas contends that the question of evil remains just that, a question; as a matter of fact, the question of evil expresses itself in numerous questions—why do bad things happen to good people? why does God allow suffering? how can a loving God allow devastating disasters?—finally resulting in the absurd notion that “life is not fair.”
So, that this speaker has “resolved [his] quarrel” is an intriguing statement. The reader immediately wonders how that happened or more specifically what the speaker might have done to have achieved such a state of grace. To have accomplished what most of humankind still struggles to attain means that this speaker surely has something very profound to offer.
Second Line: “And I will accept him a one of God’s creatures”
As all concepts that remain ineffable are expressed figuratively, this one, “evil,” finds its expression as an embodiment in the “snake,” who is recognized then from the allusion to the original pair of human beings, Adam and Eve, being expelled from the Garden of Eden through the agency of the serpent or snake.
The speaker understands the symbolic significance of the snake’s actions. The snake whispered promises of the knowledge of good and evil into Eve’s ear. Eve then persuaded Adam to give in to those delicious promises; thus the original pair committed the original sin against God’s commandment—the only one He gave them at that time. And, of course, that original sin resulted in the original pair’s expulsion from that pristine paradise.
Now, this speaker because of having settled his quarrel with the snake can simply accept that creature as just another one of “God’s creatures,” instead of the ghastly interloper who destroyed the bliss of paradise for the original pair and all their progeny thenceforth.
Third Line: “But with the bit of a small boy that is left in me”
Now the speaker employs a mighty shift: this apparently enlightened speaker, who can claim to having settled for himself the issue of evil in the world, is now admitting that he still retains a bit of naïveté. The speaker is admitting that he still possesses, at least in part, the disposition of “a small boy.” Small boys do things that big boys eschew, so the speaker may be retreating from his earlier earth-shattering claim.
Fourth Line: “You may expect that I will from year to year”
The speaker now keeps readers in suspense for at least one more line, making them wonder what to expect. The speaker is also alerting readers that whatever naïveté he will continue to hold will be done indefinitely, that is, the speaker will likely continue his present level of awareness to the end of his life, “from year to year.” He sees, at this point, no time in future that he will change his position.
Fifth Line: “Throw a few rocks in His direction”
The speaker then reveals that he will “throw rocks”; he will metaphorically complain about God’s ways. Such complaints may be anything from weak-faith implications to haunting jibes that question God’s love and fairness.
The Importance of Pronoun Capitalization in “Maturity Pains”
Upon first encountering the final line in this poem, most readers likely interpret the throwing of rocks as the speaker throwing rocks at the snake because that is what small boys do. Remembering that in the third line the speaker has referred to that “small boy” whom he still retains in his psyche, and then by immediate association—“small boy” plus “snake” plus “rocks” signals that the speaker will continue to throw rocks at the snake throughout his remaining years, that is, the speaker will continue to complain about evil for the rest of his life, despite the fact that he has actually accepted evil as a part of God’s plan.
As sensible as that interpretation seems, it is not what the speaker has actually said. Compare the following lines and look closely:
1. “Throw a few rocks in His direction”
2. “Throw a few rocks in his direction”
If the speaker had finished his poem with the second line, then the simple interpretation of complaining about evil would be accurate. But the speaker concluded with the first line in which he capitalized “His”; this capitalization indicates that the speaker is referring to “God” not the snake. The speaker will continue to throw rocks in God’s direction. He will continue to complain and argue with God.
With such a revelation, the speaker might be accused of blasphemy; after all, is it not improper to throw rocks at God, or even argue with or question God? Well, no. If a human being considers God his father, mother, creator, closer than any other relationship, and one realizes that each human being, each human soul, is a spark of God, then the most natural thing in the world is to question, to wonder about what God is and what God wants from one, as one attempts to live the life of a human being on this mud ball of a planet that God has also created.
As a child grows to maturity guided by loving parents, the child may not always understand the guidance of those parents and thus will question, even argue with those parents. God would expect nothing less from His created beings—those to whom He has given free will. Only atheists do not question God. Why would they? According to them, there is no such being to question.
© 2020 Linda Sue Grimes