MY MOTHER AT
SIXTY-SIX-Question and Answer
The poem revolves around the
theme of advancing age and the fear that adheres to its loss and separation. It
is a sentimental account of the mother’s approaching end through the eyes of
the daughter. The seemingly short poem touches upon the theme of the filial
bond between the mother and daughter smeared in the backdrop of nostalgia and
fear. Nostalgia of the past(the time spent with the
mother) and fear of the future without her.
It is a short poem, without a
full stop, the poem is like a long sentence, over flowing thought process. The
poet uses the device of comparison and contrast, simile and repetition.
Although there is no rhyming scheme in the poem yet its lyrical quality cannot
(Q.) Why does the poet smile and what does she say while bidding
goodbye to her mother?
(Ans) The poet smiles in order to put up
a brave front so that her mother may not observe her pained and frightened
look. She smiles in order to reassure her mother and says that she would soon
see her again.
(Q.) What is the kind of pain and ache that the poet feels?
(Ans) The emotional pain and ache that
the poet feels is due to the realization that her mother has gone old and has
become frail and pale like a corpse. She is dependent on her children. The ache
also refers to the old familiar ache of the childhood that revisits the poet
due to the mother’s old age and her approaching end.
(Q.) Why are the young trees described as sprinting?
The young trees are personified in the poem. They seem to be running in the
opposite direction when seen through the window of the moving car. The movement
is juxtaposed with the expression on the mother’s face i.e. ashen like a
corpse. The movement of the children and the trees is in stark contrast with
the stillness associated with the mother.
(Q.) Why has the poet bought
in the image of the merry children ‘spilling out of their homes’?
(Ans) The poet highlights the
helplessness and frailty of old age with the help of contrasts. The mother
dozes off mouth open, whereas the children spilling out of their homes signify
movement and energy, enthusiasm and vivacity, which the old people are bereft
(Q.) Why has the mother been compared to ‘late winter’s moon’?
(Ans) The mother has been compared to the
late winter’s moon which is dull and shrouded. It symbolizes the ebbing of
life. The moon brings to the poets mind night or the approaching end of life.
The mother like the late winter’s moon is dull, dim and dismal.
(Q.) What do the parting words of the poet and her smile signify?
(Ans) The parting words ‘see you soon Amma’ are used by the poet to reassure the mother and to
infuse optimism in the poet herself. The poet accepts the reality yet keeps up
the façade of smiling in order to put up a brave front. It requires a lot of
effort and hence the poet has used the poetic device of repetition.
(Q.) What does the poet mean by ‘all I did was smile and smile and
(Ans) The poet realizes the pain and ache
she would get at separating from her mother. It was her childhood fear that she
experienced again. She was trying to hide her true emotions by smiling and
smiling. The smile here is the forced smile and not the natural one.
(Q.) What childhood fears do you think the poet is referring to in the
poem ‘My Mother at Sixty Six’?
(Ans) The poet refers to the fears of a
child has of losing a parent or getting lost somewhere and thus getting
separated from them. The poet felt this kind of fear while looking at her
mother’s aged and pale face. She was afraid that she might never see her again.
However the fear is also symbolic of the strong filial bond that the poet has
not yet overgrown.
(Q.) What does the poet mean by ‘she looked?’
(Ans) The poet felt that perhaps her
mother too would be feeling insecure about her future. She saw these
expressions on her mother’s face as well.
(Q.) What does the poet’s mother look like? What kind of images has the
poet used to signify her ageing decay?
(Ans) The poet’s mother at sixty-six, is
sitting beside the poet and is dozing off with her mouth open. This is a sign
of old age. Her face was pale like a corpse’s. Imagery of death has been
created by the poet in this comparison.
(Q.) What were the activities that the poet saw outside the car window?
(Ans) The poet saw young trees speeding
past and it seemed as if they were sprinting or running fast. Happy,
enthusiastic and energetic children could be seen running out of their homes.
They represent an image of life, youth and energy in comparison to the poet’s
mother who is described as a corpse, devoid of any energy and is an antithesis
of children who are in the full swing of life.
(Q.) Why does the poet look outside? What does she perceive?
(Ans) The very thought of separation from
her mother upsets and depresses the poet. She experiences the fear that she may
never meet her mother again. In order to drive away such negative thoughts, she
looks out of the window and her mind gets diverted when she sees trees moving
rapidly and children playing merrily.
(Q.) What is the poet’s familiar ache and why does it return?
(Ans) The poet is pained to see her
mother old and suffering. The sight of her mother’s pale and weak face looks
like that of a corpse, which arouses her childhood’s ‘familiar ache’ in her
heart. The old familiar ache refers to the childhood premonition of losing or
being separated from the parents (mother), the fear returns due the old age of
the mother signifying her approaching end.
(Q.) What does Kamala Das do after the security check-up? What does she
(Ans) Immediately after the security
check-up at the airport, and standing a few yards away from her mother, the
poet observes her mother once again and compares her to the pale, colourless winter’s moon, marking the last phase of her
life i.e. her old age. She is pained to see her and the fear of separation
returns in her, once again.
(Q.) What poetic devices has the poet used in ‘My Mother at Sixty-six’?
(Ans) The poem is rich in imagery.
Devices of comparisons and contrasts are also used by the poet to draw out the
differences in young age and old age. She describes her mother’s age as ‘ashen
like a corpse’, using simile and compares her to late winter’s moon, using a
simile again. The merry children playing happily are contrasted with the old,
weak, frail, feeble and pale mother of the poet.
Driving from my parent’s home to
Cochin last Friday
morning, I saw my mother,
doze, open mouthed, her face
ashen like that
of a corpse and realized with pain
that she was as old as she looked and
a) Where was the poet driving to? Who was sitting beside her?
b) What did the poet notice about her mother?
c) Why did her mother’s face look like that of a corpse?
d) Find words from the passage which mean
i) Sleep lightly
ii) Dead body
(a) The poet was driving to the airport in Cochin. Her mother was
sitting beside her.
(b) The poet noticed that her mother was looking old, pale and
weak. She had dozed off.
(c) She was old, pale and ashen. Since she had dozed off, with
mouth open the poet felt she looked like a corpse in that condition.
(d) i) Dozed; ii) Corpse
….and looked but soon
put that thought away, and
looked out at young
trees sprinting, the merry children spilling
out of their homes
a) What did the poet realize? How did she feel?
b) What did she do then?
c) What did she see outside?
d) Find words from the passage which mean
i) Running fast
(a) The poet realized that her mother too, was lost in some distant
thoughts. It pained her to see in that condition resembling a corpse.
(b) She started looking out in order to divert her own attention to
something else as she wanted to dispel the sad and gloomy thoughts of her
(c) She saw young trees moving fast as if they were sprinting and
also saw young children happily running out of their homes to play.
(d) i) Sprinting; ii) Merry
but all I said was, see you soon, Amma, all I
did was smile and smile and smile…’
a) Why did the poet say ‘see you soon, Amma’?
b) Why did the poet smile and smile?
c) ‘Smile and smile and smile’ is a poetic device. Identify it.
d) Amma is the fond way of addressing
someone. Who is being addressed here?
(a) The poet says this to reassure her mother that she would see
her soon. After the pain, there is a mood of acceptance of reality.
(b) The poet tries to put up a brave front in order to hide her
true feelings of pain at seeing the old and weak mother.
(c) It is repetition and is used to emphasize the tone of
acceptance of the poet and the brave front she puts up.
(d) The poet’s mother. She addresses her as ‘Amma’
and reassures her that she would meet her again.
1. “Driving from my parent’s home to Cochin last Friday
Morning, I saw my mother, beside me, doze,
open mouthed, her face ashen like that
Of a corpse and realized with pain
That she thought away.”
a) Where was the poet coming from? Where was she going?
Ans. The poet had gone to her
parents’ home to visit them. She was now going to Cochin airport.
b) How does the poet describe her mother?
Ans. The poet describes her
mother as old, pale, cold and senile. As she dozed off beside her, the mother
looked almost like a corpse, for her face was colorless and seemed to have lost
the fervor of life.
c) Who does ‘she’ refer to in the last line? What thoughts had she
Ans. ‘She’ here refers to the poet. The thought of her mother’s
approaching death which she wanted to put it away.
2. “ and looked but soon
put that thought away, and looked out at young
trees sprinting, the merry children spilling
out of their homes.”
a) What was the poet ‘looking’ at? What did she notice?
Ans. The poet was looking at her mother. She noticed the mother’s ashen
and almost lifeless face distraught with pain.
b) What thought did she try to drive away?
Ans. She tried to drive away the
thought of her mother’s approaching death.
c) Why did the poet start ’looking out’? What does her gesture suggest?
Ans. The poet started looking out of the window because she wanted to
drive away the pain and agony she experienced on seeing her aged mother. She
wanted to drive away her helplessness in the wake of her mother’s ageing and
d) What did the poet see from the window of the car?
Ans. The poet saw young trees
running past her car and merry children sprinting out of their homes to play.
e) What did the images of ‘young trees’ and ‘merry children’ symbolize?
Ans. Trees and children symbolize the spring of life, its strength,
vigour and happiness which contrasts with the
lifelessness and helplessness that sets in with age.
3. “ but after the airport’s
security check, standing a few yards
away, I looked again at her, wan, pale
as a late winter’s moon”
a) Where was the poet standing?
Ans. The poet was at the Cochin
airport waiting to board the plane after the security check.
b) Who does ‘her’ here to? How did she look like?
Ans. ’Her’ here refers to the poet’s mother. She was an aged lady
and hence looked pale, cold like a corpse and colourless.
c) Why does the narrator ‘look at her again’?
Ans. The narrator looked at her
mother once again for the last time before she left to reassure herself about
the well being of her mother. She had tried to drive
away the pain she had felt on seeing her weak and aged mother. One last time
she looked at her to wish her goodbye.
d) Explain: ’wan, pale as a late winter’s moon’.
Ans. In this simile, the poet compares the mother’s pale and withered
face with the winter’s moon. The moon seems to lose its brightness in the
winter season as it is veiled behind fog and mist. The mother’s face also
seemed to have lost its radiance which was now misted by age. Winter symbolizes
death and the waning moon symbolizes decay.
4. “ and felt that old
familiar ache, my childhood’s fear,
but all I said was, see you soon, Amma,
all I did was smile and smile and smile.”
a) What ‘familiar ache’ did the poet feel?
Ans. The ‘familiar ache’ refers to the poet’s fear of losing her mother
and the realization that she has not cared and cannot care for her ageing
mother. It is an ache of helplessness. It is also a fear of separation from the
mother or the mother’s death.
b) What could have been the poet’s childhood fears?
Ans. I think the poet’s childhood fear was that she would lose her
mother or be separated from her and that death would consume her mother.
c) Did the poet share her thoughts with her mother?
Ans. The poet did not share her fears and agony with her mother. She
only bid good bye to her with the hope of seeing her soon.
d) Why do you think, the poet did not share her thoughts with her
Ans. I think the poet did not share her thoughts with her mother
because they were caused by her fear of the unknown. Sharing them with the
mother would have worried the frail old woman to death.
e) Why did the poet only ‘smile’?
Ans. The poet only smiled to hide her guilt, anxiety and fear of the
unknown. Also, she wanted to bid a cheerful farewell to her mother before
boarding the flight.
1. What is the kind of pain and ache that the poet feels?
Ans. When the poet looks at her mother’s face she found that it had
become pale and withered. She realized that her mother was at the edge of her
life and her end was near. The thought that her mother would be soon separated form her caused unbearable pain and ache in the poet’s
2. What does the poet do to shrug off the painful thought of her
mother’s approaching end?
Ans. To get rid of painful thought her mother‘s nearing the poet looked
out to see the sprinting tree and the happy children, bursting out of their
3. Why does the poet draw the image of sprinting trees and merry
Ans. Sprinting trees and merry children bursting out from the doors
suggest fresh life and warm energy. The poet draws this image to strikes a
scene of contrast with the pale, dull and withered face of the mother. Here the
curtain is falling and the life coming to an end and there the curtain is
rising and fresh life is beginning and bubbling with energy and vitality.
4. Why have the trees been described as sprinting?
Ans. The poet was driving in a car along with her mother. Her movement
created the visionary, illusion of the trees outside appeared to be sprinting
5. Why has the mother been compared to the late winter’s moon?
Ans. The late winter moon lacks luster. The mothers face was pale and
withered. Moreover, the late winter moon suggests the end of season and mother
too is nearing the end of her life, therefore the poet compares her with the
late winter’s moon.
6. What is the ‘familiar ache’?
Ans. The fear of losing her mother has tortured the poet from her very
childhood because she had been intimately bound up with her. Therefore this
ache is familiar to her; it is known to her.
7. What do the parting words of the poet and her smile signify?
Ans. The parting words of the
poet reflect the poet’s pain. But she puts on a smile on her face to mask her
pain and to give hope, happiness and reassurance to her mother.