Thursday, 7 April 2016

'You, Shiva and My Mum' by Ruth Padel


  1. You can find a picture of the bride and groom here:

    Felix is Ruth Padel's brother, the "last unmarried son" in the poem.

  2. I have added further analysis and thoughts on this poem.

  3. There seems to be some ambiguity about the "You" of this poem and indeed, whose is the narrative voice, in the commentaries posted online in various places. Anurig probably has it best. Whoever is speaking is going to "Tell" as if it were a secret she is going to reveal - to us, the reader? Whose permission is she asking - "Shall I?" There is clearly an implied listener to whom she is talking. But it is not this person whom she is going to "tell" - that person already knows because at the end it says "tell how you laughed Fondly at my pride" - which is in the past tense.
    "Went to India" suggests that it is not the bridegroom nor the bride speaking, but Ruth Padel. They would surely say "Came.."
    Also, it is "my mum" and the tone is slightly jesting, admiring, but also faintly censorious of her mother's dedication to "getting in the zone" of the bride's culture. She treats the whole experience as some kind of joke played on her mother - or is it jealousy that she went all that way for the marriage of a son? Notice the bride is referred to as a "girl" not "woman" which sounds trivialising. Does she believe that her mother might not have done the same for her? "Mother of mine" suggests possession - and perhaps exasperation as she knows less about her (and has less control?) than she thought she did? Padel's scepticism is evident in her mocking descriptions of the customs and traditions - extracting the bizarre -"cross-legged, navy blue"-and the juxtaposition of the spiritual "impure" with the superstitious "wearing leather", split across the stanza to make a point. The "God's familiar" is also a "little bull" which suggests that something mighty is actually impotent. Ruth Padel is the great-grand-daughter of Charles Darwin and both her parents were academic scientists. They are all "sceptics" - non-believers. Which might explain her exasperation of her mother bowing at the shrine in front of everyone - it is a denial of herself.
    The unseen listener has already commented (when she first told this story to him/her) by "laughing fondly" at her pride in her mother - but Padel moves fairly swiftly to a much more intimate revelation - that this unseen listener is a lover and that for her, any religious experience ("miracle") for her is his breath in her ear. She asks again if she should "tell Them" (us) - this time tell about her love. The unseen lover now either says "Yes" or Padel reports his response to us. This ending seems to shift the whole focus from Padel's mother to her relationship with her lover, which may be the point of the poem. Mother's are the past; what matters is the here and now. Mother's have lives of their own which you cannot predict or be responsible for and which may surprise you. She may also feel betrayed, in that her mother has overthrown the habits and beliefs of a lifetime. And the daughter now betrays her.

    Notice the use of enjambment and caesura. The stanzas are used to map the mother's journey but also to make surprising links and also dis-junctions in ideas. Is that "pride" in the penultimate stanza split from "in her" for a reason?