Thom Gunn: On "My Mother Would Be A Falconress"

In "My Mother Would Be A Falconress," from Bending the Bow, the mother appears as a distinct and close figure, no less mythical for her clarity. The images of her as Falconress and him as the obedient little falcon who is later to break away from her enable Duncan to dramatize the whole series of conflicts involving possessiveness and love on the one hand and freedom and the need for identity on the other. Every detail is strangely right, showing how his life is patterned by her contradictory demands: she holds him by the leash of her will, but she sends him out into the world on fierce errands, to kill the little birds, but be is to return with their bodies without eating them himself, but she rewards him with meat. Her ferocious love keeps him in her control by its very inconsistency.

 

She lets me ride to the end of her curb

where I fall back in anguish.

I dread that she will cast me away,

for I fall, I mis-take, I fail in her mission.

 

And the pattern that she has created is still retained. Years after her death, he still longs both to be her falcon and to go free. It is a startling poem both for what it is and for what it suggests. It suggests, for example, the ferocious goddess who demands sacrifices as her due; and on the other hand it embodies a perfect example of what Gregory Bateson calls the double-bind (typically used by the mother) which he sees an the principal cause of a common type of schizophrenia. Yet these are only implied in the poem, where the mother is merely, completely herself, so living that she is impossible to deny.

This poem, too, originated in dream. A version of its first two lines came to him in sleep, as he records in the prefatory note. And at one point, he the falcon even dreams within the dream.

 

I have gone back into my hooded silence,

talking to myself and dropping off to sleep.

 

But there is a sharpness of focus to the poem that makes it unusual in Duncan, much of whose success elsewhere in his later work depends on the changing or even blurring of focus. I find it unprecedented in his poetry.

Details

Criticism Overview
Title Thom Gunn: On "My Mother Would Be A Falconress" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Robert J. Berthoff, Ian W. Reid Criticism Target Robert Duncan
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 16 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Robert Duncan: Scales of the Marvelous
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Contexts No Data Tags No Data

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