Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.

My Lifetime Between Great Hands

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“I am in the world

to change the world

my lifetime

is to love to endure to suffer the music

to set its portrait

up as a sheet of the world…

and the child alive within the living woman, music of man,

and death holding my lifetime between great hands

the hands of enduring life

that suffers the gifts and madness of full life, on earth, in our time,

and through my life, through my eyes, through my arms and hands

may give the face of this music in portrait waiting for

the unknown person

held in the two hands, you.”

-Muriel Rukeyser; “Kathe Kollwitz” (pp. 1208)

The Longman Anthology of Women’s Literature

While reading this excerpt of Rukeyser ‘s poem, “Kathe Kollwitz”, I couldn’t help but picture a grieving military mother, mourning the loss of her child; perhaps her only child. The thought of a woman losing her own flesh and blood is a difficult one to completely grasp unless one has personally gone through the experience. However, the way that Rukeyser writes gives those lucky enough to avoid such an experience an opportunity to see through that perspective.  When analyzing this poem, I heard the voice of a mother in a sorrowful, prayer-like state, speaking openly to herself, and then to her deceased child. The first ellipsed section sounded like a sort of promise made by the mother, to carry on after her child’s death and “change the world”, using her tragedy as motivation, to display the wrongs happening around her in the form of a “portrait” or “sheet of the world”. The second part has more of a mournful, despairing tone, in which the mother describes how she must “suffer the gifts and madness of full life on earth” without her child, awaiting the day when she will be reunited with the “unknown person held in the two hands”.

Personally, I think it is amazing how so much power can be held in two little stanzas of poetry. You can delve so far into this text and begin discussions about loss,  unconditional  maternal love, and especially about the struggles of military families. It is so saddening to picture a mother having to bury her own child and this poem gives a voice to those women who have. Oftentimes, people picture mothers of deceased children as powerless, and expect them to simply give up on their own lives to resort to a lifetime of mourning. While this may be true for some mothers, I like that Rukseyer displayed the strong side of motherhood; not only did she emphasize the pain and suffering that this mother was experiencing, she showed how the mother was channeling her pain into actions towards changing the world in the name of her child-so they would not have to die for naught. I think I was overwhelmed the most by the idea of the child living through the mother although they have passed and she now must go on living, caring the burden of her loss while using her body, mind, and soul to criticize and mend the world she lives in.

I found this video about two moms of deceased soldiers who are using their grief to make a difference:


I think the group that presented this text was correct for including the portrait “Woman with Dead Child” by Kathe Kollwitz because it is a visual representation of all the emotion that Rukeyser was trying to get across (see below). This drawing, made in 1903, was the inspiration for Rukeyser’s poem. The most striking thing about Kollwitz’s work is the non-human appearance of the mother. She is cradling her child and buring her face into his chest. Although the viewer cannot directly see the mother’s face, the parts that are visible are haunting, and monster-like. Also, the size difference between the mother and her child (ex: her leg is the same size of the child’s whole body) creates the  sense that the child, although grown, is still a child to their mother. I think this can apply to all moms; they always see their children as babies, even when they’re grown with their own children.

“Woman with Dead Child”- Kathe Kollwitz

I really enjoyed this poem, even though the subject matter was pretty heavy. I think that military families and their daily struggles are things that need to be talked about; and not only talked about, but supported. For a mother, nothing can compare to losing your child, and thousands of military mothers, fathers, and families go through exactly that every year. But even through this immense loss, there is a silver lining of sorts. Through this loss, there is a common thread that ties all human beings. We all experience love, loss, and grief. And the love of a mother for her child transcends race, ethinicity, origin, etc. I think it is through these experiences that we can become closer in a worldwide sense, and resurface the humanity that we somehow lost along the way.

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