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Margaret D. Stetz – “Whistler’s Mother”

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Margaret D. Stetz


“Whistler’s Mother”


How strange how wrong a title
Arrangement in Grey and Black
for what begins in reddest flows of blood
and grows like bars of color layered on a rainbow
the mother-child relationship encompassing
serenity of blue and green of hope
sometimes a rage of purple
or yellow brightness signifying warmth
kaleidoscopically fragmented, intertwined.
++++And yet how common this desire of the son
to simplify to distance to abstract
to paint the mother as an object in a room
that he will leave, has left already,
imagining age as placid paleness
requiring nothing, satisfied with stillness:
the maternal body as a chair
an emptied lap
fingers folded in upon themselves,
not reaching clutching for another hand
once small, now large and rough––
++++the unseen hand that grips instead a brush
that signs the canvas
that offers immortality
stripped of comfort.


Margaret D. Stetz is the Mae and Robert Carter Professor of Women’s Studies and Professor of Humanities at the University of Delaware. She has written and lectured extensively on Victorian literature and art, as well as being a poet, and her work always highlights women’s perspectives and achievements.


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