Kamala Das’s ‘Middle Age’ is a touching poem about the agonies of a middle-aged mother. It is written in a sad and nostalgic tone. It reveals how deeply painful it can be when you are neglected by your own children when they grow up.
The speaker of the poem is a middle-aged mother. She thinks about her adolescent son who has come out of the protection of her care and love. Like a butterﬂy, he wants to ﬂy out into the open world. Now he doesn’t want her except for serving him tea and pressing his clothes.
- He has also begun to be very rude and serious.
- She remembers the nice games they used to play when he was younger.
- She used to write in golden ink, a squirrel’s invitation to the jungle feast and give it to him.
- Now the son has no time for games like that but the mother still needs him badly.
- When left alone, she touches his books and weeps secretly.
- She hopes that the happy days will come back but the son shatters all her hopes.
- He turns round in disgust saying, “You have lived in a dreamworld all your life. It is time to wake up, mother.”
- The poem conveys all the loneliness, pain and agony of middle age.
- It also sheds some light into the lack of love in human relationships.
- In this selﬁsh world she is not just one depressed mother, but a representative of all mothers.
Lines 1 – 2
Middle age is when your children are no longer
Friends but critics, stern of face and severe with their tongue.
- Critics – Experts in finding errors and pointing them out
- Stern – Strict and serious
- Severe – Harsh
- How does the poet describe middle age?
The poet says that when parents are in the middle age, their children behave with respect and sympathy.
- What does “severe with tongue” mean?
‘Severe with tongue’ means speak without respect, often hurting others.
- What is the mood of the poet?
The poet is sad and hurt. She wishes to go back to her earlier days when her children were not rude but polite and loving.
Lines 3 – 5
It is the time when, like pupae, they burst their cocoons and
Emerge in harsh adult glory, and they no longer
Need you except for serving tea and for pressing clothes.
- Pupae – an insect in its inactive immature form between larva and adult, e.g. a chrysalis.
- Cocoons – a silky case spun by the larvae of many insects for protection as pupae.
- Emerge – Come out
- What is “harsh adult glory?”
Harsh adult glory – When children grow up, they suddenly feel proud of their muscles and beauty. This makes them behave rudely and harshly.
- “Like pupae, they burst their cocoons and emerge.” What is the poetic device? (Let’s Play below)
Lines 6 – 8
But you need them all the same, and badly, too,
So that when left alone, you touch their books and things
And weep a little secretly.
- Their books
- Weep – Cry
Lines 9 – 13
Middle age is when your son, to whom you had sent
Once upon a time, the squirrel’s invitation to their jungle feast
Writing in golden ink and posting it a night, turns around in disgust
Crying, “you have lived in a dream world all your life,
It’s time to wake up, Mother, you are no longer so young you know!”
- Squirrel’s invitation
- Jungle feast
- Turns around
- Crying – Complaining
“Like pupae, they burst their cocoons and emerge.” What is the poetic device?
Middle age is:
Between 40 and 60
Between 30 and 60
Between 35 and 65
It is usually between 40 and 60 but that depends on one’s outlook!