She was starting down, Looking back over her shoulder at some fear. She took a doubtful step and then undid it To raise herself and look again.
In the poem “Home Burial,” the character of the wife/mother immediately displays her fear of moving forward. Here, she looks back and then hesitantly steps forward only to undo this step and look back again. Readers later learn that she has lost a child, and this metaphor of wanting to move forward but being unable to highlights how her grief has frozen her in place. She wants to move on but continues to look back on her child’s past, and the pain leaves her paralyzed.
With the least stiffening of her neck and silence. She let him look, sure that he wouldn’t see, Blind creature; and awhile he didn’t see. But at last he murmured, “Oh,” and again, “Oh.”
In this section of the poem “Home Burial,” the wife/mother character displays her distrust of the husband/father and the coldness she feels toward him as they both deal with their grief differently. The wife/mother acts rigidly and coldly toward her husband, and she describes a breakdown in their communication. She truly doesn’t believe he can understand why she feels so upset. Even when her husband finally murmurs words that reveal his understanding, his acknowledgment comes too late for her to believe. The singular grief shared by the two has set them miles apart in the heart.
“Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t,” she cried . . . She withdrew, shrinking from beneath his arm That rested on the banister, and slid downstairs; And turned on him with such a daunting look[.]
Here, the wife/mother in “Home Burial” pleads with the husband/father to not talk about the grave of their child. She reveals not only her desperation and grief in these cries but also the extreme isolation she feels. She “shrinks” and “slides” away from her husband, indicating that their communication barrier has morphed into a physical one. The wife/mother will not allow her husband to recognize his own grief because she feels her grief is too much to bear.
Not you!—Oh, where’s my hat? Oh, I don’t need it! I must get out of here. I must get air.— I don’t know rightly whether any man can.
In these lines from “Home Burial,” the wife/mother reveals her desperation to escape her pain and grief after losing her child, even if this escape means separating from her husband. Here, the wife/mother also admits that she does not think that any man or father can truly understand the extent of a mother’s grief. With this belief, the wife/mother divides their marriage and facilitates her own isolation. She not only prevents her husband from truly understanding her feelings but also misses an opportunity to honor his grief and offer support to him.
You can’t because you don’t know how to speak. If you had any feelings, you that dug With your own hand—how could you?—his little grave; I saw you from that very window there, Making the gravel leap in air . . . I thought, Who is that man? I didn’t know you.
In these lines from “Home Burial,” the wife/mother reacts to watching the husband/father dig their child’s grave. She explains that she does not understand how he could complete such a task so easily, and her words identify a breakdown in communication between husband and wife. Readers may infer that, in her grief, she fails to recognize her husband struggling with the same grief, just in a different way. While the husband/father grieves by doing something, she cannot grasp this matter-of-fact reaction, and the misunderstanding isolates them from each other, further intensifying their grief.
I heard your rumbling voice Out in the kitchen, and I don’t know why, But I went near to see with my own eyes. You could sit there with stains on your shoes Of the fresh earth from your own baby’s grave And talk about your everyday concerns.
In the poem “Home Burial,” the wife/mother explains how she does not comprehend her husband’s reaction to their child’s death. While she is understandably blinded by her own grief, she still continues to watch her husband, almost as if she craves his companionship but doesn’t know how to move beyond her pain. Instead, she describes how he appears to have moved on, and she’s outraged by his ability to talk about “everyday concerns” when she can’t move forward at all.
No, from the time when one is sick to death, One is alone, and he dies more alone. Friends make pretense of following to the grave, But before one is in it, their minds are turned And making the best of their way back to life And living people, and things they understand. But the world’s evil. I won’t have grief so If I can change it. Oh, I won’t, I won’t!
In the final section of “Home Burial,” the wife/mother describes her experience with grief and isolation. She explains that most people move on from death or grief and return to making the best of life, but she cannot do that. She refuses to let go of the grief for she equates this action with letting go of her child. Therefore, the wife/mother remains alone in her grief.
You—oh, you think the talk is all. I must go— Somewhere out of this house . . .
The wife/mother’s final statement in “Home Burial” commands attention as she declares to her husband that her expressions are more than just words; she wants out of their house and marriage. She tries to make her husband understand that her grief has moved her to a point beyond being able to fix what’s wrong. She has succumbed to the grief and breakdown of their marriage, and now she must physically leave. Her grief will not allow her to reconnect or move forward.