Death of a Young Son by Drowning

“Death of a Young Son by Drowning” by Margaret Atwood is a moving poem about the death of a child. The use of metaphor makes the poem more challenging.

Theme:

Hope dies when one’s child dies.

Techniques:

  • metaphor, simile, symbolism, allusion.

Issues:

What happened to the speaker? To her son?

What reflective question does this poem ask?

This poem comes from a collection written by Margaret Atwood called The Journals of Susanna Moodie. In this collection we read of the hardships and triumphs of the title character, who is a pioneer and recent immigrant to Canada. Find and read other poems from this collection.

Write about the comparisons this poem uses. Do you think the comparisons are appropriate or effective?

How do you feel about this poem? What do you like or dislike about it?

What do the last two lines mean?

Discuss the type of journey both mother and son make. Discuss how it symbolizes the journey of life, from birth to death.

 

“Death of a Young Son by Drowning” by Margaret Atwood

He, who navigated with success
the dangerous river of his own birth
once more set forth

on a voyage of discovery
into the land I floated on
but could not touch to claim.

His feet slid on the bank,
the currents took him;
he swirled with ice and trees in the swollen water

and plunged into distant regions,
his head a bathysphere;
through his eyes’ thin glass bubbles

he looked out, reckless adventurer
on a landscape stranger than Uranus
we have all been to and some remember.

There was an accident; the air locked,
he was hung in the river like a heart.
They retrieved the swamped body,

cairn of my plans and future charts,
with poles and hooks
from among the nudging logs.

It was spring, the sun kept shining, the new grass
leapt to solidity;
my hands glistened with details.

After the long trip I was tired of waves.
My foot hit rock. The dreamed sails
collapsed, ragged.

I planted him in this country
like a flag.

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