The Mary Poems


66 pages
ISBN 0-9684218-8-1
DDC C811'.54




Reviewed by Laura M. Robinson

Laura M. Robinson is assistant professor of children’s literature at
Nipissing University in North Bay, Ontario.


Beryl Baigent’s latest collection of poems celebrates her mother’s
life and, in doing so, laments her death. Baigent presents a compelling
portrait of a time and a place: North Wales in the 20th century. Baigent
shows the daily domestic life of her mother and family through her focus
on the coal scuttles, hearths, and washing clothes by hand. Her focus on
the past has a pastoral tone to it, suggesting that “these are the
halcyon days” in “Christmas Cymortha,” idealizing the “orchards
/ of the past” in “Flower Fairies.”

The pastoral is entirely appropriate for a celebratory eulogy, yet it
is a nostalgic longing for something that never existed, for something
ideal. Baigent’s poems convey a feeling of a beautiful domestic past
removed from contemporary industrial life, in the same way that Norman
Rockwell paintings convey a sentimental view of American domestic
history. Her “The Railway Poems” make this movement from the country
toward industrialization quite literal, as the country family boards a
train to be taken into the city. This poem is one of the only ones that
hints at the mother’s dissatisfaction with her life. The other poems
focus on essentializing motherhood, linking it to Gaia in “Listening
to Gaia,” Earth Mother in “Things Conspire,” and an angel in
“For My Brother on His Fiftieth Birthday,” and equating it firmly
with the natural elements of earth, air, fire, and water in “The Mary
Poems.” This sentimental view of motherhood lacks critical analysis
and begs for deeper exploration.

Indeed, “The Railway Poems” indicates that the mother might not
have wanted to return to the country: “But I always wanted to return /
And I’m not sure that she did.” Moreover, the mother wonders “If
this is all there is” at the end of the poem, an emotion that is
suppressed throughout the rest of the poetry in its simple celebration
of a life lived. One wishes she would push past the superficial
sentimentality to explore the sometimes harsh complexities of human life
and grief and love.


Baigent, Beryl., “The Mary Poems,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 13, 2024,