by Dorothy Parker

The day that I was christened-
It’s a hundred years, and more!-
A hag came and listened
At the white church door,
A-hearing her that bore me
And all my kith and kin
Considerately, for me,
Renouncing sin.
While some gave me corals,
And some gave me gold,
And porringers, with morals
Agreeably scrolled,
The hag stood, buckled
In a dim gray cloak;
Stood there and chuckled,
Spat, and spoke:
“There’s few enough in life’ll
Be needing my help,
But I’ve got a trifle
For your fine young whelp.
I give her sadness,
And the gift of pain,
The new-moon madness,
And the love of rain.”
And little good to lave me
In their holy silver bowl
After what she gave me-
Rest her soul!

Literary Analysis

The theme of this poem is the love of a godmother for a child. In Christianity, the concept of a godmother is a woman who vows to help raise a child according to Christian morals. She takes responsibility for carrying out the child’s religious education and assures that she will take care of a child in the case of the child being orphaned. Therefore, she may end up playing the role of a real mother.

The title “Godmother” makes it clear that this poem is about a godmother. The speaker is addressing her godmother and recounting her childhood period, when her parents gave her godmother the responsibility of her bringing her up in a Christian manner. The scene is set in the nave of a church, where a group of people has gathered to see the ceremony of baptism. The tone is full of happiness and sense of gratitude to her godmother.

The speaker begins the poem by remembering the day of her baptism. It seems “It’s a hundred years, and more” since her baptism. She continues her recounting, saying that “A hag came and listened” who entered from church door. The speaker’s family members and relatives gathered to attend the ceremony. On behalf of the child, the family members determined that they would abstain from evil and sinful acts, as referenced in the line “Renouncing sin.” After taking oaths, the guests present gifts to the child, where “some gave me corals” also “with morals” which implies the Christian code of ethics.

The speaker refers to the godmother as a hag; she “stood, buckled / in a dim gray coat.” Subsequently, she speaks and says that very few people need her help. She is, in fact, ironically implying that the majority of people do not follow religious teachings practically; hence, the godmother might be of little use for their child. However, she goes on to say, “But I’ve got a trifle / For your fine young whelp.” She alludes to the idea that learning and following the religious dogmas might be painful and tough, saying that I give her sadness, / And the gift of pain,” despite the fact that she would also give her lots of love.

By the end, the speaker is thankful to her godmother for cleansing and washing her of her sins “And little good to leave me /… holy silver bowl.” As her godmother, she had done a great service for the speaker, “After what she gave me-/ Rest her soul!” Hence, this is an expression of her love and gratitude for the godmother.

Structural Analysis

The poem is written in a lyric form. Although, it is not divided into proper stanzas, even then its rhyme scheme is rhythmical and regular, ABAB

The day that I was christened–   A
It’s a hundred years, and more!-   B
A hag came and listened       A
At the white church door,   B

The metrical pattern of this poem mixes iambic trimeter with trochaic trimester, as “A hag came and listened / At the white church door.” These meters provide a musical touch and create movement in the poem. Alliteration appears in several lines, such as the “g” sound in “gave me gold” and the “s” sound in “spat, and spoke” which adds beauty to the rhythm of the lines. Enjambment is used in entire poem as “Considerately, for me, / Renouncing sin.” This helps in expressing complicated ideas in multiple lines. The diction of this poem is connotative and figurative; the poet uses metaphorical language to convey the theme of love. Internal rhyme and assonance are absent; however, end-stopped line appears at the end of each stanza. The poetic device of anaphora is used in the case of the word “And,” which is repeatedly used at the beginning of the lines. This adds to the rhythm of the poem and creates harmony in the lines.

Guidance for Usage of Quotes

The poem “Godmother” is based on the theme of a godmother’s services for humanity. In this poem, her role is highlighted during baptism ceremony, especially the way she takes responsibility for a child’s upbringing in accordance with Christian beliefs and religious dogmas. The poetess has a high regard for the godmother’s holy duty and feels grateful to her like a real mother, as she works solely in the name of God. Therefore, lines of this poem can be quoted and dedicated to mothers on Mother’s Day, such as:

“…little good to lave me
In their holy silver bowl
After what she gave me-
Rest her soul!”