Mother of Pearl

Mother of Pearl

by Raymond A. Foss

An ancient shell
on their shelf
a memento, a reminder of the sea
of the coast
glistening under the film of dust
of the passing years
a clouded rainbow
shimmering color in the surface,
in the depth of the shell,
its skin, its sinew
reflecting, refracting
living color
urging young hands to touch
young eyes to marvel
at its iridescent beauty
saved and treasured
on their shelf

Literary Analysis

Mother of Pearl” is a symbolic poem, which describes the beauty of a woman, as either a mother or a beloved. There are three themes intertwined, which are nature, memories, and praise of a woman’s beauty. The scene of this poem is focused on a decorative shelf or perhaps a mantelpiece in a house, where a shell of mother of pearl sits. The speaker then shifts this scene to a seacoast.

The speaker is the poet himself, who has seen the mother of pearl placed on the shelf as a dazzling decoration piece. The title “Mother of Pearl” is suggestive of a woman as a precious gift as compared to this unique and beautiful piece of natural art. The poem starts by describing an “An ancient shell / on their shelf.” The poet reflects on older times, when this shell was first found as “a memento, a reminder of the sea / of the coast.” The speaker once observed the mother of pearl on the beach, and remarks that it now seems “glistening under the film of dust.”

Then the speaker moves on to identify the outer beauty and glitter of the mother of pearl shell, how it shines like “a clouded rainbow / shimmering color in the surface” making a rainbow of colors.The shell is like the outer skin of a pearl, and it has a completely different look from the inside. The poet praises the marvel of nature and God, how He has created wonderful things and creatures like beautiful women and such shells. He uses a beautiful personification to describe the pearl and brings out its human qualities saying, “its skin, its sinew.” The use of diverse images of touch and sight, coupled with hyperbole, has made this mother of pearl an enticing object exactly similar to a beautiful woman.

In the final lines, he alleges that the value of this unique shell is realized because of its “iridescent beauty,” and hence it is “saved and treasured / on their shelf.”The poet is fully sensitive to the shell’s beauty and regards it as worth marveling at.

Structural Analysis

The poem is a lyric written in a free form and contains only a single stanza. Due to the fact that this poem is written in free verse, there is no rhyme scheme. We can see this clearly if we try to label the rhyme:

An ancient shell   A
on their shelf   B
a memento, a reminder of the sea   C
of the coast
   D

The metrical pattern is also irregular with alternating meters, as no single meter is observed in this poem. However, the major meter is iambic such as An ancient shell/on their shelf/a memento, a reminder of the sea.”Internal consonance is used as in, “reflecting, refracting” and enjambment is found in the entire poem “glistening under the film of dust / of the passing years.” Internal rhyme is used in the nearby words “skin, sinew” to create rhythm in the absence of any regular metrical pattern.

The diction is highly connotative and indirect, with a host of metaphors, images and personifications. A literary device called hypotaxis is employed throughout the entire poem, as the main idea is “An ancient shell” containing mother of pearl, while the rest of the poem is a description of the beauty of this pearl such as, “its skin, its sinew / reflecting, refracting / living color / urging young hands to touch.”

Guidance for Usage of Quotes

“Mother of Pearl” is a poem about a beautiful shell on a family’s shelf. Some may compare this to the admiration of a woman and her beauty, and assume that it pays regard to God and His creation. The woman is compared to a shell with a mother of pearl sheen, making the comparison to precious mother possible. Lovers can also read into the poem romantic admiration of a woman. Accordingly, the woman in this poem can be regarded as a mother or a beloved. Hence, young men can quote suitable lines from this poem and send them on Mother’s Day to share their love. They can also use quotes for their beloveds whom they miss and have associated memories with them such as:

its skin, its sinew
reflecting, refracting
living color
urging young hands to touch
young eyes to marvel
at its iridescent beauty.”

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