Kindness presents a poetic narrator’s tussling conundrum between motherhood and death. She fluxes in coexistence between her personal conquest for death and her required responsibilities1 as a mother. Her restrained mockery of everyday ordinances stresses her disdain yet necessity for mediocrity as she falls within the constrictions and restrictions of motherhood. This disdain typifies her longing for death: which she sees as a gateway of release, but this true want has to be forced into suppression2 and coexistence with the false but necessary self of motherhood.
Notably, the poetic narrator is very passive to her surroundings while she goes through this inner turmoil. Even though she is physically near, her detachment is obvious in her detailed observations of Kindness, “glid[ing]” about, “filling” the house with “smoke” and “smiles”. This reflects a certain numbness that gives her the distance to objectify her surroundings: “What is so real as the cry of a child? ” The drop of such a sudden, pert question strikes a contrast to the nice, neat flow of the first stanza. Here semblances of the poetic narrator’s pain are introduced.
Arguably, she could be talking about her crying children or her own state of struggle for her children against herself. Perhaps both. The different interpretive possibilities lend reflection to her confused state of mind, the tussles for her existence, even the reasons for her madness. The poetic narrator goes on exemplifying this struggle in the use of imagery from the ordinances of everyday life. She takes Kindness’ belief that “Sugar can cure everything” with detectable scorn in her own reiteration: “so Kindness says”. Sugar cannot cure anything to the narrator’s wretched state of mind.
Such a sweeping assumption made comes across as thick ignorance to the poetic narrator, and is hence treated with irritated sarcasm. “O kindness kindness/ Sweetly picking up pieces! ” Like how she passively watches Kindness pick pieces of sugar into a teacup, Kindness’ symbolic attempts to “pick up” pieces of her life can never be so. Kindness, alluded to sugar, is all but “a cup of tea”. It’s small, negligible flippancy can never grasp nor hold the depth, breadth or scope of the poetic narrator’s conflicting pain.
There is acknowledgement that sugar is “a little poultice”, just like how Kindness with her presence “is so nice! , but that is as far a purpose as it will serve. This pain infests itself in the poetic narrator’s inflections of death-imagery. She sees a cup of tea offered to her in kindness, as being “wreathed in steam”. She searches the notion of having “no soul”, “glid[ing]” about like “smoke”, yearning to be “pinned any minute, anaesthetized. “, stripped of sensation. This is a far-fetched craving of human experience: of freedom from subjugation, by destruction. The irony in the dilemma of her pain is multi-faceted. The narrator wants to escape life’s realism because she feels pain.
In escaping through death, which is supposed to be painful, she feels she will conquer and live. “The blood jet is poetry,/There is no stopping it. ” But at the same time, there is pain in being torn apart from her children, “two roses”, essences of another kind of beauty and life she cannot let go. With this, there is no sense of real progression away from the poetic narrator’s dilemma. Rather, there is more rhetoric and motion within concentric circles of thought. The poetic narrator knows the root of her problem, but she cannot make a decision.
Just like how Kindness itself does not take a constant form, but keeps changing it’s states from “smoke” to “fluid” to “crystals” to “liquid” to “gas” to “blood [liquid]”. This constant flux lends explanation and dimension to the combative struggles of the poetic narrator’s inner-conscience. There is a cyclical motion towards the primal concentric circle3: “There is no stopping it. / You had me two children, two roses. ” These last two lines come in direct loggerheads with each other, each carrying the full embodiment of one of the two conflicting selves within her single being.