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I Ask My Mother To Sing

Li-Young Lee

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Added by: Joan Jonerick Panell Calo
Li-Young Lee “I ask my mother to sing”

“I ask my mother to sing” is a poem made up of four stanzas. But not any stanzas if not stanzas lavish with reminiscence, nostalgia, joyfulness and grief and grief and simultaneously. The title (I ask my mother to sing) is obviously a song the persona begs his mother to sing and the content of that song inevitably makes speaker’s grandma to sing too. But the most important is what is that song about, the answer to that question is too implicit throughout the whole poem, specifically in the second stanza and in the first line of the third one, doubtless it’s about China. But let’s take each stanza separately.
The first stanza is about what happens when the speaker ask his mother to sing. This is a stanza about homesickness and all those people appearing here had the chance to be and born there in China. It shows two generations before speaker’s, generations that know China as I said before.
The second stanza is regarding places that enable readers to become aware that the speaker is talking about China, since all those places are China’s icons but places the mask (persona) has never been in.
The third stanza says in its first line “But I love to hear it sung”, it means that despite speaker has never been in the land of the Great Wall; he likes to hear it through songs. This aspect makes the nostalgia he feels so special because the speaker is not yearning something of his past, nor places he has been in before, it’s just a feeling about something he carries in his blood, Chinese backgrounds. In addition to that, this stanza is special because it plays with readers, it makes us hear and move with the waterlilies. For instance, “they overturn (waterlilies), spilling water into water, then rock back, and fill with more”. Therefore it is a stanza too kinesthetic and appeals our hearing sense as well.
The last stanza is the shortest and the saddest. These two lines make us think that both mother and grandmother resemble waterlilies. If we take the last two lines of the third stanza and compare them with the other two that made up the fourth stanza we will find out the next: “they overturn, spilling water into water” is like say “both women have begun to cry” dropping tears into tears, I dare to say. What’s more, “then rock back, and fill with more” is like “but neither stops her song”. So they do not stop their song as water lilies don’t stop filling with water. Here is something interesting, by the fact that they do not stop the song the poem starts again, since the end leads us to the beginning of the poem and then to the end once more, and so forth. So it’s a continuous poem, an eternal poem brimming with reminiscence, nostalgia, joyfulness and grief that neither stops.
By Joan Jonerick Panell Calo

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