Today’s Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s birthday. One of the greatest poets of the Victorian era, she was regarded as a contender for the post of poet laureate when Wordsworth died. She wasn’t appointed for two reasons: firstly, the other contender was Tennyson, and secondly, she was a woman.
 
It’s also Mother’s Day in the UK, Ireland and Nigeria. As most of you probably know, Mother’s Day was originally a religious holiday called Mothering Sunday. Its name has nothing to do with mothers and all to do with this day (the fourth Sunday in Lent) being a day when servants would be given the day off to travel to their home area – their mother church – for the feast of Laetare Sunday. It was usually the only day when whole families could be together, as their duties typically prevented them from travelling for other holidays. As a family day, it gained association with mothers and when the festival was revived in the 1920s, mothering Sunday and Mother’s Day became one holiday.
 
Even as separate concepts, both Mother’s Day and mothering Sunday have at their heart thoughts of being mindful of your origins and what you owe to your existence. Mothering can be one of the most difficult tasks ever undertaken by a person and joyous as it apparently is according to people I know, it’s perhaps a lifelong, frequently thankless endeavour that never ends. So it’s rather deserved that the holiday calendar is littered with different countries having their own special day to celebrate the efforts made by billions of women in raising children.
 
My relationship with my mother is currently non-existent, given that she’s dead. That’s a far too simple view though, as the ripples of past actions will always echo on, for good or for ill. It’s akin to the lord in Monty Python and the Holy Grail waving at the window (and the curtains) and exclaiming “Some day, lad, all this will be yours!” My mother almost certainly suffered from some form of undiagnosed bipolar depression but somewhat fortuitously, it appears that some day that will not be mine. Small mercies. I would like to think that my mother did her best with the tools that she was given.
 
There are mothers who are mothers by virtue of giving birth. There are mothers who are mothers by caring for children to whom they did not give birth. There are fathers acting as fathers and mothers. There are mothers acting as mothers and fathers. There are grandmothers who care for grandchildren as though they’re their own. There are daughters and sons caring for aged parents as though they’re mothers to their own parents. At its heart, Mother’s Day is a celebration of love, of respect and of caring. And that’s the best that anyone can ever offer anyone else, up to the limit of their ability.
 
With that in mind, I selected this poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning to close. While she’s these days better known for her Sonnet 43 (“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”), that poem’s gentle tenderness was hilariously stolen from me in a re-enactment of Roger Rabbit’s letter reading in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’. So I’ve selected her Sonnet 14, which embodies love for love’s sake and nothing more. Happy Mother’s Day, in whatever capacity you find yourself.
 
“If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only. Do not say,
“I love her for her smile—her look—her way
Of speaking gently,—for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day”—
For these things in themselves, Belovèd, may
Be changed, or change for thee—and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry:
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou mayst love on, through love’s eternity.”
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