‘The Locket’ by John Montague

‘The Locket’

by John Montague

Upon analysing a poem, I find it useful to decode it in a particular way. I like to read the poem as if it were a story. This helps me to generate an understanding of both the poet and the poem’s context.  The following notes outline the story of ‘The Locket’. Once an understanding of this poem’s story has been established you will then be able to more effectively create your own opinions and observations.


The Story of the Poem


  1. Montague laments his dead mother in this poem ‘sing a last song for the lady who has gone’. The poet does not remember his mother very fondly; their relationship brought him great misery and suffering.
  2. Montague expresses how his relationship with his mother had gotten off to a rocky start as soon as he was born. He was turned ‘the wrong way around’ in his mother’s womb, which would have caused his mother a great deal of pain during labour. This caused contention in their relationship and Montague felt as though his mother never truly forgave him for this.
  3. Montague claims that way in which he caused the most painful child birth was his claim to fame – this perhaps suggest that his mother would bring it up throughout their relationship.
  4. The poet explains how he disappointed his mother by being male ‘coming out both the wrong sex and the wrong way around’. His mother held this double-blunder against Montague throughout his childhood (refused to breastfeed him/form a maternal connection/he felt rejected) and in later life.
  5. Montague makes reference in this poem to his father – a rouge whose charm eventually wore off ‘when all my father’s songs couldn’t sweeten the lack of money’.
  6. ‘When poverty comes through the door, love flies up the chimney’ – pessimistic or realistic view of love?
  7. Montague explains how he felt rejected and abandoned upon being sent to Ireland to live with his aunts. He suspects that it wasn’t solely down to financial logic. He felt his mother didn’t want him anymore – deep psychological scarring.
  8. The poet discusses how he would ‘court’ his mother ‘like a young man. This incestuous image gives us an insight into how far apart he and his mother had grown while she lived in the USA. She is a stranger to him and a woman who he wants to be liked by.
  9. The mothers harsh logic: afraid to get too close to him in case he leaves her and she misses him ‘I start to get fond of you, John and then you are up and gone’.
  10. The locket: the relationship between mother and son is somewhat redeemed. The newfound awareness that his mother did indeed love him brings the poet great joy.
  11. It’s a pity that the mother couldn’t express her love for her son while she was alive – how does this make Montague feel now?


Themes: ‘Hardship and Suffering’, ‘Memory’ and ‘Love’


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