Jeanne Marie Beaumont

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Letters from Limbo

Beaumont, Jeanne Marie

Last Updated: Jan-02-2018
Annotated by:
Clark, Mark

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry


This collection of poems is a memoir in verse: it is a lyric and epistolary exploration of what it is to live in the limbo of an emotional and psychological ambiguity whose genesis lies in maternal loss, mourning, depression, and despair.  The poems are arranged in three sections:  “Crossing,” “Asylum Song,” and “Holding.” 

The “Crossing section generally conveys to readers the nature of life in this limbo, even as it discloses some of the familial anguish that has brought about a repressive silence in the poet’s mother, as well as a depression that wreaked its havoc on the poet’s growing up.  The family mysteries and the suffering of the poet prompt her to research the death of her maternal grandmother, and we learn many details of that loss in the poems of the “Asylum Song” section. 

A Czech immigrant, the woman had, in the old country, lost her parents and sister, and she’d apparently abandoned—for reasons unknown—her illegitimate child.  She’d married an older man and moved to the States.  After giving birth to another child, she suffered a postpartum depression, for which she was placed in an asylum, and was heavily and inappropriately medicated.  She died within three weeks, at age 34.  Her daughter, the poet’s mother, grew up in her absence and, in turn, lost her own child—the poet’s sister—in infancy, prior to Baptism. 

According to widely held beliefs of Catholics at the time, the infant would thus be relegated to Limbo for eternity: she would be barred from union with God, this is to say, though kept free from any punishment or any suffering, other than the longing for a bliss she could never attain.  Such a belief would clearly exacerbate the feelings of failure and guilt that a mother might feel in losing her infant.  The poet’s mother’s depression resulted, unsurprisingly, in a bewildering absence of maternal care in the poet’s life: she is stuck in her own “asylum” or Limbo—a state of emotional confinement where she maintains some vision of “beatific” maternal love, but feels it forever beyond her reach to experience.  The poems of the final section, “Holding,” convey the struggle and surprising joy of inhabiting this Limbo.

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