Between the lines: A concert in utero 

A Concert In Utero

by Eloisa Griffiths

Muffled, mumbled morning murmurs
Make their way to my unsculpted ears.
From deep within my mother’s underworld I dream
Of elsewhere, an outside
Soaked in dappled sunlight and birdsong
Even though I don’t know what these things are yet.
Voices and heartbeats flood my head
With visions of things I will later learn are called
Thunder while I am safe indoors
Ocean
Moon
Rain at night.
I hear the warm tangle of bedsheets
Soft brush of my father’s hand on my mother’s hair
Mingled breath and laughter
Her cold feet on his warm ones.
Big impossible things
Greater than a womb-bound mind can conceive
Captured in unseen waves
Of resonant air.
They wash through layers of flesh
To the living dark where I reside,
A charcoal sketch of love
Cradled in the flickering chamber of my mother.
My embryo ears paint on the cave walls
Red and black pulses of shadow
Which make me wonder
Is this life
Or is it something beyond?

Analysis by Caitlin Thomson
‘A Concert In Utero’ is a gorgeous poem from the perspective of an unborn child. Eloisa
establishes this from the very first line; the alliteration of ‘muffled, mumbled morning
murmurs’ has a softness and quietness to it, as if the reader was cocooned in the womb too.
‘Unsculpted’ implies the baby is a work of art in process and also evokes classical greek
imagery. This, coupled with the mention of ‘underworld’, in which the baby waits and
dreams of ‘birdsong’ and ‘sunlight’, suggests the myth of Persephone. Goddess of
springtime and symbolic of new life, Persephone spends wintertime in the underworld and
waits to be reunited with her mother Demeter.
The poem contains a surplus of water images, ’soaked’, ‘flood’, ‘waves’ and ‘wash’,
characterising the amniotic fluid in the womb. This comes to a head with the short,

emphasised lines ‘Ocean / Moon / Rain at night’, which evoke a mystical, divine feminine
and indescribable natural processes. Despite the intrinsic connection with the feminine and
mother from the fore, the poem acknowledges a father presence too. Eloisa writes of a ‘soft
brush of my father’s hand on my mother’s hair’ and ‘her cold feet on his warm ones’.
From cool, watery images the poem moves to heat and fire, in the ‘flickering chamber’. This
allows for the most gorgeous line in the poem, ‘a charcoal sketch of love’, which creates a
beautifully vivid picture of the baby in ultrasound photos. This line is one of those ones
where you sit back for a minute and think: wow, I really wish I had written that. I would love
for more attention to be drawn to that line, it has the potential even for a title. The idea of a
‘sketch’ is something still being formed, not finished. This is seen in ‘red and black pulses of
shadow’, something undefined but in process. The forming of human life is connected to the
very beginning of time in a mystical, primate way through the idea of ‘paint on the cave
walls’ and a ‘living dark’.
The last line contains a loaded question ‘Is this life / Or is it something beyond?’. This has
various meanings attached to it. ‘This life’ could mean the literal womb, in which the baby
has experienced an ‘Ocean / Moon / Rain at night’. Is life then beyond this womb? Feasibly
the baby’s life will begin after birth once she is in the world. But ironically the womb
contains life in the making, it’s the very opposite of death, so surely there cannot be
anything beyond this which constitutes ‘life’ itself. The primal nature of images, which evoke
an atavistic picture of the beginning of humanity raise questions of the mystery that
surrounds life as we know it. Perhaps Eloisa is drawing attention to the face that life is
beyond the baby’s understanding or ability to define, shown through the sometimes child-
like voice in lines like ‘big impossible things’. Then again, isn’t it beyond us all?

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© Helicon Magazine 2019

University of Bristol