Holly Anne’s Key Passage Analysis on Felicia Heman’s The Image in Lava.
“Far better then to perish,
Thy form within its clasp,
Than live and lose thee, precious one!
From that impassion’d grasp.”
In Felicia Heman’s poem, The Image in Lava, she is speaking about a form of a mother and child that was captured in the lava flow that destroyed their city of Herculaneum in 79 A.D, thus preserving their bodies. This poem is striking because Hemans takes the image of a mother and child and preserves it in another way: a poem. Throughout the poem Hemans discusses the binary of love and pain. This can be traced back to her personal life in the form of her failed marriage and five children and her coping with that in her life.
In the lines 29 through 32, Hemans makes the statement that it must be “far better” for the mother and child to die together than to face the possibility of living life apart. Hemans knows that that possibility may have not happened, but the mere possibility was enough for her to make the statement that it was better for them to die while they were still together. She describes the mother and child in an “impassion’d grasp”, like one gasping for their last breath and finding it in their child. It evokes an image of desperation and hope. Hemans insists that the child meant so much to the mother, that it was probably for the best that they die and preserve the image of their togetherness as a tribute to motherhood in subsequent generations.
Felicia Hemans was no stranger to motherhood, so she may have drawn on her feelings as a mother in order to connect with the mother’s image in the lava. The emotions described are very tangible. For example, when Hemans says “Thy form within its clasp” the image of hands holding onto something in desperation comes to mind. The mother in this image clearly finds her source of life in her child, and cannot imagine her life without it. The thought of being together for eternity, even in just the physical form, may have comforted the mother in her last moments.
The poem illustrates a mother’s love for her child, but it does not delve into the child’s love for the mother. Hemans might be looking at the form and the child and recognizing that even though the child may love the mother very much, a mother’s love for her child is very different. It is an irrational and emotional one. This is seen in the lines 29 through 32. The idea that it was somehow better for the mother and child to die together than face the possibility of life separated is ridiculous. Every mother knows that their child will have to be on their own eventually. But this passage illustrates the fulfillment of a mother’s secret wish to never be separated from their child, even if it means dying before that possibility.
Word Count: 466