Effects Poem by Alan Jenkins – Poem Summary and Analysis

This poem expresses the relationship between a son and a mother. It is about the regret the son feels after his mother passes away for not being able to have had a strong connection, spend enough time, and showcase his love to her when she was around.

Poet Introduction : Alan Jenkins

Alan Jenkins, born in the year 1955 in Surrey, was educated at the University of Sussex. He worked for The Times Literary Supplement since 1981. He also worked as a poetry critic for the Observer and the Sunday Independent.    

Effects poem by Alan Jenkins

I held her hand, that was always scarred
From chopping, slicing, from the knives that lay in wait
In bowls of washing-up, that was raw,
The knuckles reddened, rough from scrubbing hard
At saucepan, frying pan, cup and plate
And giving love the only way she knew,
In each cheap cut of meat, in roast and stew,
Old-fashioned food she cooked and we ate;
And I saw that they had taken off her rings,
The rings she kept once in her dressing-table drawer
With faded snapshots, long-forgotten things
(scent-sprays, tortoise-shell combs, a snap or two
From the time we took a holiday “abroad”)
But lately had never been without, as if
She wanted everyone to know she was his wife
Only now that he was dead.
And her watch? – Classic ladies’ model, gold strap – it was gone, And I’d never known her not have that on,
Not in all the years they sat together
Watching soaps and game shows I’d disdain
And not when my turn came to cook for her,
Chops or chicken portions, English, bland,
Familiar flavours she said she preferred
To whatever “funny foreign stuff”
Young people seemed to eat these days, she’d heard;
Not all the weeks I didn’t come, when she sat
Night after night and stared unseeing at
The television, at her inner weather,
Heaved herself upright, blinked and poured
Drink after drink, and gulped and stared – the scotch
That, when he was alive, she wouldn’t touch,
That was her way to be with him again;
Not later in the psychiatric ward,
Where she blinked unseeing at the wall, the nurses
(Who would steal anything, she said), and dreamt
Of when she was a girl, of the time before
I was born, or grew up and learned contempt,
While the TV in the corner blared
To drown some “poor soul’s” moans and curses,
And she took her pills and blinked and stared
As the others shuffled around, and drooled, and swore…
But now she lay here, a thick rubber band
With her name on it in smudged black ink was all she wore
On the hand I held, a blotched and crinkled hand
Whose fingers couldn’t clasp at mine any more
Or falteringly wave, or fumble at my sleeve –
The last words she had said were
Please don’t leave
But of course I left; now I was back, though she
Could not know that, or turn her face to see
A nurse bring the little bag of her effects to me.

Effects poem Summary

The poem is all about how the poet recalls the memories of his mother and how he regrets not spending enough time and showcasing his love towards her after her death. The poet holds her hand that had been scarred by cooking for him which was the only way she knew to show her love for her son.

She was a woman with old principles and practices. She preferred the old-style cooking and traditional food items when compared to the contemporary style cooking and probably this gap and differences in choices and opinions distanced the mother and the son.

The poet even talks about how she never removed her rings especially after her husband passed away – it was as if she wanted to tell everyone that she belongs to him only. On the days when the poet was not around, she would sit in front of the television, deep in her thoughts, and gulp down glasses of scotch which she wouldn’t touch when her husband was around.

Following the habits of her husband was her way of being around him even though he passed away. The poet recalls her last words to him where she asked him not to leave her but he hadn’t listened to her and now that he is back, she would never know as she passed away. The poet regrets not having a deep connection with his mother and being with her when she was around.

Central Theme

* Regret:

The central theme is regret. The poem is all about the memories of the poet’s mother and his sincere regret of not being able to connect, spend more time, and showcase his love towards his mother while she was around.

The poem tries to bring light on the regret one has of not being able to spend enough time and express their love for one another. The regret of not doing enough only begins when they lose them. The mother and the son both had similar regrets only after someone passed away and wasn’t around anymore.

Other Theme

* Importance to Relationships:

This poem emphasizes the value of relationships in a family. Poet tries to speak about the role of a mother who is mostly not regarded for what is always does. Also, how a wife understands how much she misses her husband after his death and the way she engages herself in most of his actions to feel his presence in his absence.

* Time:

The poem indirectly also portrays how time changes things in life. It conveys the strong message of mortality where nobody lives forever and time changes the connection with each individual. It shows how the poet was too late in realizing the effects of his father’s death on his mother would be similar to him if his mother passes away. He failed in valuing the present and regrets what happened.

* Death:

The poem as a whole speaks about the death of the dearest ones and the effect on the poet. The absence of the mother affecting the son and brings him all the memories he had with his mother. Also, we can see the absence of his father affecting his mother which is similar to what he experiences once she passes away.  

Line by Line Interpretation of the poem Effects

I held her hand, that was always scarred
From chopping, slicing, from the knives that lay in wait

The poet holds his mother’s hand that had various scar marks and faded injuries and cuts from the knives while chopping and slicing. The use of the word ‘always’ also marks that she has been doing this for years. The poet expresses the volume of cooking done by his mother through the numerous cuts that her handholds.

In bowls of washing-up, that was raw,
The knuckles reddened, rough from scrubbing hard
At saucepan, frying pan, cup and plate

The mother’s hands were also scarred and knuckles reddened due to the household chores and constant washing and scrubbing of saucepans, frying pans, and plates. The poet tries to bring out the harshness his mother used to work through to pour her love and care through food.

And giving love the only way she knew,
In each cheap cut of meat, in roast and stew,
Old-fashioned food she cooked and we ate;

The poet recalls the way his mother showered her love through her cooking and dishes. He claims that cooking was her only way of showing love. He recalls the old-fashioned food she cooked with the love of meat in roast and stew that they ate.


And I saw that they had taken off her rings,
The rings she kept once in her dressing-table drawer
With faded snapshots, long-forgotten things
(scent-sprays, tortoise-shell combs, a snap or two

From the time we took a holiday “abroad”)

The poet observes that her rings were no longer in her fingers. He recalls how she used to keep these rings on her dressing table drawer with other items namely faded photographs, scent sprays and tortoiseshell combs, and a snap from an abroad holiday they had taken.

The poet double quotes the word abroad to stress and bring more attention to the fact that they had taken an international holiday. This signifies that they were a middle-class simple family for whom such international holidays were big of a thing. It also shows how she collected and valued such small memories which meant a lot of deal for her.


But lately had never been without, as if
She wanted everyone to know she was his wife
Only now that he was dead.

Even though the Poet says that his mother used to keep her rings at the dressing table, he never saw her remove them in the recent past. He felt like that she wanted to announce to the world the love for her husband and that she was his wife, even though he wasn’t alive.

He tries to express that his mother missed her husband dearly and regretted not expressing her love for him enough while he was around. After his death, she regrets the above fact, due to which she never took out her ring to express her love and let the world know about it.


And her watch? – Classic ladies’ model, gold strap – it was gone, And I’d never known her not have that on,
Not in all the years they sat together
Watching soaps and game shows I’d disdain

The poet notices the classic gold strap model watch she wore was no longer tied on her wrist. He wasn’t able to recollect a single moment where she didn’t have them on in all the years where she and her husband watched soaps and games shows that the poet disliked.


And not when my turn came to cook for her,
Chops or chicken portions, English, bland,
Familiar flavours she said she preferred
To whatever “funny foreign stuff”
Young people seemed to eat these days, she’d heard;

The poet recalls when he would cook some modern style food for her and she would declare that she preferred the familiar flavors referring to the old-style food. The poet deliberately puts in a double quote what she terms modern food as – funny foreign stuff.


Not all the weeks I didn’t come, when she sat
Night after night and stared unseeing at
The television, at her inner weather,
Heaved herself upright, blinked and poured
Drink after drink, and gulped and stared – the scotch
That, when he was alive, she wouldn’t touch,
That was her way to be with him again;

The poet describes how his mother spent her days when he wasn’t around. She would sit in front of the television but would be deep in her thoughts. The poet beautifully expresses this by using clever words like ‘unseeing the television’ and ‘her inner weather’.

He recalls how she would gulp down the scotch which she did not touch when her husband was around. She misses being around him and following his habits is the only way to be with him again. This also illustrates how she regrets not doing these little things with her husband when he was alive. Similarly, the poet also regrets not visiting his mother often.


Not later in the psychiatric ward,
Where she blinked unseeing at the wall, the nurses
(Who would steal anything, she said), and dreamt
Of when she was a girl, of the time before
I was born, or grew up and learned contempt,

The poet’s mother was then transferred to the psychiatric ward, where she would look at walls thinking and talking about her days when she was a little girl, the time before the poet was born.


While the TV in the corner blared
To drown some “poor soul’s” moans and curses,
And she took her pills and blinked and stared
As the others shuffled around, and drooled, and swore…
But now she lay here, a thick rubber band
With her name on it in smudged black ink was all she wore
On the hand I held, a blotched and crinkled hand
Whose fingers couldn’t clasp at mine any more
Or falteringly wave, or fumble at my sleeve –
The last words she had said were
Please don’t leave

The TV in the psychiatric ward blared to suppress the moans and curses of other patients while she  took her pills and just simply stared. But now the poet’s mother laid with a thick rubber band on her crinkled hand with her name written in black ink which was all smudged now. The poet held her hand whose fingers could not hold back his as she was dead. He recalled how she had asked him not to leave and those were the last words she spoke to him.


But of course I left; now I was back, though she
Could not know that, or turn her face to see
A nurse bring the little bag of her effects to me.

Even though the poet’s mother asked him to stay, he left, and now that he is back, she would not know the fact nor could she turn to see him as she is no more. These lines bring out the remorse and regret the poet felt and realized only after she has gone from the world.

The poem ends with the line saying that the nurse brings the little bag of her effects to the poet. Just the way his mother missed her husband and had regret for not spending enough time with her husband, similarly the son feels the same after his mother passes away.

Poem Analysis

Effects poem that speaks about how a person’s absence can affect an individual’s day-to-day life. It upholds the idea of the need for valuing relationships within the family.  It has fifty lines and no specific stanza with an irregular rhyme scheme. 

Throughout the poem, the mother is described in a specific timeline. First half we can see how she was taking care of her family and after her husband passes away even little things matter to her. For instance, wearing the ring to show the rest of the world that she belonged to her late husband or drinking scotch just like her husband which she didn’t do when he was alive.

In the second half, the poet shows the effects of the death of his father on his mother. The role of the mother is also shown as a wife regretting and mourning after her husband’s death. Poet makes a comparision between past and present which adds another theme to the poem.

  The highlight is that her character is indirectly described through her accessories and her daily chores. Poet skillfully uses Ring, Watch, “Funny foreign stuff”, and she preferred Old fashioned and traditional style.

Poet nowhere directly how his mother was as an individual, her appearance, or her nature. All these descriptions show how things have changed before and after the way, it is associated with his mother and also clear the fact that she is becoming old.  

Poetic Devices

In the poem, we can observe brackets, comas, and also dialogues of his mother. This intensifies the tone of the poem.

*Repetition –

” drink after drink” , “night after night”.

* Alliteration-

” I held her hand, that was always scarred”

* Connotations-

” The scotch// That, when he was alive, she wouldn’t touch”