Completely Subjective: James Tate’s “The Baby”

James Tate published this in April 2012. Many of Tate’s poems are character driven featuring a narrator’s various encounters. This poem seems like another encounter between a man and his crazy wife. Tate once said about his characters, “but most often they’re in trouble, and they’re trying to find some kind of life.” It’s clear that the wife is desperately trying to find a life where her and her husband have a baby.

It’s hard to describe what kind of poem this is. it’s about a man whose wife has gone literally baby crazy talking about putting their child to bed even though they don’t have children. I don’t fully understand what the poems trying to achieve but it’s language is noteworthy. When read aloud, it actually feels like I’m the narrator talking to a crazy person which is something i’ve never felt while reading a poem before.

It’s what’s not in the poem that creates a sense of complexity. I find myself asking what happened before the events in the poem? What is wrong with his wife and why does she think they have a baby? And honestly, I have no answer to those questions because whatever I think is happening is just speculation, there’s no backstory, we only have what the author gave us. But I will speculate. I believe that the woman in this poem has been hit so hard by  baby fever that it’s literally driving her insane, and the narrator doesn’t realize it yet but it looks like he’s in serious trouble if he doesn’t give one to her because she’s very unstable.

I can’t personally relate to the scenario in this poem but I’ve been told a story about one of my cousins friends who was in a similar situation with his girlfriend. The story goes that this guy and his girlfriend had a pregnancy scare and the conversations that they had during this tumultuous time convinced the girl the having a baby was actually something to be excited for. When they found out it was a mistake, she was still fascinated with the idea of having a baby and tried to force the guy to give her one. Well safe to say he wasn’t interested and slowly began to distance himself from her. Long story short he had to move apartments and change his number. It seems like the narrator in the poem faces a similar dilemma.

It’s hard to find a message in this poem but that’s part of the reason I chose it. Since it is so unclear what the message is, it leaves me with the opportunity to interpret the poem the way I see it, completely subjective. Because with a poem like this, unless the message is clearly stated, there is room for interpretation. The message that I take away from this poem and what I’m now preaching to you is don’t be forced into doing anything that you’re not ready for and if you find yourself in a situation where someone is trying to force you into having a baby with them, Pack up your stuff and get out of there as soon as possible.

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