Expectations and Emotions in Catherine Chandler’s “Coming to Terms” by Emilie Exler

Expectations and Emotions in Catherine Chandler’s “Coming to Terms” by Emilie Exler

     Catherine Chandler’s “Coming to Terms” is a Shakespearean sonnet, in which the speaker, possibly a persona of Chandler herself, has to go through the difficult task of coming to terms with her miscarriage. Through her approach to the Shakespearean sonnet form, as well as her use of juxtaposition and rich connotative language, Chandler brings awareness to readers about the emotional and psychological impacts of miscarriage while criticizing the harsh expectations put on grieving mothers to quickly heal from their trauma.

     Chandler follows the Shakespearean sonnet structure with some small transgressions, suggesting the pressure on the speaker to convey normalcy while struggling internally with the impact of her miscarriage. Notably, the poem is not split up into three quatrains and a final couplet. Instead, the poem is presented undivided, representing the speaker’s attempt to hold herself together amidst her grieving. Chandler writes in iambic pentameter throughout the poem, however there are a few lines that are eleven syllables and have a feminine ending. Noticeably, the second line of the sonnet, “the pants with the elastic belly panel,” is eleven syllables, where “panel” is a feminine rhyme. Thus, Chandler stretches out the second line of the poem, using the literal sense of the word “elastic,” to evoke a kind of apparel that is essentially feminine, as it is worn during pregnancy, and which, in the speaker’s experience of miscarriage, is an emotionally painful sort of “feminine ending” (Elmslie). Moreover, the Shakespearean sonnet form allows Chandler to express, through an added syllable to the pentameter line, the nuance of throwing away maternity pants that once expanded to hold the women’s pregnant belly, no longer needed because she has lost the fetus to a late-term miscarriage. The line stands out among the other ten-syllable lines, acting as a reminder of the miscarried fetus for the speaker, which makes it difficult for the speaker to put up a facade of normalcy. Additionally, Chandler follows the Shakespearean rhyme scheme—abab, cdcd, efef, gg—for the poem. All the rhymes throughout the sonnet are perfect stressed rhymes, such as “blouse” and “house” (1, 3). The use of perfect stressed rhymes gives the illusion of stability and perfection, showcasing the speaker’s attempt to be structured and convey normalcy after her miscarriage, despite still grieving from it.

      Chandler uses juxtaposition between the speaker’s emotions and actions with what is expected of her, demonstrating the unrealistic expectation put on the speaker to move on from her miscarriage. The speaker was given a week off work to “heal and convalesce” from her miscarriage, which is juxtaposed in the following lines by the revelation that she is removing the ceiling stars from the baby’s nursery and and that she is removing the stitches that she had lovingly embroidered on the christening dress for her unborn baby (5-8). This sort of juxtaposition between the short time that she is given off work to heal, compared to the months and years she spent anticipating her baby’s birth, showcases society’s harsh expectations on women who suffer from miscarriages to move on in too short of a period of time. Additionally, the speaker’s desperation to “scour the universe” (11), in order to get back what she lost through her miscarriage, is juxtaposed in the couplet, which reveals that the speaker is putting up a facade to hide her state of grief and the emptiness that she feels from her miscarriage. Thus, Chandler juxtaposes the actions of the grieving speaker with the speaker putting on “the artful look of ordinary days,” which diminishes her grief in order to adhere to society’s expectations of her (13-14). Moreover, Chandler plays with and juxtaposes the meanings of “coming to terms” with something, as hinted by the title of the poem. With a pregnancy, when someone “comes to term,” it is the end of the last trimester and time for the baby to be born. But here, the speaker has to “come to terms” with her miscarriage; she needs to accept and reconcile with the fact that her “term” did not end with the birth of her baby. Thus, the connotation of the word “term” with pregnancy is juxtaposed with the speaker’s miscarriage and with having to accept that reality while being given a short amount of time to do so.

     Chandler uses connotative language to describe the despondent emotional and psychological state of the speaker after her miscarriage in her attempt and struggle to achieve the expectations put on her. In the third line, the speaker’s “empty house” takes the notion beyond the literal sense of the house being empty, and is likened to the speaker herself to reflect the sense of desolation and grief caused by her miscarriage, causing her to feel empty. Additionally, “empty house” acts as a metaphor to display how the speaker views herself after her miscarriage, as her womb is now empty of what it once held. Moreover, the term “unweave” (7) represents not only the physical act of unweaving the embroidered date on the dress of her miscarried baby, but also the process of mourning, and unraveling, the speaker’s expectations of birthing and caring for her baby. This image also gives insight into the speaker’s own unraveling mental state due to her miscarriage. Moreover, the speaker personifies her breasts as “weeping” (5), which describes the physical act of her breasts gaining and leaking milk due to her pregnancy as they were crying, as well as suggesting the sadness of the speaker after losing her baby. Notably, the “weeping” breasts reflect the speaker’s own depressed emotional state; however, as the weeping is assigned to the speaker’s breasts, rather than to herself, it shows how alienated and disconnected the speaker feels with her own body and emotions after suffering from her miscarriage. In order to move on from her miscarriage and fit society’s expectations, the speaker distances herself from her grief by projecting her emotions onto objects.

     Thus, Chandler’s approach to the Shakespearean sonnet structure alludes to the speaker’s attempt to not display her grief caused by her late-term miscarriage. Additionally, the juxtaposition between the speaker’s grief with her attempts to move on, as well as the use of connotative language, provides additional insight to the grieving state of the speaker and the external factors that pressure her to move on. By doing so, Chandler creates a critique of society’s unrealistic expectations that are put on women who experience miscarriages, causing them to move on and suppress their grief, rather than properly mourning their loss.

 Works Cited

Chandler, Catherine. “Coming to Terms.” Term Paper. W. 2022. Course Handout. Poetry 603- 

      102-MQ, Prof. Susan Elmslie, Montreal, Dawson College, LÉA, Winter 2022.

Elmslie, Susan. Personal feedback. Montreal, 23 April 2022.

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