After reading The Mad Mother, one could say that there is plenty to interpret. After first reading through the ballad, readers may be confused as to what the purpose of the work is, and what the meaning behind it is.
After reading The Mad Mother myself, I decided that the ballad’s topic was the idea of death, and how one’s death could push someone to an undeniable state of grief so terrible as to classify that person as “crazy” or “mad.” A few of the stanzas that stood out to me were Stanzas 70, 83, 89-90, and 98-100. Certain phrases such as “How pale and wan it [her son] else would be” (Stanza 70) and “My little babe! thy lips are still” (Stanza 83) give off the imagery that the woman’s baby boy is deceased, and that she is carrying around his corpse due to the fact that she is unable to overcome the truth that her son is dead, as well as her husband. “We’ll find thy father in the wood” (Stanza 98) helps the reader to believe that the woman’s lover had passed away and been buried in the woods; however, in her mind, he has run away into the woods, and it is her job to find him in order to fix their family.
The painting by Caspar David Friedrich portrays a sense of loneliness, much like the feelings of this mother having lost her family and being unable to properly grieve about it. The twisting of the trees symbolizes the mother’s unclear mind, or “craziness” as one may put it, tangled between what’s real and what is not.
– Jody Omlin