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Woman to Man -- Judith Wright

Guest poem sent in by David Morgan-Mar
(Poem #1221) Woman to Man
 The eyeless labourer in the night,
 the selfless, shapeless seed I hold,
 builds for its resurrection day -
 silent and swift and deep from sight
 forsees the unimagined light.

 This is no child with a child's face;
 this has no name to name it by;
 yet you and I have known it well.
 This is our hunter and our chase,
 the third who lay in our embrace.

 This is the strength that your arm knows,
 the arc of flesh that is my breast,
 the precise crystals of our eyes.
 This is the blood's wild tree that grows
 the intricate and folded rose.

 This is the maker and the made;
 this is the question and reply;
 the blind head butting at the dark,
 the blaze of light along the blade.
 Oh hold me, for I am afraid.
-- Judith Wright
This poem builds one extended image of a developing embryo within the
author's womb. The first three stanzas are full of the wonder of creating
this new life. The eyeless labourer of the fertilised egg cell silently
and swiftly builds the body of what will be a new person, building for
its resurrection, or birth. The use of the word "resurrection" is
interesting, implying a death first, but at this point we can overlook
that symbolism.

Stanza two extends the image. The embryo is not yet a child, has not yet
a name, and yet the author and the nameless man to whom she is speaking
already know it intimately. They share the joy and the love and the wonder
of creation. The child is their hunter and their chase - the urge to
reproduce drives them and provides them with a goal. Although not yet
present, the future existence of the embryo and what will be a baby is
tangible in their lovemaking.

The development into a child is echoed in stanza three. The man's arm
provides the strength, the women's breast the shape of the flesh, the
eyes will be a mixture of theirs. There is cooperation in this endeavour,
and the result will belong to both of them - be a part of both of them.
The blood's wild tree reflects the growing network of arteries and veins
in the embryo. The intricate, folded rose is in the miracle of unfolding
from an undifferentiated mass of cells into a human being.

So far we have love, and wonder. These emotions occupy the minds of new
parents-to-be. Stanza four brings a dramatic and mind-rocking change of
mood. Two lines of paradoxical duality make us question what is really
happening here. Then we have a blind head butting at the dark. Blindness
and darkness cloud our vision and we have the image of violence, enclosure,
constriction. This baby needs to emerge into the world, and the passage
will be a difficult one. The first thing it sees is the blaze of light
along the blade. Pain and shock await, in birth, and in life. The blade
severs ties to the mother as the umbilical cord is cut, and also
represents the fears of the author about the birth. Childbirth can be
dangerous - can be deadly. And thus the significance of the resurrection
in the first stanza hits home. The only way to create new life is to
risk death.

So hold me, for I am afraid.

This is a profoundly moving and deeply affecting poem. I can never know
what it feels like to carry a child, but this poem - Woman to Man - gives
me some idea of the conflicting emotions that must go through an
expectant mother's mind. When published in 1946, it caused a sensation
and uproar. Even now, it is powerful and, well, educational. New
fathers-to-be could do worse than read this poem. But lest this become
clinical and detached, the effect of these words lingers, and reminds
us that poetry speaks to something within us all. And that is something
that this work definitely achieves.


Some biographical links:

28 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Anonymous said...

Thanks, this was really helpful :)

Anonymous said...

actually, this poem isn't a feminist poem, though it may portray some feminist perspectives. Feminism itself didn't come around until the sexual revolution in 1960 and this poem was written in 1949.
The poem portrays male dominance over a women. (in comparison to her 'delicate' and submissive ways, the man in the poem is 'strong', and therefore masculine.)

Anonymous said...

The poem does portray a level of traditional male dominance in that the poet is the nurturer and the partner is 'strong', depicted by the arm, yet this is not a declaration of male dominance, but rather a desire for the female to be held after their lovemaking and the intensity of her feelings for him. The poem suggests a level of equality in their relationship, particularly in the area of seduction and sexual awareness as suggested in the line, 'This is our hunter and our chase'. The term 'our' is very important here in defining who is hunting who.

Anonymous said...

the fact that the male character remains undescribed sort of rids him of any dominance in this poem

Anonymous said...

it isn't the authors child, nor the authors experience, she didn't have her first child until the 1960's when she got married. i am trying to work out as to what drew her to write such a poem, as it is one of her most famous ones.

Anonymous said...

I love this poem because,in this the poeter tells about the feminine pain,sad and etc.

Anonymous said...

Very good, made me appreciate this poem.

I beleive feminism has nothing to do with this poem, it is all about the baby and mother nothing to do with male dominance.

Very good poem analysis.

jesuraj said...
This poem may be referred to a thought of revolution that is butting in side the mind and heart of the author.the seed signifies the thought to fight for the nation,the resurrection day symbolizes the day when the country gets its freedom

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eloquent, with feeling, direct, and with the most common message to us, males, we almost forget who are our best companions in this world, we found the warm in the arms of a women, the love, and the most beautiful miracles in this, we give us children.

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Anonymous said...

Hey this is very good . this poem is meaningful that this analysis of the poem is indeed helpful . thanks alot




Anonymous said...

thank you for the analysis... and can this poem be analysed from a post colonial point of view

Amanda Holthaus said...

I was supposed to analyze this poem and it was not making any sense to me. After reading this, I literally sat there and was like "DUH! How did I not see this before?" Thanks for clearing it up for me. My english teacher will be very impressed.

rahfunisha said...

The art of creation of a child was beautifully expressed.I could relate this with my personal.really amazing!daring to express such views. final touching stanza reflects the mind of each woman, the fear of delivery & death.Simply superb...

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