Poetry Anthology: Womanhood and Voice By Koyuki Sakurada
Mia Sakurada Untitled, 2016 Acrylic and Ink on Paper 12 in. x 9 in.
Table of Contents
Poem Selection 1. “Never Seek to Tell thy Love” by William Blake (Age of Reason) 2. “Song to a Fair Young Lady Going out of Town in the Spring” by John Dryden(Neoclassical) 3. “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" by Robert Herrick (Neoclassical) 4. “A Prayer for My Daughter” by William Butler Yeats (Modernism) 5. “Woman! when I behold thee flippant, vain” by John Keats (Romanticism) 6. “Warm” by Robert Grenier (Contemporary) 7. “A Woman Waits for Me” by Walt Whitman (Transcendentalism) 8. “The Apparition” by John Donne (Renaissance) 9. “Spring and Fall” by Gerard Manley Hopkins (Victorian) 10. “Love’s Philosophy” by Percy Bysshe Shelley (Romanticism) 11. Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare (Renaissance) 12. “I loved you first: but afterwards your love-” by Christina Rossetti (Age of Realism) 13. “A Man’s Requirements” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (Victorian) 14. “Translations” by Adrienne Rich (Contemporary) 15. “I am the only being whose doom” by Emily Bronte (Victorian) 16. “They shut me up in Prose -” by Emily Dickinson (American Colonial) 17. The Ballad of Mulan by Anonymous (Sui Dynasty) 18. “Men” by Maya Angelou (Contemporary) 19. “Rape Joke” by Patricia Lockwood (Contemporary) 20. “The Mother” by Gwendolyn Brooks (Postmodernism) 21. “You’re” by Sylvia Plath (Modernism) 22. “What Do Women Want?” by Kim Addonizio (Postmodernism) 23. “Tweet This, You Small Minded Motherfucker!” by Stacyanne Chin (Contemporary) 24. “Can’t Hold Us Down” by Christina Aguilera ft. Lil’ Kim (Contemporary Song) 25. “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou (Contemporary)
Short Analysis 1. “Woman! when I behold thee flippant, vain” by John Keats 2. “Warm” by Robert Grenier 3. “They shut me up in Prose -” by Emily Dickinson 4. “I am the only being whose doom” by Emily Bronte 5. “Translations” by Adrienne Rich 6. “Men” by Maya Angelou 7. “The Mother” by Gwendolyn Brooks 8. “What Do Women Want?” by Kim Addonizio 9. “Tweet This, You Small Minded Motherfucker!” by Stacyanne Chin 10. “Can’t Hold Us Down” by Christina Aguilera ft. Lil’ Kim
Extended Analysis 1. “A Prayer for My Daughter” by William Butler Yeats 2. “The Apparition” by John Donne 3. Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare 4. The Ballad of Mulan by Anonymous 5. “Rape Joke” by Patricia Lockwood Reflection Artwork Explanation
Short analysis 1.“Woman! when I behold thee flippant, vain” by John Keats John Keats describes women and the qualities he finds lovely, such as meekness, kindness, and tenderness. Keats, as a man, speaking on what he sees as beautiful enforces the idea that women’s intelligence, beliefs, and thoughts, which were left out of the poem, are not as important as attractiveness and docile characteristics. .“Woman! when I behold thee flippant, vain” also reinforces gender roles; the weak characteristics that Keats finds beautiful inspires him to take on a heroic, protector role. Keats is the voice of patriarchal society, determining gender roles and certain standards that women are expected to live up to, without consideration of those being defined by the standards. 2. “Warm” by Robert Grenier Grenier is known for his innovative line structure, rhythm, and imagery. Grenier’s “Warm,” though it is simple-looking, harbors complex beats and meanings. This poem is one of familial unity and love, but also perpetuates the idea of women as mothers and sedentary home-dwellers who are vessels for children, and idea that resonates with The Handmaid’s Tale. 3.“They shut me up in Prose -” by Emily Dickinson In “They shut me up in Prose,” Emily Dickinson writes disapprovingly on the cultural norms, where women are encouraged to be “still” and passive. The poem itself is a rebellion because Dickinson is acting out against men’s disapproval of women in literature. Dickinson uses her poem to voice her frustrations with voicelessness, disrespect, and lack of opportunity and recognition in society. 4.“I am the only being whose doom” by Emily Bronte In the poem “I am the only being whose doom,” Emily Bronte reflects on her life by talking about her obligation to please others and the value of youth. In aging, however, she feels that she has gained wisdom and an awareness of the “corruption,” or compliance to societal norms, within her own mind. These themes reflect the Victorian Era’s ideal of femininity while also going against them, as Bronte uses poetry to speak out express her emotions. 5.“Translations” by Adrienne Rich Why is it that most poems written about women by men are about love? Translations provides an interesting response to this question and reveals what the modern woman’s relationship with love is. As Rich sees it, women are conditioned to rely on love, making it an obligation and political necessity. She also explores the idea of men’s power in heterosexual relationships. The poem is a statement on the restraints of traditional womanhood and a rebuke on the constant theme of women’s association with love. 6. “Men” by Maya Angelou Women’s bodies and sexuality not only makes up a large part of a woman’s identity but is also something that is often abused. In “Men”, Maya Angelou explores her emotions during and afterwards her rape, namely hopelessness and passivity, as well the power dynamics between men and women in the modern world. Angelou’s striking language and ideas about freedom, objectification, and rape are highlighted through her creative use of metaphors, slant rhymes, and an inconsistent meter, which are indicative of the
Contemporary style. Both the domestic imagery of a young girl watching from behind the curtains of a window and the arrogant imagery of the men walking outside emphasizes the deep imbalance of power in today’s society. Rather than allowing sexual abuse to take power away from her, however, Angelou channels her experience and emotions into poetry and choses to control her own story, uplifting the unheart experiences of others as well. 7. “The Mother” by Gwendolyn Brooks Motherhood can be a large aspect of a woman’s life, just as choosing not to not have children can be a huge and equally important decision. Regardless, reproduction unifies most cisgender, fertile women in that it is often outside of their control and because of the judgement and shame they face regarding it. “The Mother” is a portrait of a woman and her response to abortion, which is guilt and confusion. Brooks takes abortion, which is a taboo subject that is often hidden away from the public eye and is not discussed, and calls for empathy and understanding. “The Mother” shares one story of the millions, amplifying the silent struggle that is abortion. 8.“What Do Women Want?” by Kim Addonizio Addonizio’s poem explores the stereotypes that women must endure based on their appearances- all encapsulated in a woman’s longing for a red dress. Addonizio’s harshness and honesty transforms the seemingly simply red dress into a duality- an object of desire and disgust, of sexual freedom and limiting stereotypes, and of empowerment and oppression. This poem is an accurate representation of the complexities of being a modern woman wrestling with social judgement and ideas of female liberation. 9.“Tweet This, You Small Minded Motherfucker!” by Stacyanne Chin “Tweet This, You Small Minded Motherfucker!” is a fiery, intense spoken word poem written and performed by Stacyanne Chin in response to a hater’s tweet. Chin turns this misogynistic tweet into a beautifully profane and empowering work of art that would immediately capture the attention of any audience due to its raw emotion and explosive, defiant anger. Chin effectively uses alliteration, rhythm, and creative profanities to draw the audience into her poem about respect, motherhood, and sexual freedom. This poem is witty, captivating, and powerful, putting into words what almost every modern woman has felt and wanted to say in the face of blatant sexism and disrespect. 10.“Can’t Hold Us Down” by Christina Aguilera ft. Lil’ Kim “Can’t Hold Us Down” is a contemporary, feminist anthem that challenges double standards in today’s patriarchal society and calls for female unity in defiance. Christina Aguilera and Lil’ Kim specifically address the sexual differences between men and women, questioning why men are praised for promiscuity while women get shamed. The song encourages women to “shout out loud” in defiance, relating to the theme of voice in order to right for equality and women’s sexual freedom. This popular, empowering song indicates the influence of the intersection of pop culture and social justice in the modern world.
Extended Analysis “A Prayer for my Daughter” by William Butler Yeats William Butler Yeats’ poem encapsulates all the wishes he has for her daughter. In his “A Prayer for my Daughter,” Yeats prays for limited beauty and thought that would lead to security and happiness. His wishes are juxtaposed to the frenzied, fearful, and chaotic world characteristic of modernism. Yeats’ prayer enforces traditional gender roles and beauty ideals onto his infant daughter, robbing her of her voice and ideas when she is still in her crib. Yeats wishes for his daughter to be mild in appearance and personality- relatively attractive and vacuous- in order to attain a secure life with a worthy husband amidst the disarray and discord of the modern world. In his prayer, Yeats stresses his wish for his daughter to be “granted beauty, and yet not/Beauty to make a stranger’s eye distraught,/Or hers before a looking-glass” (17-19). He is adamant on his daughter being pretty, but not excessively. To Yeats, a woman who is the paragon of beauty can be ruinous. He is passionate about the subject of beauty, which is evident through the ‘s’ consonance, which creates an angry, sibilant sound. Too much beauty can cause strangers to become “distraught,” because her intense beauty will make them long for her but fail in winning her. She will thus attract hatefulness and vengefulness rather than loving suitors. Yeats is mainly focused on how her appearance will upset others, especially potential husbands, reinforcing the societal notion that women live to please others and live to achieve marriage. Yeats spurns a beauty that is “hers before the looking-glass” because it will cause her to be self absorbed and vain. By using the term “hers,” Yeats wants to prevent his daughter from completely owning and appreciating her beauty. The imagery of the “looking-glass” insinuates that she would be constantly looking at herself in a mirror, adding to the stereotype that beautiful women are conceited, empty-minded, and obsessed with their image. Yeats continues to espouse that “her opinionated mind/Barter that horn and every good/...For an old bellows full of angry wind?” (61-64). He is fearful of his daughter becoming too strong-willed and passionate because she may choose to marry someone he believes is the wrong man, which he refers to in a metaphor of “an old bellows full of angry wind.” The imagery of the angry wind resonantes with Yeats’ vision of a world in turmoil, which he wishes for his daughter to avoid. He takes away a woman’s independence by implying that he knows what his daughters will want and need better than she knows herself. The horn that he speaks of is a continuation of the “Horn of Plenty” he mentions earlier on in the poem, which refers to a woman’s power, beauty, and thus, ability to chose any man she wants to (32). Yeats’ continual obsession with marriage has led him to denounce strong opinions and personalities, as well as excessive beauty. Yeats prayers for her daughter's future have little to do with her personal success, health, and satisfaction, and is instead focuses on her happiness surrounding men. The ultimate goal for his daughter is to marry an admirable man and living a peaceful, domestic life sheltered from the complexities and turmoil of the outside world. His exacting standards of beauty and thought parallels society’s expectations of women. While the ideal women would be attractive
physically and mentally in order to lure a worthy husband, she must also not displease others with her excessive beauty and strong personality and thoughts. The lack of voice from Yeats’ daughter’s ideas takes away from a woman’s power and is reminiscent of The Handmaiden’s Tale, in which Offred loses part of her identity and independence because she is censored, watched, and threatened into silence. Yeats’ prayers enforce certain ideals, life choices, and lifestyles on his daughter even though she is an infant who has not yet found her own identity and is incapable of voicing her own ideas, speaking to the idea of female voicelessness in literature.
“The Apparition” by John Donne When women do not fit into the category of the pure, gentle maiden, they are forced into the role of cold, promiscuous seductresses. Literature, being a historically male-dominated area, has often reinforced this extremely binary Madonna-Whore complex. “The Apparition” is no different. John Donne’s poem is not only reflective of how the Renaissance saw women, but is also representative of the overly dramatic, excessive response many men throughout the ages have when faced with rejection from a woman they desire. “The Apparition” is the revenge fantasy of a self-important man who has trouble handling loss and rejection, painting women as sexual, immoral heart-breakers for the sake of his own ego. Donne’s poem is an attack on womanhood and a woman’s sexuality, with his language dehumanizing women and enforcing the notion that women belong in the bedroom. The setting of “The Apparition” physically takes place in the bedroom, which introduces the intimate tone and begins reinforcing the idea that women are only valuable in bed. Rather than referring to the subject of his poem by name, Donne dehumanizes her and calls her a “murd'ress,” “feign'd vestal,” and “aspen wretch” (1, 5, 11). Donne calls her a “murd’ress” because she treats him with contempt. He, however, cannot bear the fact that a woman does not like him, over exaggerating her sin of disliking him to murder. By calling her a “feign'd vestal,” Donne accuses her of lying about her innocence and purity, which enforces societal values and attacks the power and integrity of her word. He calls her an “aspen wretch” to emphasize her fear and despicability; Donne, however, compares her to an aspen tree, further dehumanizing her. When Donne says that she is a “verier ghost than I,” he not only refers to her complexion, but also her basic humanness (13). While Donne is not calling her a literal ghost, he does imply that she is ghost-like in that her soul, morals, and innocence is dead. “The Apparition” reflects Renaissance societal beliefs, with a woman’s virginity being her most prized possession. The sexual undertone continues when Donne says that when she turns to wake her other lover in terror of Donne’s apparition, her lover will “think/Thou call'st for more” (8-9). Donne reduces her worth by saying that her new lover will automatically assume that the only reason why she would stir to wake him is because she simply wants more sex. The association with women and sex is only amplified by the fact that Donne choses to haunt her when she is in bed with her lover. Because his feelings are hurt, Donne over exaggerates the situation, even calling for her to “repent” as if her rejection was a sin, introducing a religious undertone to the poem (16). “The Apparition” degrades and harrasses an unnamed, voiceless woman because she rejected Donne, inspiring him to write an exaggerated, dehumanizing, and cruel poem. “The Apparition” by John Donne assaults women’s sexuality and independence because of one man’s damaged pride. Donne’s poem speaks to the differing societal expectations of women and men. While women are expected to be pure, kind, and loving, it is socially acceptable for men to act out excessively, writing revenge poems about haunting a woman who simply dislikes him while she is in bed with her other lover. “The Apparition” is an attempt to
diminish a woman’s will, ideas, and emotions while excluding the woman’s viewpoint completely. With the prevailing association of women with sex and worth with value, Donne’s “The Apparition” reveals Renaissance ideals and is unfortunately still very applicable to the lives of modern day women.
Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare mocks the the conventions of love written by his contemporaries, challenging the broader idea of femininity and idealized beauty. By seemingly insulting his lover, Shakespeare calls out the impossible standards for women to achieve in order to be considered comely. Through the sonnet, he conveys the message of loving another despite their imperfections and flaws. Through his use of language and rhythm, Shakespeare underscores his mistress’ unsightly features in comparison to the ideal and emphasizes his unconditional love. Rather than using metaphors, drawing comparisons, and alluding to goddesses like Venus when talking about his mistress, Shakespeare uses the typical language found in love poems against itself by claiming that his mistress’ eyes are not as bright as the sun, her lips not as red as coral, her breasts not as white as snow, her cheeks not as pink as roses, her breath not as delightful as perfume, and her voice not as sweet as music (1,2,3, 5-6, 7-8, 9-10). The sonnet’s meter, especially by rhyming “sun” with “dun,” draws a contrast between the over exaggerated allure of having eyes bright like the sun and the reality of pallor and dull skin. Shakespeare mocks poets’ misrepresentation of women’s beauty by admitting that while he has never seen “a goddess go; / my mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.” By saying that his lover walks on the ground like common people, she is made to be more relatable and realistic. In admitting that he has never seen a goddess, he is making a jibe at the other poets who claim that their lovers look like goddesses without ever having seen one. By saying that his mistress is not a goddess and does not resemble the sun, snow, roses, and such, though it may sound insulting, Shakespeare is respectful to women. Rather than dehumanizing his lover by comparing her to various inanimate objects, he sees the beauty in her as a normal human being with flaws regardless. He thinks she is “rare as any she belied with false compare.” To Shakespeare, she is just as special as any other woman in poetry who is falsely described to be overwhelmingly beautiful; she does not need to achieve such unattainable standards and be a literal “goddess” to be considered attractive. Shakespeare’s sonnet is a parody of poems about love. Rather than wrongfully describing his lover to be as fair as a goddess and perpetuating women's’ impossible beauty ideals, Shakespeare writes about the reality of genuine love. His decision to convey this message in a sonnet is especially powerful because, in his era, poets used sonnets to praise and exaggerate their lovers’ qualities and appearance. His critique denounces the beauty standards of his time, and even though a woman’s ideas and voice is not present in the sonnet, he reflects what many women believe. Sonnet 130 denounces beauty standards, giving women power regardless of their appearance. Shakespeare accurately captures his feelings of true love for his mistress even though she may not live up to the absurd standards created by other poets.
The Ballad of Mulan The Ballad of Mulan is an ancient folktale featuring a strong-willed and courageous young woman, who sacrifices herself out of love for her family despite the law and social standards. The Ballad is composed by an anonymous author during a time of chaos and conflict- in the the fifth or sixth century CE when China was divided into the north and south. Given the tradition of oral storytelling, it is likely that the Ballad has undergone many transformations and adaptations, which only adds to its history and relevance. The original ballad is a flowing, beautiful, and impressive work of art while the translation loses the artistic, rhyming qualities of the poem in order to convey the meaning of the story. The original Ballad of Mulan contains a strong rhythm, syntax, and diction, which conveys the sense of deep sadness and worry that ultimately shifts into a tone of determination and hope. The rhythm of the ballad is clear in its structural limitations of characters per phrase, and two phrases per line. The ending character in each of the phrases often rhyme or have similar tones, with the first two level tones and the last two slant tones rhyming. In the ballad, each character of each phrase rhymes with its pair. For instance, the tonal and assonant rhyme in “兵” and “名,” pronounced “bing,” first tone, and “ming,” second tone, not only continues the flow of the ballad, which is especially important because it was most likely passed on orally, but also emphasizes two key points in the plot (5,6). By highlighting “兵” and “名,” Mulan is juxtaposing “army” and “name” because her father’s name is on the draft posters. Within the poem, the structure of each phrase is crucial to the understanding and rhythm. For example, in “问 女 何 所 思，问 女 何 所 忆？女 亦 无 所 思，女 亦 无 所 忆，” the first two begin with “问 女 何 所” and the last two phrases begin with “女 亦 无 所” (3-4). The paralleled structure of the phrases creates a new rhythm that creates a natural, human flow of the dialogue. The word choice of “思” and “忆,” which means “think” and “remember,” creates a sense of worry and nostalgia. However, the tone begins to change with the tonal rhythm shifts. In the last line, “马” and “征” are used at the end of each phrase. The third tone of “马” does not rhyme with the first tone of 征.” This sudden change jolts the reader from the lull of the tonal pattern, alerting them to a change in tone and plot. The tonal rhythm, rhyme, parallel sentence structure, and powerful word choice convey the somber tone and plot and effectively signals a shift in mood when the rhyme scheme abruptly changes in the last line. The Ballad of Mulan speaks to a woman’s independence, strong will, and sense of loyalty in a time of war and despite rigid gender expectations in ancient China. The translation of the Ballad of Mulan, by Han H. Frankel, who is an accomplished translator fluent in five languages, takes the original Chinese ballad and translates it into stylistically different, yet still fundamentally similar English poem. Frankel’s translation forgoes the tonal rhythm possible in Chinese only, as well as line structure and rhyme of the last characters of each phrase; there are also several inconsistencies within his translation.Tones are half of the Chinese language. Without it, words would have no meaning. Given it’s importance in the language and in poetry, the sudden disappearance of it in the English
translation decreases the artistic genius of the Chinese ballad. The additional lack of rhyme also detracts from the creativity of the poem. Frankel’s translation does not follow the line structure, with two phrases per line. Instead, the phrases are put into new line breaks. This creates a physical difference between the two poems, further separating them and changing the experience of reading the ballad. The translation also refers to “思” and “忆” as “heart” and “mind.” In reality, “思” and “忆” are verbs: to think and to remember. While the heart is commonly used in Chinese in replacement of the head colloquially, “to think” is radically different from “heart.” “To think” implies active participation, giving the dialogue more life and drawing the reader into the situation, as if they were apart of the conversation. Using an active verb rather than a static noun also speaks to Mulan’s will and thoughts being translated to actions. “To remember” is also very different from “mind.” “To remember” implies nostalgia, which “mind” does not. Frankel also does not accurately translate the opening “唧 唧.” “唧 唧” is read as “ ji ji,” first tone, but he writes it in English as “ tsiek tsiek.” His erroneous translation makes me consider the possibility of dialects. Although Frankel’s biography says that he studied Chinese in Beijing, it is possible that he also learned a dialect, which came through in his translation of “ tsiek tsiek.” While the onomatopoeia does not affect the understanding of the poem, “ tsiek tsiek” and “ji ji” create very different auditory images. Frankel also inconsistently switches between third and first person. The poem is written in third person, but can also be interpreted as first person when Mulan is speaking. It is important to chose one, however, because switching perspectives within one dialogue creates confusion and detracts from the story. Frankel’s poem does, however, accurately convey the story very well, though at the expense of tonal rhythm, rhyme scheme, line structure, and pronunciation. While Frankel’s translation of the poem effectively delivers the ideas and plot of The Ballad of Mulan, much of the artistry in the original Chinese version is lost. The original’s use of tonal rhythm, rhyme scheme, and character restrictions adds to the experience of the poem that is lost in the English version. Frankel’s translation also mis-translates key characters, changing the tone of the poem, and inaccurately translates the onomatopoeia, creating different auditory imagery that is untrue to the original. Despite these flaws, Han H. Frankel still manages to convey the story in a way that English speakers could easily grasp.
“Rape Joke” by Patricia Lockwood “Rape Joke” by Patricia Lockwood highlights the problem with rape jokes, which trivializes sexual assaults, by detailing her own experience with rape. Her poem is both tragic and comedic and exhibits the confusion, hopelessness, and shame she feels in contrast with the flippancy of society. Through her powerful use of language, syntax, and tone, Lockwood shares her story of rape, juxtaposing her emotions with the reactions of others. Lockwood’s poem takes care to emphasizes the trust she had in her attacker and then points out, sarcastically, that “come on, you should have seen it coming.” By blaming herself for not “see[ing] it coming,” Lockwood is assuming the voice of society, brushing responsibility off of the attacker and instead blaming the the victim (52). “Rape Joke” is a literal interpretation of the problematic message that rape jokes send and reveals the harmful ways society react to rape and its survivors. Lockwood wonders, “Can rape jokes be funny at all, is the question” (86). By ending the stanza with a period and not a question mark, however, indicates that no, rape jokes are not funny, especially not to her. By reducing her whole, traumatic experience to a “joke” only goes to show society’s ignorance and disregard for victims’ safety and well-being. Rape jokes also reveal a deep unwillingness to talk about rape, the effect it has on survivors, and how to prevent it in the future by educating men. These jokes parallel the betrayal Lockwood feels when, as an apology, her rapist “gave you Pet Sounds. No really. Pet Sounds. He said he was sorry / and then he gave you Pet Sounds” (91). When talking about Pet Sounds, the constant repetition implies that the stanza is meant to be humorous, but also tinged with bitterness. To be able to laugh about this moment does not mean that she does not understand the distastefulness of it, but instead reveals that she has gone through much pain in order to get to a place to be able to joke about the aftermaths of her rape. Perhaps that is why the Pet Sounds joke is at the end of the poem, after Lockwood has gone through the tragic details of her rape. Lockwood’s intensely emotional, humorous, yet serious poem highlights the societal problems and the treatment of women who have experience rape. “Rape Joke” is the story of one woman’s harrowing sexual assault, but also brings the millions of attacks occurring across the world to light. It raises the voices of those whose stories go unheard similar to testimonios, The Time of the Butterflies. Testimonio and The Time of the Butterflies tells the story of Las Mariposas, four sisters symbolic of the Dominican revolution, and their personal, emotional, and unheard story of overthrowing Trujillo’s regime. Rape is a constant threat and an unfortunate reality for all too many women today and throughout history. This poem, at once, is an effort to change the way we talk about rape as well as destigmatize meaningful and productive conversations about it.
“Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou In an age where a woman’s beauty is quantified and commercialized, Maya Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” is a celebration of the raw, unmodified womanhood that is inherent in every woman. Angelou is confident and unwavering in her analysis of being a woman, despite the societal beauty standards, accusations, and ignorance that question her womanhood. Angelou in “Phenomenal Woman” is proud, confident, and unapologetically a woman even though society may say differently. She opens the poem by conceding that she is not cute or slim like a fashion model, but goes on to disprove why those characteristics that are advertised and enforced by society and the media do not define a woman’s worth or beauty. Angelou remarks that “Pretty women wonder where my secret lies./...But when I start to tell them,/They think I’m telling lies” (1, 3-4). Angelou is faced with accusations of lying and ignorance in regards to her womanhood. Her use of “pretty woman” in contrast with “phenomenal woman” suggests a level of superficiality and lack of self-awareness. “Secret” aptly describes her womanhood because she describes it as “the fire in my eyes,/ And the flash of my teeth,/The swing in my waist,/And the joy in my feet,” which are all inherent sparks of life that color her eyes, teeth, waist, feet, and other body parts (22-25). Womanhood becomes more than body parts, it becomes the “fire,” “flash,” “swing,” and “joy.” Her use of “fire,” which is natural and essential to human life, speaks to her view of femininity- as something inherent and organic. Angelou’s assured diction, which can be seen through boldness of “flash” and “swing,” continues throughout the poem. Her constant repetition of the phrase, “Phenomenal woman,/ That’s me” is short and firm, emphasizing her confidence when it comes to her womanhood (12-13). Her use of “that’s me,” affirms her identity. The adjective “phenomenal” before “woman” enforces the idea that she is more than just a woman, she is amazing, unique, and remarkable in a way that a superficial “pretty” does not encapsulate. Maya Angelou’s inspirational analysis on women expands the modern definition of beauty from “cute” and skinny, as perpetuated by society through fashion and media, to cover all body shapes and sizes. Angelou enforces the idea that womanhood is inherent to all women, regardless of societal standards and other people’s beliefs. Angelou’s “Phenomenal Woman” effectively discredits society’s beauty standards and a woman’s worth that is associated with it. Instead, Angelou reiterates being confident and proud in one’s womanhood because it is natural and inseparable; she defines womanhood not as body parts but the movements and emotions within them that brings a woman to life.
Reflection The junior year texts, T he Time of the Butterflies, The Scarlet Letter, Sula, The Handmaid’s Tale, Othello, Heart of Darkness, and Things Fall Apart, all touch upon womanhood and voice whether it be through their abundance or lack of female representation. The individual themes of the seven texts are all inherently related to womanhood and voice and specific topics within the texts are also reflected in my anthology’s poetry selection. The Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez is a testimonio that amplifies the stories of the Las Mariposas, sisters who symbolize the revolution against Trujillo’s dictatorship. The themes of female voice and resistance in the face of oppression are key to the narratives, which are emotional and complex. Womanhood and voice are heavily present in The Time of the Butterflies, as it gives the famous sister political icons rich cultural backgrounds, multifaceted personalities, compelling familial relationships, and powerful, relatable emotions. The novel delves deep into the thoughts and feelings of the sisters, going beyond their public appearance, just as my anthology’s poems go from outer, surface-level to deep and personal understanding of womanhood. Hester Prynne from The Scarlet Letter faces the struggles of raising a child conceived through an affair as a single mother in a highly religious and intolerant Puritan society. Some themes that are explored in the novel include love, repentance, sin, guilt, societal norms, isolation, and judgement. Femininity adds an additional element on how she experiences motherhood and society after being publically condemned for her affair, which ties into my theme of womanhood. Following the story of one woman’s struggles, The Scarlet Letter uplifts the voices of Hester while commenting on expectations of women in Puritan society. Sula is the story of Nel and Sula’s relationship through childhood and adulthood. The novel and my anthology both share themes of loyalty, betrayal, societal restraints based on gender, and female sexuality. Offred from The Handmaid’s Tale resists governmental oppression and its enforced gender roles through quiet, subtle ways. The Handmaid’s Tale additionally explores the themes of the loss of identity, marriage, sexuality, and children, as does multiple poems in the my anthology does. Her internal defiance as well as her complacency and fear emphasizes both the complexity of human nature and female resistance. The novel analyzes these themes through Offred’s viewpoint, a female voice, magnifying her story and drawing attention to all the other stories in Gilead that remain unheard. Othello follows the complicated story about duplicity and duality, featuring a manipulative Iago who acts out of revenge and jealousy of Othello, a gullible Othello who is swayed into killing his innocent wife, and a pure Desdemona, who remains faithful to Othello to her death. Desdemona is at once a strong-willed, independent, and powerful woman and a dependent, faithful, and unquestioning wife. O thello and my anthology share topics of marriage, innocence, and beauty surrounding Desdemona, who has limited appearances despite her pivotal role in the plot.
A deeply complex and controversial novel, The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad follows the journey of Marlow as he travels through the Congo. The lack of female characters and voice in The Heart of Darkness makes it all the more important to examine them and their intersection with the other themes of the book. Although women are relegated to neutral background figures with little direct power in The Heart of Darkness, interpreting the text through a postcolonial, feminist viewpoint reveals the symbolism, significance, and power that the female characters hold. Their lack of voice does not detract from their womanhood, which can be seen through ideas of lightness, darkness, and colonization. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a novel that follows the journey of Okonkwo and Umuofian society as they are forced to adapt to European colonialism. Women play a large role in the novel; though they do not hold any form of power in Umuofia, they have important roles within the household. Women’s storytelling is an ingrained tradition in Umuofia, as it passes on stories about morals and identities, which relates to my theme about womanhood through voicing folktales. All seven texts have significant female presences either through the prominent female characters or through the absence of them. The Time of the Butterflies, The Scarlet Letter, Sula, The Handmaid’s Tale, Othello, Heart of Darkness, and Things Fall Apart all relate to my theme of womanhood and voice, and many smaller topics within each text can be seen in the poetry selection and its ordering.
When creating my anthology, I decided that I wanted to explore a theme that has a deep connection to my own identity. The idea behind womanhood and voice arose from the texts we read in class. Our class would invariably end up discussing female characters and representation, or lack thereof. The intersection of these closely intertwined topics with the other themes in our texts fascinates me, leading me to chose to continue analyzing womanhood and voice in poetry that discusses gender expectations, motherhood, sex, and female rebellion. Considering that men have dominated the literary field for most of history, representation of women in poetry is often limited and one-sided. Thus, I made a conscious effort when selecting poems to include male and female authors. I noticed that poems written about the women by women was extremely rare and difficult to find the earlier the era. I, however, chose to embrace the lack of women’s voice in the earlier eras, which created an intriguing pattern that I worked to accentuated in the ordering of poems. I began with poems that reflected societal regards towards women throughout the ages and revealed the male poets’ surface level understanding of women. I chose to start out with “Never Seek to Tell thy Love” by William Blake and “Song to a Fair Young Lady Going out of Town in the Spring” by John Dryden because they shared the imagery of a woman leaving. The women in both poems were depicted as silent, beautiful, and cruel heartbreakers, leaving their men behind. Little else is learned about the women, such as their name or the circumstances of
their leave, except that they are exceptionally gorgeous, using their beauty to seduce and abandon men. The focus of both poems is on the men and the agony they experience, using women to convey their sorrow. Following the theme of beauty, I next chose to include "To the
Virgins, to Make Much of Time" by Robert Herrick. Herrick encourages women to marry while they are still youthful, suggesting that a woman’s worth is dependent on their physical appearance and age. Continuing off the idea of a woman’s worth dependent on her appearance, I chose to include “A
Prayer for My Daughter” by William Butler Yeats and “Woman! when I behold thee flippant, vain” by John Keats. Both Yeats and Keats enforce the importance of women's outwards appearance and society’s standards of beauty. Yeats is extremely exacting in his preference in women, wishing for his daughter to become vacuous and beautiful, yet not too much as to distraught those who cannot attain her hand. Keats reinforces beauty ideals, praising softness, meekness and kindness, and gender roles, with men being strong, powerful protectors of women. Yeats and Keats’ emphasize beauty as a determinant of worth, rather than internal characteristics such as beliefs, opinions, and thoughts. They enforce shallow notions of womanhood, which transitions well into women and sex. “Warm” by Robert Grenier introduces the image of a domestic woman and motherhood, which is a more complex subject than surface-level beauty and youth. “Warm” leads well to “A Woman Waits for Me” by Walt Whitman, in which Whitman describes sex with a woman. Whitman’s poem is selfish in his discussion of possessing a woman, claiming that he “cannot let you go, I would do you good” (32). He thus suggests that he knows what the woman’s needs are despite the fact that the woman never directly expresses them in his poem. “A Woman Waits for Me” objectifies women, creating the notion that they are worthy only because they are vessels for sex and children-bearing. “The Apparition” by John Donne continues the association of a woman’s value based on sex. Donne, who is personally offended by a woman’s rejection of him, exaggerates the woman’s crime in his poem, claiming that she murdered him, and continues on a revenge fantasy of haunting the despicable woman. His language attacks the woman’s word and independence while enforcing the woman’s place in the bedroom. Following Donne’s dismissal of women’s volition and decisions is Gerard Manley Hopkins’ dismissal of women’s intellect in “Spring and Fall,” in which Hopkins projects his own views and beliefs onto a foolish, crying, young girl. The first ten poems of the anthology reflect male poets’ surface-level understanding of women, starting from their superficial beauty and moving to denunciate women’s sexuality and intellect. In the transition phase of my list of poems in my anthology, I chose to include poems written from both male and female perspectives that indicate the beginnings of a deeper understanding of women. “Love’s Philosophy” by Percy Bysshe Shelley speaks of pairings in nature, giving women power by describing them as equals in love. However, the poem still enforces the necessity of love, implying that a woman must love a man, for that follows the natural order. William Shakespeare’s sonnet 130 continues off the theme of love. Shakespeare’s sonnet, however, is a parody and critique of the Renaissance era’s beauty ideals that women are
expected to live up to. Continuing Shakespeare's rejection of beauty ideals comes Rossetti, Browning, Rich, and Bronte’s rejection of other expectations of women to value love and marriage above all else. “I loved you first: but afterwards your love-” by Christina Rossetti, “A Man’s Requirements” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “Translations” by Adrienne Rich, and “I am the only being whose doom” by Emily Bronte introduce the idea that love is unnecessary to womanhood, as well as the female voice into my anthology. In the last phase of my anthology, the poems included explore the depth and complexity of the female experience told in the perspective of those who understand it the best- women. Emily Dickinson’s “They shut me up in Prose -” speaks to her unappreciated intellect and literary talent. The Ballad of Mulan continues in a similar vein, speaking of Mulan’s independence and strong will. Dickinson and Mulan’s spirit of rebellion continues to women’s use of poetry to share their previously unheard experiences. “Men” by Maya Angelou and “Rape Joke” by Patricia Lockwood shares heartbreaking and intense stories about rape, while “The Mother” by Gwendolyn Brooks and “You’re” by Sylvia Plath examines abortions and motherhood. Angelou, Lockwood, Brooks, and Plath’s poems are testimonies that not only get their own voices heard, but also amplifies to the voices of millions of women who share similar experiences. The female rebellion from cultural norms and standards continues in Kim Addonizio’s poem “What Do Women Want?” and Stacyanne Chin’s spoken word, “Tweet This, You Small Minded Motherfucker!” The harshness and bluntness of both poems destroy the soft, timid, and meek feminine ideals, introduce intense emotion, conviction, and passion instead. The song “Can’t Hold Us Down” by Christina Aguilera ft. Lil’ Kim follows, a rallying cry for women to unite and rebel against societal expectations. Finally, I chose to end with “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou as a reminder that womanhood is beautiful and extraordinary. Womanhood cannot be taken away because it is inherent in any woman, and is worth celebrating and fighting for. The work I have done in this poetry anthology has helped my reached the goals of identifying connections between different eras, contextualizing, close-reading skills and analysis, and learning to appreciate poetry. Before creating this anthology, I’ve always seen poetry as a distant, untouchable art form that was often beyond my understanding and definitely beyond my capabilities. As I began my research, however, I began to truly see how significant and relevant poetry can be to my identity and to modern society. Choosing which poems to include in my anthology was an exercise in contextualizing and close-reading and analysis, because it allowed me to identify the different standards of women during the different eras and important themes that I believed should be addressed. My analyses of the poems that led to identifying themes became especially crucial to organizing the poems, which made me look for the overarching ideas to create the best flow. Overall, the poetry anthology has helped my solidify all the skills I have learned in English class so far, creating a cumulative work that is deeply personal and significant to me.
In compiling and organizing my list of poems, Iâ€™ve grown firmer in my identity as a woman. The poems that I chose to include are all now very close to my heart because they touch my core beliefs and identities. Both my vehement disagreement and passionate agreement with the wide range of poems in my anthology speak to my pride in womenâ€™s voices, intellect, personalities, bodies, sexualities, and rebellions. The representation of women in poetry has evolved and expand so much in the past centuries, and seeing that evident in my anthology has led me to become even prouder of women. I have come to appreciate all that women have overcome and achieved, and have grown more aware of the progress we as a civilization still must make in raising the voices of those who come from all different kinds of gender, racial, cultural, and socio-economic backgrounds.
Artwork Explanation The artwork that is on the cover page is a painting I did that I believe best summarizes the ideas in my anthology. I aimed to create basic female figures because womanhood, as Maya Angelou notes in â€œPhenomenal Woman,â€? is simple, organic, and inherent in all women. The figures are in black and white, representing the intersection of womanhood and voice, and are intertwining, just like to nature of many of the themes that I address. Their lack of heads speaks to the sexualization and objectification of women in literature. The vibrant strokes of color are both meant to create a vagina imagery, alluding to female sexual freedom and reclaiming of the female body, and represent modern, feminist readers discovering their own voices to share their stories and uplift the experiences of others.