The author of this text is the Australian poet Judith Wright.
The title of this text is Woman To Man.
The form of this text is a poem. The visual appearance of the text on the page indicates to us that it is a poem: it is positioned in the centre of the page and it is made up of uniform sections, or stanzas. The form is more constrained than that of a novel, which runs freely across the page from left to right. The text also utilises formal poetic features, such as: multiple stanzas containing equal numbers of lines; line breaks between stanzas; and a regular number of beats per line. The knowledge that Judith Wright is a well-known poet adds to the evidence that this is a poem.
This text has more than one intended audience. The primary audience is Judith Wright’s husband. It is a well-known fact (in literary circles) that Wright addressed this poem to her husband when she was pregnant with one of their children. The intimate nature of this exchange between Wright and her husband is evident in her use of personal pronouns: ” you and I have known it well”; ” your arm “; ” my breast “. The second intended audience is every woman and every man, as an expression of something from every woman to every man. The title Woman To Man makes the poem universal, more than just a poem from Judith Wright to her husband. There are no names given to the woman and the man within the world of the poem. The experience of ‘the Woman’ becomes the experience of ‘every woman’. The third audience for this text is the literati the world of literature. Judith Wright is a well-known Australian poet; this poem has been published many times; this poem obviously did not stay between Wright and her husband. The poem displays the poet’s highly technical and sophisticated control over language: this skill has been analysed in essays and studied in schools for years. The poem requires an intelligent and educated audience to appreciate its poetic proficiency.
Wright’s purpose in writing this text was to articulate her feelings about her unborn child and its creation. On one level this was an announcement to her husband about the procreative act: ” the third who lay in our embrace” and the mystery of the operations of life, ” silent, swift and deep from sight “. She reveals, to her husband, her emotions about the child they have created, as it grows inside her. However, Wright has also taken a feminist stance by speaking about conception, pregnancy and childbirth in an era when women did not speak of such things publicly. Her purpose is not only to reveal her emotions to her husband, but to reveal her emotions to the world.
We need to consider the social context of the poem. Woman To Man was written in 1949. During the post-war years Australia was experiencing a period of affluence. Men were enjoying their role as ‘breadwinner’ and the ‘traditional’ place for women was in the home with the children. While Wright, on one level, is tenderly revealing her emotions about her ‘yet to be born’ child she is also taking a feminist stance. She is being up front and confrontational by speaking so openly about the act of sexual intercourse, conception, pregnancy and birth. This was something that was ‘not done’ in 1949.
The physical and emotional context of pregnancy and its effect on Wright also needs to be considered. Wright was heavily pregnant at the time of writing the poem. Her body had undergone many physical changes and she was on the verge of giving birth. The physical experience of the child in her womb (” the blind head butting in the dark “) and the emotional experience of pregnancy would have been a major part of her life during the time in which she wrote Woman To Man.
I have never experienced pregnancy. The context of my reading of the poem cannot include first-hand knowledge of pregnancy: my reading of this text is shaped by the knowledge I have gleaned from textbooks, school lectures and conversations with pregnant friends. The closest I have been to experiencing the intense emotions expressed by Wright is through my experience of my mother’s pregnancy with my younger sister. However, I believe that the physical side of pregnancy cannot be truly appreciated unless you have experienced it yourself. I can only imagine the physical and emotional changes that accompany pregnancy. While I admire the feeling and richness of Wright’s poem, I have yet to truly connect with it. It is the last line, “O hold me, for I am afraid” that I find myself relating to, but not for the same reasons as Wright. Wright feels vulnerable and in need of protection as the potential danger of childbirth becomes clear to her. I, however, am afraid of the entire process. I cannot imagine having a child in my life right now. I do not want a child in my life at this point in time. My fear is a fear of change, not of childbirth itself.
The register of this text is highly intimate. Wright uses personal pronouns ” you and I have known it well” to create a feeling of intimacy between the speaker and the audience (and, on another level, between Wright and her husband). She unites herself and her husband to create a singular being: ” our embrace”; ” our eyes”. This takes us back to the intimacy of the act which created the child. The language is also formal. Wright is speaking about a serious topic for an educated audience. She uses formal punctuation:
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.
She uses colons to make several statements in the same sentence. The statements stand out and contrast against each other. Wright is meticulous in her choice of words; being a skilled poet, she controls language very well. The register in this text is definitely intimate and formal.
The style of this piece is intimate, confronting and highly sophisticated. Wright is confiding in her husband, revealing her emotions and speaking out about her experience of pregnancy. She uses a wide range of poetic techniques to get her message across.
The sentence length varies in this piece. Wright makes us ponder the mechanics of life as she presents complex ideas in complex sentences:
The eyeless labourer in the night,
the selfless, shapeless seed I hold,
builds for its resurrection day
silent, swift and deep from sight
foresees the unimagined light.
However, she also brings us to an abrupt halt “O hold me, for I am afraid” with her shorter sentences. We are roused from our contemplation of life and the forces that create it by a quick burst of reality.
Wright’s choice of words is meticulous and powerful. She uses many words that have connotations of nature and the ‘life force’, such as “night”, “seed”, “crystals”, “wild tree” and “rose”. She uses words that conjure up creation and spiritual rebirth, such as “darkness”, “light”, “blindness”, “sight” and “resurrection”. Her word choice helps us reflect on the issues she is contemplating.
Wright uses metaphors skilfully. Many of her metaphors are complex: “This is the hunter and our chase, / the third that lay in our embrace.” The blind force of sexual instinct (and love) has driven the lovers together, yet at the same time they actively ‘chase’ the goal of procreation. “This is the blood’s wild tree that grows / the intricate and folded rose”. Wright uses a striking metaphor for the network of veins and arteries in the human body that connect mother to child. The word “tree” suggests the tree of life, while “wild” suggests the passion that has created the child.
Wright’s use of paradox is further proof of her skill as a poet. “The selfless shapeless seed ” this suggests simultaneously both shapelessness and shape, for a seed has shape. The effect of this paradox is to stress the potential for new shape at the instant of conception.
Wright also uses alliteration. The sound of the poem is soft and almost gentle until Wright almost spits out the line, ” the blind head butting in the dark “. In the final stanza she turns from her joyful contemplation to face harsh reality. This image is suggestive of the violence implicit in labour as the child’s head is thrust against the neck of the womb. The poet and her audience see the potential danger that exists in childbirth.
The tone of “Woman To Man” is serious and moves from contentment to fear. To begin with, Wright calmly pours her emotions onto the page. She contemplates her unborn child, joyfully sharing her experience with her husband: ” yet you and I have known it well “. Her joy is shown in the beautiful images she uses to describe her child: ” the intricate and folded rose “. It is only in the final stanza that her joy and contentment turn to fear. She begins to imagine the intense pain of labour and she becomes frightened: ” the blaze of light along the blade / O hold me for I am afraid.” The conclusion of the poem is dramatically appropriate. The shift in tone from peaceful contentment to fear is only natural, as the Woman (the poet) moves from the state of pregnancy, which she has known for nine months, into the early stages of labour, which frightens her.