The Woman

written by

« Reload image

Go sleep, my sweetie—rest—rest!
Oh soft little hand on mother's breast!
Oh soft little lips—the din's mos' gone-
Over and done, my dearie one!

What do I think, my brother? Look at me!
You make me laugh, sitting there solemneyed,
Full of opinions, theories!—asking me—
Look—with my baby at my breast—to tell you,
Blessed big uncle!—what I think—heaven help me!—
Of this and that. How could you think, I wonder,
If baby lips were tugging at your flesh,
Draining your life to flower the world?
Dear brother,
It's beautiful, that masculine pride of yours,
That runs the universe—oh yes, I know,
And longs to run it well. You travel, observe,
Experiment, make laws and governments,
Build strange machines and masterfully summon
The elemental powers to do your work—
Why?—so my girl here, darling hope of the race,
May pillow her round head in a softer bed,
And dance more lightly by and by—God bless her—.
Into her lover's arms.

Ah precious!—hungry still, my bird?
Coo, coo—yes, darling, mother heard.
Coo, coo—and is it true?—
Ever so true?

What do I think?
If I were arrogant, extravagant—
As men have never been!—what would I think,
Now in this hour of pride, with all the future
Safe in my arms? Almost I might dare whisper
That it's a woman's world—do they not say it
In the great book of science, the new song,
Epic of truth? Let me but hear the word
In reverence—almost a woman's world!
We hold the race within us, we enfold
Life in our arms, we do great nature's work;
So nature hoards and wastes for us, they say,
Contrives our essence from her richer store,
And makes the haughty male out of the rest—
You among others, with your politics,
Your grand reforms, your dreams ! Hush ! do you dare
Follow from seedling sea-drift up to man
Life's long procession, noting everywhere
How the encompassing mother mothers us,
And leaves your kind to shiver and drone and die?
Or else, in pity, the less vital tasks
She gives you—bids you serve us, fight for us,
Even sing for us; and cunningly contrive
Is heavy with strange erections, and the air
Is noisy with ideas.

Oh yes, I know—
You've got the upper hand, you run the world,
Think so at least; at many an icy hearth
You do your will with us; and we—poor chattels—
Meekly we take our fortune at your hands,
With never a royal word to prove us women,
Not slaves. Why do we yield, abase ourselves,
If we are nature's favorites, till even
The mighty mother who made us in her image
Rejects us, winnows her worthless chaff away:
Poor drudges, eating the heart of the race for bread;
Poor puppets, wilfully idle, wilfully barren,
Teasers of men—riff-raff and refuse all!

Why should we suffer this in a woman's world?
Good God, I wonder sometimes, hang my head
For our surrender. Ah, we clasp too close

The burden on our hearts, nor look abroad
Through our long windy night of passion and pain.
And still at dawn we rub our sleepy eyes,
Here at the hearth with morning in our arms—
Pink-dimpled baby morning, look at her!—
Waiting for you, our powerful delegates,
To chase the night away.

But is it strange?
Think but a moment, ask yourself, my brother—
You who tell me to think—what is our life,
Our woman's life? Out of delicious youth,
Murmurous, odorous, vague, full of delights
Half won, half apprehended, suddenly,
Like a still stream seized by the ruthless ocean,
We are drawn to the deeps. Love, marriage, motherhood—
We are drowned in the physical, sensual; washed over
With tide on tide of feeling warm and red—
The heart's-blood of the world. Little pitiless
Grip us within, throttle us, hold us down
Through the long moons of feebleness and pain.
Little souls adrift, gathering out of the void;
Bring us their nebulous dreams, vague, incoherent,
Far lightning-flashes caught from flaming stars.
No longer free, no more our own, or yours,
No longer of this world, but of all worlds,
We are borne by the vast tide, the tide of storms,
Life irresistible, universal, deep,
Out of that no-man's-land, that isle of pain,
Where birth and death fight in the dark together
For the new soul, the new little infant world, ,
Bearer of tidings, saviour of the race— 
The child.

Then, wonder of wonders, comes
The change. All glowing, from his great white throne
God stoops to us; we see the splendor, we hear
The thronging harps, we feel here in our arms
His presence forming softly, clasping close
Into a little tender human thing—
Our own, ours, ours. Then suddenly for a moment
We are swept away by joy magnificent,
And from high heaven watch the brave world go by.

Read the old story—it's our Bethlehem.
We couch in a manger, bring forth young like beasts
In blood and shame and agony, and then
Rise with the living God safe in our arms.
Well, after that what are your grand affairs,
Your brave ideas, your dreams? We scarcely heed
Your world-building, we leave you to your work,
Praising your strength, your imperious leadership,
Your craft that skims the sea and wings the
And sends love-words all round the girdled world
Before these blue eyes, almost locked in sleep,
Open to make the dawn. Oh wonderful
Your power and cunning! Should we envy you
The triumph, the high renown, when in our arms
We hold all life—even you, the doer, the present,
And this, the ultimate future of our dreams?

Look—she's asleep. Isn't she a drop of dew
Mirroring moonlight? Or a velvet petal
Dropped from the almond tree all pearly pink
That grows in Sahuaro Valley? Or a spring,
Cool, still, where all the birds of the air shall drink
Before it flows through the wide fields of the world,
The thick dark woods, to wander who knows where,
Love-led, love-nourished? Oh, be wise for her,
My brother! Smooth her flowery-scented ways—
We give you this to do.

But if you falter,
If, blinded by the dust and smothered in spoils,
You strive for trophies and forget the goal,
Must I not rise out of my sheltered seat
At last? When I can empty my arms of her,
Turn from the happy garden where I dwell
And look over the world, what do I see
Under the cloud-capped towers and pinnacles?
Cities I see where little children drudge
The strength of the race away; gaunt factories
Where girls and boys are withered at the loom,
The wheel, the furnace; festering tenements
Where babies—tiny tender things like mine—
Are born in filth and darkness, to endure
Starved little wretched lives, or die like rats
While their pale mothers earn a pitiful dole
By day and night in the one huddled room.
In sulphurous mines, in roaring steam-driven mills
Where human hearts are broken on the
wheel; In jails where law wreaks a self-righteous vengeance
On the less masterful crimes; in gaudy brothels,
Where daughters of the race—yes, mine and yours,
Once dewy in their mothers' arms like this—
Rot into slaves of lust; in all dark places,
Unaware of love, unvisited of the sun,
I count the agonies of our lorded world.
I see that delicate lovely thing called life—
My charge, my woman's business, God forgive me!—
Crushed into clay, mortared with blood and tears,
For modern civilization, huge sky-scraper,
To tower its many-windowed stories on.
And through those glaring windows I behold
A riot of waste, a sickening glut, an orgy—
Life turned once more to loathing and despair.
So, though I bear my baby in my arms,
Now must I tread the crowded ways of the world.
Help me to rise, give me your powerful hand,
My brother; lead me forth to do my part,
Too long content to rest here in my garden
Love-sheltered. Mea culpa—I have sinned.
Vast is the world, our steel-blown, power-driven world;
Too huge a grand machine for half the race
To build, and run, and guard from rust and filth,
While we, the other half, cling to the hearth,
Selfishly guard our own, and give no aid
Through the long heat and burden of the day.
Now we are summoned, for the hour is struck.
We have over-strained your strength, we have over-trusted
Your zeal. Now must we take our burden back—
The burden of life you bear but fitfully—
And nourish on warm breasts the suffering

Come, curly pearly one, my bird,
My primrose folding up at night/
Sleep warm and tight!
Never a word
Till it is light!
Softly, softly, down in your bed,
Round little toes to round little head,
Sleep, sleep, my weary one,
Mother's dearie one!

© Harriet Monroe