Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Selected Poems of Charlotte Perkins Gilman

     Yeah, I'll come right out and admit that I didn't read all of the short stories in the Gilman book.  While it didn't take a great amount of time to read Herland, I found myself with less time to be able to devote to meaningful reading (damn convention prep!).  I had read three of the short stories – "The Unexpected" (1884), "The Giant Wistaria" (1884), and "An Extinct Angel" (1886) – but knew that I wasn't going to get the rest finished before the book had to be returned to the library.  After the short stories were the poems.  I'm usually not much for poetry (largely because I don't read it particularly well), but I thought it would be better to give the poems a chance rather than just quitting on the rest of the material altogether.
     There were eighteen poems in the book.  Some were rather good, some were quite forgettable, but none were really bad.  Sure, More Females of the Species starts with a false presentation of a questionable premise (I would have started with a she-wolf or lioness if I were trying to make the point of the female being more dangerous than the male, but Gilman argued that the milch cow was more dangerous than the bull – I'll take my mother's word, from working on a dairy farm in her youth that the bull is the most dangerous beast around), and Birth just confused me.  But overall, I thought it was worthwhile, especially given that I had become familiar with Gilman's take on the world.
     An Obstacle was a rather enjoyable tale of the best way to overcome the oppression of sexism (whether it would work in actuality isn't the point).  Similar Cases is a fun read – a little too reliant on the academic words Gilman feels a need to include – but lacks a satisfying ending (in my opinion, because I thought that she was working towards a very good condemnation of human behavior).  A Conservative – included in its entirety below – is simply necessary, not for its critique of conservatism (viewing it as a strategy to deny betterment in favor of the familiar instead of the regulator on the change that allows progress to happen without chaos), but for the wonderful imagery and lines, "I do not want to be a fly! / I want to be a worm!".  Seeking does an excellent job of conveying dreamlike visuals without diluting Gilman's point.  Closed Doors, depending on how one reads it, is either one of the best ghost poems ever written or a scathing indictment to the deaf ear turned to the oppression of the disenfranchised (particularly women); I prefer the former.  The Purpose is straightforward in its goal to explain that women are not made to love men, but to love and raise children (it is thoroughly unclear just what purpose men have, other than having a need to be loved supremely).
     Anyway, the complete list is:
▸              One Girl of Many (1884)

▸              In Duty Bound (1884)

▸              On the Pawtuxet (1886)

▸              She Walketh Veiled and Sleeping (1889)

▸              An Obstacle (1890)

▸              Similar Cases (1890)

▸              A Conservative (1892)

▸              A Moonrise (1893)

▸              Too Much (1893)

▸              To the Young Wife (1893)

▸              Birth (1895)   

▸              Seeking (1895)

▸              Closed Doors (1898)

▸              The Purpose (1904) 

▸              Locked Inside (1910)

▸              The Artist (1911)     

▸              More Females of the Species (1911)    

▸              Materialism (1915)

And, as promised... 
A Conservative

The garden beds I wandered by
One bright and cheerful morn,
When I found a new-fledged butterfly,
A-sitting on a thorn,
A black and crimson butterfly,
All doleful and forlorn. 

I thought that life could have no sting
To infant butterflies,
So I gazed on this unhappy thing
With wonder and surprise,
While sadly with his waving wing
He wiped his weeping eyes. 

Said I, "What can the matter be?
Why weepest thou so sore?
With garden fair and sunlight free
And flowers in goodly store:" -
But he only turned away from me
And burst into a roar. 

Cried he, "My legs are thin and few
Where once I had a swarm!
Soft fuzzy fur - a joy to view -
Once kept my body warm,
Before these flapping wing-things grew,
To hamper and deform!" 

At that outrageous bug I shot
The fury of mine eye;
Said I, in scorn all burning hot,
In rage and anger high,
"You ignominious idiot!
Those wings are made to fly! 

'I do not want to fly," said he,
"I only want to squirm!"
And he drooped his wings dejectedly,
But still his voice was firm:
"I do not want to be a fly!
I want to be a worm!" 

O yesterday of unknown lack!
To-day of unknown bliss!
I left my fool in red and black,
The last I saw was this, -
The creature madly climbing back
Into his chrysalis. 

[Now, maybe because I don't get most poetry, I see a parallel between Gilman's criticism of the butterfly not wanting to use his wings and Jules Shear's "If She Knew What She Wants" lines, "But she won't understand / Why anyone would have to try / To walk a line when they can fly".  The position from which the criticism is being offered may be different, but I think the same conclusion is reached: do the great things of which you are capable and quit confounding the rest of us.]

1 comment:

  1. "More Females of the Species" is a satire of Kipling's poem. She is speaking the opposite of truths (Attila and Genghis Khan weren't females either) throughout the whole poem to add a new facet of understanding to Kipling's 'flattering' poem to women.