Hello. We will deal with the poetry of Judith Wright now in this lecture. She is an Australian
poet. So, we will have a historical and literary context to begin with. Then, look into the lif e
of Judith Wright and then discuss 2 poems “Woman to Man,” “Eve to Her Daughters.” And
finally, give our opinion on these 2 poems and the poet.
(Refer Slide Time: 00:44)
Like America, like Canada, Australia was also discovered by Europeans in the sixteenth
century. But then for settlement to take place in Australia, it took longer time. That is why the
British settlement took place in Australia in 1788. That led to that Native Unsettlement. That
means the indigenous people had to be unsettled. They had to go deeper and deeper into the
forest, they had to lose their lands.
As members of the Commonwealth, Canada and Australia participated in the First World
War and the Second World War. And this Australian experience like Canadian experience is
largely colonial and post-colonial which has given rise to a literature called post colonial
literature in Australia and many other parts of the world which were ruled by British people.
As in the case of Canada, we have traditional poetry to start with in Australian poetry,
Romantic, Victorian poetry in the beginning. And then, the waves of revolution came f rom
Britain and America into Australia as it happened in the case of Canada.
Poets in Australia, as elsewhere began to think about environmental questions and also, the
status of women. That is why this environmental poetry and feminist poetry plus post
colonial poetry, because of oppression all these things go together. The primary questions we
have in post colonial poetry or literature are relating to exploitation of the native people and
alienation of both, the native people and the settled people.
We have well known Australian poets like Kenneth Slessor, Douglas Stewart, R. D.
FitzGerald, A. D. Hope, James McAuley, Judith Wright, Kath Walker who has another name,
Oodgeroo, that is the tribal name, indigenous name. We have a very interesting case of a
woman poet, Gwen Harwood who had to publish her poems using men’s name in 1961, she
used two names we have here- Walter Lehman and Francis Geyer. When she sent her poems
to editors in Australia in the name of male, these poems were accepted. But when she sent her
poems in her own name as a woman, they were rejected. That is why we have this example
here. But remember, in Germany, in 1848, Louise Otto was able to publish her article in her
own name. That is why this feminist question whether it is nineteenth century or twentieth
century or even today, twenty first century is very important for us. Feminist concern is very
important for a humanity.
(Refer Slide Time: 04:03)
Judith Wright, as we said, is an Australian poet born in 1915 and she died in 2000. Her life is
a remarkable life of dedication, commitment to the land, Australia. She is a notable
Australian poet and an environmental activist. She was committed to the land and native
people throughout her life. Even just before her death, she participated in a demonstration
against atrocities on the native people.
In her blood, she was not for this white man’s burden. She disbelieved this white man’s
burden, that is going to another land and preaching Christianity, converting them into
Christians and then modernizing the land. She did not believe this. She became a voice for
the oppressed, voiceless people and also, the voiceless land. She was opposed to war,
technology and the destruction of nature. She defended the land, the people and also human
Interestingly, she was influenced by poets like two contrasting minds like Blake and Eliot.
Blake is a romantic poet; Eliot is a modernist poet. These two elements, opposite elements
come together in the feminist thought of Judith Wright. She published a number of volumes.
Here, we have mentioned some- “The Moving Image,” “Woman to Man,” “The Gateway,”
“The Two Fires,” “The Other Half,” “Alive,” “Phantom Dwelling.” Some of the well-known
poems are “Remittance Man,” “Woman to Man,” “Request to a Year,” “Eve to Her
(Refer Slide Time: 06:03)
We have chosen two poems; the first is “Woman to Man.” Again, for copyright reasons, we
are not able to show the whole poem to you. Please go to the text or Poetry Foundation
website. We will read some lines and summarize some others. Here we have the first stanza:
“The eyeless labourer in the night,
the selfless, shapelessseed I hold,
builds for its resurrection day-
silent and swift and deep from sight
foresees the unimagined light.”
That is the first stanza. The second stanza is about the nameless and faceless child which is
the hunter and the chase as well as the third who lay between the couple. Here is a man and a
woman, the woman has conceived a child and she is pregnant and so, she is describing he r
own experience of expecting mother.
(Refer Slide Time: 07:02)
Here, we have summarized the third stanza, the third stanza shows that the child is the f lesh
and blood of the couple. Some third emerges from these two people. Let us read the 4th stanza
“This is a 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.”
The woman is really afraid, every pregnant woman will have some kind of fear about the
future. How she will live, how she will give birth to the child, how will she be able to take
care of the child, some fear will always be there. That is why a woman always has a second
birth after the child birth.
(Refer Slide Time: 07:50)
Let us pay attention to the thematic contrast in this poem. We have a number of contrasts in
this poem. It is an amazing poem with full of contrast: Between woman and man, labourer
and master, birth, life and love on the one hand and death on the other, light and d ark, day
and night, the hunter and the hunted, the maker and the made, the question and the answer,
pain and pleasure. This poem deals with the woman’s perspective of child bearing. The f ear
and pain of giving birth to a child that is made up of the features of both parents is presented
in this poem.
(Refer Slide Time: 08:33)
A number of poetic devices are there in this poem. To begin with, we have repetition, ‘the
eyeless,’ ‘the selfless,’ ‘the shapeless.’ The word itself is not repeated but the sound, the
structure “less, less, less” that is interesting, that draws our attention. Alliteration and
assonance, we have in the second line- ‘the selfless, the shapeless, seed I hold.’ We have
allusion to ‘resurrection day,’ the day of the child’s birth referred to in the poem. It also has a
reference to Christ, the resurrection from his graveyard.
Then we have alliteration, assonance and consonance in line number 4, ‘silent and swif t and
deep from sight.’ Then we have anaphora which is remarkable in this poem, “this is” that is
how the line begins and it is repeated in line 6, 9, 14, 16 and 17. That means it gives a
structural foundation for the whole poem. This is it, this is the experience, this is lif e, this is
love, this is death, this is the poem. We have a metaphor in line number 14, ‘This is the
blood’s wild tree that grows.’ Blood’s wild tree; blood in the human body and that becomes
wild tree that grows. Imagine a child growing in the womb of a mother.
Then we have another metaphor in the intricate and folded rose in line number 15. The whole
paradox of this poem is summed up here,
“This is the maker and the made;
this is the question and reply.”
What is that question? What is that reply? The poem is a question, the poem is also a reply.
Why does a woman alone have this child conception? Why does she alone experience the
difficulty of giving birth to the child? Then we have alliteration consonance and assonance in
line number 19, ‘the blaze of light along the blade.’ We have indicated them in all dif ferent
ways of highlighting. We underlined “l”, highlighted “a” put in bold. Blaze of light along the
(Refer Slide Time: 10:58)
We have some rhyming system in this poem. Lines 1, 4 and 5 in every stanza rhyme d, they
have some rhyme scheme. We have shown this in the example given here: “made” line
number 1, “blade” line number 4 and “afraid” line number 5. We have the rhythm of iamb
and also with some variations. The meter of this poem is tetrameter, there are 8 syllables and
so they make up 4 feet. We have enjambment in only one case, that is line number 4. Then
we have caesura and end-stopped lines for which, we have this example here.
“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.”
(Refer Slide Tine 11:57)
Let us see the overall impression we have for this poem. The speaker of the poem is a
pregnant woman who addresses her husband about the fears and pains she has about he r
conceiving and delivering the baby. The child is nameless and faceless but it has the physical
features of both parents. The union of the woman and the man grows with nerves and veins
like the tree and the rose. It is a symbol of the challenges of the pregnant woman.
“Resurrection” and “the third who lay” evoke the religious image of Christ’s resurrection.
The speaker wants the man to hold her as she is afraid of the pains of the delivery which the
man can never experience, giving a feminist view of motherhood in this poem.
(Refer Slide Time: 12:48)
We move on to the next poem, “Eve to Her Daughters.” This is much more open feminist.
We will see this. It will be good if you can read the whole poem and then see how it is
feministic on your own. It is more like a dramatic monologue that is why the poem begins
with something like a rebuttal. Something, somebody has already said, so, it is a kind of reply
so the speaker starts.
Unfortunately, we are not able to give the whole poem. We have summarized in between, as
we have noted in blue colour.
“It was not I who began it.
Turned out into draughty caves,
hungry so often, having to work for our bread,
hearing the child whining,
I was nevertheless not unhappy. 5
Where Adam went I was fairly contented to go.”
This tells us about Eve’s happy and submissive attitude at the beginning.
(Refer Slide Time: 13:49)
Then let us see the next section:
“I adapted myself to the punishment: it was my life.
But Adam, you know...!
He kept on brooding over the insult,
over the trick They had played on us, over the scolding. 10
He had discovered a flaw in himself
and he had to make up for it.”
Adam and Eve were created by God and the asked to stay in this Garden of Eden. And there,
they met this problem of sin and they were expelled from this Garden of Eden. And that is
why we have this punishment.
Eve was able to adapt herself to the punishment easily, whereas Adam was not able to. He
was always thinking about the pleasures of the Eden Garden. So, we have this “they” her e, it
is highlighted in capital T, that is why we have given this explanation: “They had played on
us,” Gods and devils, angels. Adam and Eve became play things for Gods, their own
competition and things like that.
Here, we have the contrast between Eve and Adam, in their attitudes to the punishments
given by God. And also, we have the difference between humans on one hand and Gods and
angels or devils on the other hand.
(Refer Slide Time: 15:07)
We have summarized these sections. We have just quoted 3 lines from here.
“Outside Eden, the earth was imperfect,”
There is a contrast between Eden being perfect and Earth being imperfect. Earth is imperf ect
because of change of seasons, man has to work hard and even this cooking by Eve was found
to be bad by Adam.
(“It was hard to compete with Heaven,) says Eve.”
Everything is perfect in Heaven, that kind of competition with perfection is not possible on
Earth. She realizes it, but Adam could not be happy with whatever was available so he within
“so, he (Adam) set to work.”
Why did he start working? To make a new Eden with all modern facilities, gizmos,
investment, education for children, that is Abel and Cain. It is a fantastic poem, within a f ew
lines connects the past, biblical past, Genesis with our contemporary life.
Today, we have made all kinds of discoveries, inventions for our own comforts- air
conditioners, cars, cell phones, technology, everything we have created, artificial intelligence,
we have no end. We keep on working, we have no rest, keep on working to make our life
more and more comfortable. To compete with the Garden of Eden, to achieve perfection. It is
a beautiful poem.
(Refer Slide Time: 16:43)
Let us see the next one:
“You can see how his pride had been hurt.
Some lines we have omitted.
--he was always mechanical-minded. 30
He got to the very inside of the whole machine.”
He started understanding how the machine works and then made more and more machines.
“As for God and the Other, they cannot be demonstrated, 35
And what cannot be demonstrated
It is a clear case of this limitation of patriarchal science. Pursuit of knowledge for the sake of
(Refer Slide Time: 17:24)
We have another extract here. Adam is jealous and egotist, how to create a kind of perfect
Eden in the Earth is the jealousy of Adam. And he is egotist, self centred, he thinks of
himself, he does not bother about Eve or anything else. But Eve was happier with the cave,
even if it is draught cave.
“I would suggest for the sake of the children 45
that it’s time you took over.
But you are my daughters, you inherit my own faults of
you are submissive, followed Adam
even beyond existence.
Faults of characters have their own logic.” 50
(Refer Slide Time: 18:10)
Some more passage here, with some summaries. The story of Adam and Eve plus Abel and
Cain demonstrates the faults of the submissive character of women as the speaker says. Then
we have a passage:
“Perhaps nothing exists but our faults?
At least they can be demonstrated.
But it is useless to make
such a suggestion to Adam.
He has turned himself into God, 60
who is faultless, and doesn’t exist.”
The poem, thus demonstrates the limitation of religious and scientific stories which women
have to understand and help themselves. It is a completely feministic poem, rewriting the
(Refer Slide Time: 18:54)
We have the thematic contrast between Adam and Eve, work and rest, crime and punishment,
praise and humiliation, strength and flaw, Eden and Earth, perfection and imperfection,
mechanical and original, centre and periphery, God/man and woman. Thematic thrust is on
the male story, which is false according to the speaker and probably Judith Wright and many
other women writers.
We have the rhetorical effect. If the story of man is false, do not believe it, then the women
have to free themselves, that is why the rhetorical effect of this poem is from the speaker to
the daughters. ‘Free yourself daughters. Free yourself from the falsehood of men.’
(Refer Slide Time: 19:47)
There are quite a few poetic devices in this poem. First, we have this transferred epithet in
‘draughty caves,’ this discomfort is attributed to caves. We have the case of litotes in ‘I was
nevertheless not unhappy.’ The language itself is something different. Something quite
contrasting in the whole informal context. We have alliteration in ‘fleet-footed’ that is, f ast
moving. Blazon, we have ‘list of convenience for human beings’ from refrigerator, cars,
telephones, modern means of communication, that is what the poet says in the poem, that
exactly is one alliteration- ‘modern means.’
Then we have anaphora and polysyndeton in repetition of “and” at the beginning of lines
from 23 to 26. Then we have alliteration in mechanical minded in line number 30. We also
have a very interesting antistrophe in this poem “demonstrated” at the end of lines 33, 34, 39
and 57. Science demonstrates, technology demonstrates, man patriarchy demonstrates but
that demonstration is all lie, that is what the poet says.
(Refer Slide Time: 21:12)
The rhyme in this poem is unmarked, that means it is not very visible, except for repetition of
the pronoun “it” and the proper noun “Cain.” Cain is repeated; similarly, “it” is repeated
several times at the end of lines. The rhythm of this poem is common speech pattern and
conversational tone. It is non-metrical that is, free verse. The poetic form is free verse and
specifically, the form of the poem is dramatic monologue.
The speaker speaks to her daughters, there is a context, there is a listener, there is a purpose.
The mode of the poem is logical argument and it is also a kind of persuasion of Eve’s
daughters. Not to believe in men and pursue their own experiences, dreams and desires.
(Refer Slide Time: 22:08)
We have the overall impression here. Wright’s poem is an address to women from the
perspective of Eve to her daughters. It takes the shape of a dramatic monologue with the
implied listener. The whole poem is an argument and also a narrative of rewriting the Biblical
story of Adam and Eve. We have to remember that rewriting, revisioning is an agenda of
The story is continued right up to the present age of mechanization and man’s effort to play
God. Hence, the poet demystifies or deconstructs the creation myth and reveals that God does
not exist and so man who attempts to become God does not exist. It is a wonderful argument.
The world belongs to women, that is Eve’s daughters. The open form of the poem opens up
the world to women casually, informally but logically and powerfully.
(Refer Slide Time: 23:12)
We have the map of Australia here, for one specific reason- Great Barrier Reef is a natural
resource in Australia. Judith Wright spent her lifetime to protect this Great Barrier Reef in her
country. This is an environmental concern which held the heart of Judith Wright throughout
her life. This is only one example; she was interested in protecting the whole Australian land.
Let us see a summary now. We presented a historical and literary context for understanding
the Australian poet, Judith Wright. It is an Australian context, so, we have to understand the
colonial and post colonial literary, political, cultural traditions of the poet. She was interested
in the land, in the people, in the language of the people and nature, particularly. So, she
devoted herself to write about the land and the people.
We have two poems for discussion in this lecture, one is ‘Woman to Man’ and the next is
‘Eve to her Daughters.’ Woman to Man talks about the relationship between the two and Eve
to her Daughters again talks about particularly the politics, the power behind the relationship
between the two. The second poem is much more openly feministic. It draws our attention to
the misconceptions we have about the Biblical stories and so the poet wants us to free the
women from such misconceived notions. The analysis of the poems reveals that Judith
Wright is an excellent poet, both thematically and technically.
(Refer Slide Time: 25:14)
We have some references for you. Thank you!
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