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The Uses of the Female Body in Poetry

The Uses of the Female Body in Poetry

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Published by Chanin
A critical analysis on the way poets use the female body in descriptions within their poetry.
A critical analysis on the way poets use the female body in descriptions within their poetry.

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Published by: Chanin on Apr 16, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The Uses of the Female Body Used in PoetryFrom the end of the first wave of feminism through the second wave and into themodern time, many female poets have used the body to describe events or experiences, or have used other symbols to represent the female body. In bothaspects, the body is held as exceptional and as a symbol of life, love, creativity, anddeath (Ashton 214; Wolosky 491). There is much written on the subject of the femalebody as well as the symbolism used for its expression. In the article, ³The Ethics of Foucauldian Poetics: Women¶s Selves,´ Shira Wolosky asks a simple yet poignantquestion: ³how is poetry like a woman´ (491). This question is perfect in beginning theanalysis of the female body in poetry. Both sides must be considered, and poems thatreiterate these sides used to prove and propose how the body of a woman is like poetry.Women poets have throughout history been ignored or forgotten in relation totheir male counterparts. Because of this slight, women poets began to reinventthemselves and the material they wrote in the mid-twentieth century. Similar to AndyWarhol, innovative female poets allowed their poetry to be an ³extension of «women¶sbodies´ (Ashton 214). This body, therefore, is more important than the number of female poets. The body is the cause and the vehicle women began to use to expressthemselves and their society. The body was the epitome of experiences and symbolsthat not only related stories, but also gave insight into the physical and mental aspectsof the female speakers in poems (Ashton 225).With the second wave of feminism the ³Ethics of Foucauldian Poetics,´ which isbased on the patriarchal society, gave women a new understanding as to the use of their bodies in poetry. Foucault himself refused to acknowledge the feminine, but the
women of the time jumped at the chance to explain their experiences and view fromwithin this theory of ethics. For feminine poets of the time, not only did the bodyrepresent the woman persona and her influence of and by society, but also as power and creativity, that is both positive and negative depending on the context of the poemitself (Wolosky 491).It is within these contexts that the analysis of four poems will be considered.They are each describing different experiences, but use the body or the symbolism toacknowledge the bodily attributes was now used to get the point across to the reader.This seems to have started well before the second wave of feminism, and lasted wellpast the same second wave. However, each of these female poets uses the body to tella story and to teach the reader the superiority of the female body and its symbols.In 1945, Gwendolyn Brooks created a poem ³The Mother,´ which holds the basictheme of the black inner city woman, uses the woman motif to share her stories. Manyof her characters are described in great detail and are mainly independent in anoppressed society in which they are feeling the effects of both racism and femalediscrimination (Gwendolyn Brooks 140). The first line, ³Abortions will not let you forget´sets the tone of the poem at the onset. Lines 2 through 10 discuss the fact that thesechildren were never truly alive and never experienced anything. Line 11 through 32describes the feelings of the mother and her decision to abort the pregnancy. Line 33through 36 is the farewell and acceptance of the action (Brooks, 808). The interestingpoint about this poem is the use of the abortion within a female¶s body as therepresentation of the death of a woman¶s creativity. Pregnancy is the beginning of theidea, the beginning of a creative endeavor. The birth would be accepting the idea and
following it through. However, when the idea is stifled or rejected by the woman or those around her, then the death of her creativity is a real possibility and thus the idea isaborted. In the poem, the speaker talks about several children that she has aborted,which could represent several idea or concepts that the speaker has rejected becauseof they were not accepted by society or that she herself was not accepted and thereforeher ideas were ignored. This is often how the African American women felt before theCivil Rights Movement and before the second wave of feminism. Brooks grabs thesocietal feelings and gives them to ³The Mother´ (Brooks 808).Sylvia Plath is another poet that has encompassed the female body. In her 1962poem ³Medusa´ she uses the body of a boat to explain the actions and emotions of thefemale the boat symbolizes. This poem shows just how far Plath was willing to push theenvelope in the acknowledging of repressed anger as well as clash and the strength of the feminine (Sylvia Plath 595). The poem starts with the boat docked in a harbor,³stony mouth-plugs´ and ³ears cupping the sea¶s incoherences´ (Plath 815, 1). Shegoes on to describe the link not just between mother and child but between woman andmale dominated society. The ³Old barnacled umbilicus, Atlantic cable´ is the bondbetween the mother which eventually changes with age, and the repressive bond of thepatriarchal society and the women in that society that seems to get tighter with time(Plath 815, 14). In lines 21 ± 25, she states that she did not want the male society tooppress her and yet this society held her and would not let her go as she longs to befree (Plath 815). By line 40 and 41 she refuses to give the male society power over her and she takes herself, her feminine persona, back (Plath 816).

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