Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Woman Work by Maya Angelou

I've got the children to tend
The clothes to mend
The floor to mop
The food to shop
Then the chicken to fry
The baby to dry
I got company to feed
The garden to weed
I've got shirts to press
The tots to dress
The can to be cut
I gotta clean up this hut
Then see about the sick
And the cotton to pick.

Shine on me, sunshine
Rain on me, rain
Fall softly, dewdrops
And cool my brow again.

Storm, blow me from here
With your fiercest wind
Let me float across the sky
'Til I can rest again.

Fall gently, snowflakes
Cover me with white
Cold icy kisses and
Let me rest tonight.

Sun, rain, curving sky
Mountain, oceans, leaf and stone
Star shine, moon glow
You're all that I can call my own.

Some thoughts …

On the Poet: One of the most distinguished voices on the contemporary American literary scene, Maya Angleou (1928 – present) was born Marguerite Annie Johnson. ‘Maya’ was a nickname coined by her younger brother. Rendered mute for five years because of a succession of traumatic events in her childhood, she later found self-expression through dance, music and writing. Prodigiously accomplished in the arts, she is also a political activist who first gained literary fame with the publication of her autobiography ‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’.

On the Poem: In the first stanza, it’s interesting to note that there’s not a single diacritic of punctuation – no commas, no semi-colons. It’s one long litany of chores, and that’s how some days go – like you don’t have a moment to catch a breath. The poem subtly conveys what is true of many women’s lives; that a woman’s work is never done.

On a personal note: 

Sun, rain, curving sky…
…You’re all that I can call my own

These lines are poignant. Many of us, at some point in our lives, have felt the sense of vacuum and loneliness that comes from a life of relentless work – work that depletes our resources till we feel that we have nothing left to give, and nothing that we have gained for ourselves.

Those moments require not so much courage as endurance. There is an unabstract purity to physical activity that transforms us even as we feel we’re being wrung dry.

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