With reference to Mary Gilmore’s “Eve Song”, what is the meaning and force of the repeated phrase “I span and Eve span”?
What makes this poem so striking is the fact it even existed at all. In the 1890s, when women were still perceived as objects bound to men, the idea that any women, let alone a writer like Gilmore, would dare to speak her mind is absolutely absurd. Even more so, she did not just speak her mind, she did it unapologetically.
“I span and Eve span”
Bound to men yet also neglected by men, it is a tale old as time, or in this case, old as Eve. Gilmore repeated the sentence over and over in her poem, as if trying to imply that such circumstances have also happened over and over: a woman sacrificing everything for a man that gives nothing in return. This was considered normal, that it is a woman’s duty and she must comply without argument.
The sentence started out and also concluded the poem, without any progress. The women poured her heart out, screaming out all her aspirations, hoping for a change, no matter how slim a chance of that could be. There was no reason for her to stay, and the man did not even try to keep her around, but in the end, she still stayed. Why? What else could she possibly stay for? Her children? Did she still have a glimmer of hope that things would turn around? Or was it simply her responsibility told by society?
Gilmore built the poem up, bringing readers along thinking it would lead them somewhere. Instead, it went back where it began, with the woman still spanning threads. It’s a depressing and vicious cycle that seems almost fictional. It’s quite difficult to believe such was the reality of many women in the 1890s.
“A fine line”
This is such a great read. You’ve used your outlook on life to give a thorough and detailed perspective on Gilmore’s poem & I’m curious to read more. I honestly did not want this to end. There’s hardly any flaws to point out, but it wouldn’t matter anyway. You’ve done a really nice job explaining all the different layers to the poem, as this isn’t just about one woman but a representation of women worldwide and what they had to endure time and time again.
I truly enjoyed reading your blog.
Looking at these two poems describing a natural scene (“A Mid-Summer Noon…” & “Bell-Birds”, say what you think each poet values and how they differ in their appreciation and their expression.
As an art student, I have always tried my best to capture the slightest of details in my work as to make it as authentic as possible. It is something even the best of artists would still struggle with. Having read the amazing works by Charles Harpur and Henry Kendall, I realized I still have a long way to go. Both authors painted a beautiful scenery that is quite vivid and detailed. Even more amazingly, they did it with words.
Harpur’s “A Mid-Summer Noon in the Australian Forest” as a whole can best be summarized with the word: climatic. He started out telling readers about the calm, quiet, almost eery atmosphere the same way an artist would draw the background. All in nature is put on hold, even the most active of beings, in anticipation. Then appears, in such a glorious and majestic manner, the “dragon-hornet” beetle, the focal point of Harpur ‘s written painting. Such a small creature yet it is all we saw, all we noticed. With the quiet as the background, “yon bright beetle” rose bringing life and color. Intellectually and aesthetically pleasing, Harpur gave me a new appreciation for the rare beauty of nature.
In contrast, Henry Kendall’s “Bell-birds” doesn’t just stop at the surface of describing the landscape but also digs deep, emotionally. It possesses a nostalgic feel, with every single word served a purpose of helping readers connect with Kendall. Different from Harpur, Kendall’s focal point lies at the end of the poem rather in the middle. Remembering his childhood in the countryside, Kendall uses it as a tool to help him adjust to the new life in the city. Other than that, he holds onto it dearly for help to get through his own tragedy. I connect to this poem on a personal level, as having moved to Sydney only recently. Everything was new and strange. My mind travelled back to my time in Vietnam automatically almost as a self-defense mechanism. Although not as detailed, I went through what Kendall had gone through, which made me appreciate his work even more.
If Charles Harpur’s poem was a detailed and structured painting celebrating nature then that of Henry Kendall is an abstract artwork using nature to evoke emotions. Both works share similarities yet couldn’t be more different.
“Mid 19th C OZ Poetry”
This is a very detailed and great read. Your interpretation of the poems gave me new insights I had never thought of. I quite enjoyed the way you expressed the contrast between these two works. The down side to this blog is that visually, it is quite bland. You should try to put in photos relating to your ideas so it can be easier for readers to follow. Another thing is your sentences are unnecessarily long. I feel they should be broken down into shorter sentences so that the message can be delivered more clearly.
Describe the impact on you of ONE of the paintings viewed on our tour- talk about how it has opened up your understanding of the key issues in the period we are studying!
This is a painting in 1905 by Antonio Dattilo-Rubbo called “Poverty makes strange bedfellows”. It is currently being displayed in the New South Wales Art Gallery, which I had the honor of seeing in person. The meaning is quite obvious as it is about the economic crisis and how it brought people from all aspects of life together. I find this piece interesting because it makes me feel captivated yet sad at the same time. Those with all the money in the world now shares a bed with those ignored by society. The rich unite with the poor, now only seen as equal human beings. However, this only happened because the money is gone. How hypocritical it is.
I am reminded of Kim Scott’s “That Deadman Dance” and how the European settlers took the innocent aboriginal’s land and exploit it. The settlers saw the land only as it is, as a product, as a money-making machine. Blinded by wealth, they would only realize when all of it is gone. Just like the businessmen in the painting, once deprived of wealth, they are no better than the poor, the unfortunate and the homeless. It makes me wonder, after the crisis had passed, would the businessmen still remember the kind-hearted individuals that welcomed them with open arms and gave them a place to rest or would they just carry on and act like it had never happened. Racism and sexism were still at its highest peak back in the 20th century, so for them to rest aside an elderly woman and a person of color showed how severe the economic crisis had been. Were these entrepreneurs at all grateful or just desperate enough to swallow their pride for a while?
“Hypocrisy” is the word I would use to describe the way I feel about this work. You would never ever see people from two vastly different poles of life come together unless they were absolutely forced to, especially in the past.