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.