By Eavan Bolland
This is the hour I love most: the in-between
neither here-nor-there hour of evening
The air is tea-colored in the garden.
The Briar rose is spilled crepe de Chine.
This is the time I do my work best,
going up the stairs in two minds,
in two worlds, carrying cloth or glass,
leaving something behind, bringing
something with me I should have left behind.
The hour of change, of metamorphosis,
of shape-shifting instabilities.
My time of sixth sense and second sight
when in the words I choose, the lines I write,
they rise like visions and appear to me:
women of work, of leisure, of the night,
in stove-colored silks, in lace, in nothing,
with crewel needles, with books, with wide-opened legs,
who fled the hot breath of the god pursuing,
who ran from the split hoof and the thick lips
and fell and grieved and healed into myth,
into me in the evening at my desk
testing the water with a sweet quartet,
the physical force of a dissonance¡X
the fission of music into syllabic heat¡X
and getting sick of it and standing up
and going downstairs in the last brightness
into a landscape without emphasis,
light, linear, precisely planned,
a hemisphere of tiered, aired cotton,
a hot terrain of linen from the iron,
folded in and over, stacked high,
neatened flat, stoving heat and white.
As the title suggests, this poem inevitably talks about ¡§women¡¨. Eavan Boland, who always holds a strong sensibility to women¡¦s situation, attempts to examine what¡¦s the meaning of being a woman. With economic independence and education, woman¡¦s status nowadays is exalted, and we think women in this era must free themselves totally, but is it true? The answer given by this poem is ¡§No¡¨. Piercing into career women¡¦s dilemma between job and housework, this poem lays bare our illusion of women¡¦s enjoying freedom, and goes further to expose that women nowadays still struggle for their ego and self-awareness, not only in the past, but also at present.
The binary oppositions of this poem are all developed from the relationship between man and woman. Deriving from the long-term binary opposition of man/woman, modern society still defines gender role binarily, which is the cause of other binary oppositions in women¡¦s role. First of all is housewife/career woman, which leads to housework/woman¡¦s own work (or ¡§hobby). Under social expectation, woman most of the time will volunteerly be responsible for the housecleaning. Like the speaker, though knows that ¡§this is the hour I do my work best¡¨, her mind is still occupied with the housecleaning work so that she finds herself ¡§carrying cloth or glass¡¨ at last. Therefore, physical freedom/spiritual freedom is another binary opposition. For the speaker, she is physically free since she is alone in the house, but she is not spiritually free, because her mind is still bounded to housework. More interesting, in the first stanza, the speaker unconsciously use food image to describe the landscape, like ¡§tea-colored¡¨ and ¡§crepe de Chine¡¨. Food has related to women for a long time, because cooking is also supposed to be women¡¦s duty. Ironically, cooking, as one of women¡¦s duty, even influences a female poet¡¦s image usage.
The arrangement of this poem is intentionally to correspond the theme, including the number of line in each stanza, the rhyme. The number of line in each stanza is 4-5-5-3-3-3-3-3-3. The 5-5, the second and third stanza, are both about Boland¡¦s best time for her writing, and the 3-3-3-3-3-3 (from 4th to 9th stanza) creates a sense of routine. Therefore, the number of line in this poem is the representative of Boland¡¦s energy chart; the 5-5 is her most energetic time in writing, and the 3-3-3-3-3-3 is the routine of housework. Furthermore, we see 5-5 is sandwished between 4 and 3, echoing to what the speaker says, the ¡§in-between¡¨ time. Also, this poem doesn¡¦t have regular rhymes; the rhyme of each stanza mostly shifts, or sometimes is not rhymed at all, especially the three-line stanzas. But then, the third stanza is /a/ /a/ /b/ /b/ /c/, therefore, the whole poem is put in a certain ambiguous rhyme, a ¡§in-between¡¨ again. At last, reading through this poem, we can see a lot of ¡§Ving¡¨, such as ¡§going¡¨, ¡§carrying¡¨, ¡§leaving¡¨, ¡§bringing¡¨, ¡§getting¡¨, ¡§standing¡¨, and mostly when the poem focus on speaker herself, Boland uses ¡§Ving¡¨ to describe the action and movement. The frequently usage of ¡§Ving¡¨ creates a very quick speed and emergence while readers are reading. This hurry tempo implies woman¡¦s situation is as busy as a bee, both in her work and her house.
Though the title is ¡§The Women¡¨, and Boland herself is judged from a third person point of view; however, readers are aware of Boland¡¦s getting involving in what she called ¡§the women¡¨, because she also encounters one of modern women¡¦s dilemmas in her daily life. Women are always put ¡§in-between¡¨, in-between of child and career, in-between of housecleaning and her own hobby, in-between of chasing and threat, and the line of in-between is always fine that women don¡¦t know if they should go forward or step back. Therefore, most of women are always ¡§in two minds¡¨ to face their lives.