By Eavan Boland
This is the hour I love most: the in-between
neither here-no-there hour of evening
The air is tea-colored in the garden.
The briar rose is spilled crepe de Chine.
This is the time 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 worlds 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-open 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,
they 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¡¨. Being a 20th Century female poet, Eavan Boland shows her concern to gender issues in her poems. In this poem, ¡§The Women¡¨, she brings us to know the situation of 20th century women. Boland celebrates the self-value and self-establishment women have in modern society, but also reveals in this poem that women are still under the pressure of social expectation. In this paper, I will use structuralism approach to analyze this poem to see how the word choice, syntax, and rhyme echo with Boland¡¦s depict of woman¡¦s role in the 20th century.
Reading through the poem, we can find out that there are a lot of ¡§Ving¡¨, such as ¡§going¡¨, ¡§carrying¡¨, ¡§leaving¡¨, ¡§bringing¡¨, ¡§getting¡¨, ¡§standing¡¨, and mostly when the poem focuses on the 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 it. The hurry tempo implies the speaker¡¦s busyness¡Xboth in the housework and her own writing¡Xthe in-between position. For many career women, like the speaker, they are always as busy as a bee, because they have to handle not only their own work but also the housework. In other words, modern career women though can enjoy the self-achievement from their jobs, they still have more burdens than men do.
Another characteristic of this poem is the usage of preposition and conjunction. Like ¡§Ving¡¨, preposition is used frequently in this poem. In the 6th stanza, the first line even has three prepositions (into, in, at). Though preposition is very common in writing, this poem still seems to have more prepositions than what I have read before. I think the usage of preposition corresponds to ¡§Ving¡¨ and helps to build a sense of hurriedness, because most prepositions can be pronounced quickly, like ¡§in¡¨, ¡§or¡¦, ¡§of¡¨. Preposition itself can not provide long syllables, so while we are reading so many prepositions, our speed is getting faster and faster. With the usage of ¡§Ving¡¨ and preposition, this poem successfully portraits the rustling situation of 20th century women. Similarly, Boland sometimes use the conjunction continuously. Like in the 5th stanza, ¡§who ran from the split hoof and the thick lips and fell and grieved and healed into myth¡¨, there are four conjunctions in these two lines. Again, there are three conjunctions in the 7th stanza. The continuous usage of conjunction in a stanza creates an atmosphere of desperateness, just like something keeps emerging to the speaker and readers. The sense of hurriedness is stressed deeply again with those continuous conjunctions. With the usage of ¡§Ving¡¨, prepositions, and conjunctions, this poem brings us to know women really live tensely in 20th century. Women though have more freedom than before, they still can not get rid of certain social expectation; at least, housework is still supposed to be women¡¦s duty.
Women¡¦s busyness preoccupies their lives, especially the housework. Doing housecleaning is a boring routine that requires women to repeat the same things, such as washing clothes or dishes. In certain way, those routines of housework kill women¡¦s creativity and their ego. In this poem, the showing of subject, ¡§I¡¨, hints that women¡¦s sense of self is drowned in the routine of housework. At the beginning, the speaker claims that ¡§this is the hour ¡¥I¡¦ love¡¨ and ¡§This is the time ¡¥I¡¦ do my work best¡¨, a very strong sense of being a complete ¡§I¡¨ is exposed. In the last three stanzas, however, no subject is shown; the ¡§I¡¨ is totally vanished. In the middle of the poem, there are still ¡§me¡¨ or ¡§my¡¨, but at the end no such words appear. The last three stanzas are all about the speaker¡¦s going downstairs again to do the mountainous housework. Unlike writing, the housework has no space for the speaker to develop her own talent and creativity, therefore, the strong sense of ¡§I¡¨ has to be oppressed. Put among housework, women are not allowed to show any ego, character, and personality. ¡§The last brightness¡¨ in the last line of 7th stanza is the reflection of the speaker¡¦s mood, because she knows when she goes downstairs, she is only a wife, who has to manage the boring housework.
Women are tied to housework, but Boland¡¦s syntax and rhyme in this poem try to offer relaxation and freedom to women. The characteristic of Boland¡¦s syntax in this poem is the balanced sentences. Many sentences have their ¡§companion¡¨, which is also provided with a very similar grammatical structure. Beginning with the second stanza, we see ¡§carrying¡K, leaving¡K, bringing¡K.¡¨; in the third stanza, we see ¡§The hour of¡K, of¡K, of¡K.¡¨; in the 4th stanza, we see ¡§women of ¡K, of¡K, of¡K, in¡K, in¡K, in¡K, with¡K, with¡K, with¡K¡¨; in the 5th stanza, we see ¡§who¡K, who¡K.¡¨ Other stanzas though do not have so obvious paralleling sentences, their sentences are still kind of similar to each other. Boland¡¦s syntax in this poem strikes a balance for the desperateness created by continuous usage of preposition, ¡§Ving¡¨, and conjunctions, because it provides more punctuation. In other words, it slows down our speed of reading. Women¡¦s hurriedness is balanced in this kind of syntax; women are not that hurry any more. Moreover, this poem is not rhymed strictly, only the third stanza has regular rhyme. Boland gives her writing certain freedom, just like she is freeing women from the burden of housework. At least, for those women in her poem, they do not need to follow the strict rules.
Intending to strike a balance for women in 20th century, Boland¡¦s main ¡§weapon¡¨ is her writing. However, readers are aware of Boland¡¦s getting involving in the ¡§in-between position¡¨, just like other women do. The time of her own writing, as the speaker says in the third stanza, is ¡§the hour of change, of metamorphosis, of shape-shifting instabilities.¡¨ The speaker¡¦s tone shows her energy and creativity while she is concentrating herself on writing. Somehow, this line also reveals a strong message of changing one¡¦s self, which hints the speaker¡¦s two different roles in her life. One is a writer, the other is a wife. Furthermore, the two symbolic actions in this poem are ¡§going upstairs¡¨ and ¡§going downstairs¡¨, which present not only the speaker¡¦s physical location but also psychological mood. Going upstairs is to do literary creation, so the speaker is in ¡§high¡¨ spirits; going downstairs, on the other hand, is to do the boring and mountainous housework, the energy and spirits are ¡§low.¡¨ Boland¡¦s different mood of ¡§going upstairs¡¨ and ¡§going downstairs¡¨ is the reflection of women in modern society. Having a job, women grasp the chance to show their potential and ability, but they are still under the pressure of social expectation.