Women Poets Live and Write, Ask and Wonder, Travel About and Travel On
From Northampton in the Kingdom of England in 1612 to her last home in North Andover in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1672, Anne Bradstreet writes as one of the first women in the Colonies. She dares to wonder: “Why is there no rhet’ric we women expect? Why is there no rhet’ric we expect of women? Do we not now live in a New Land where all voices may be raised and heard? Is this not the finest meaning of Freedom?”
In 1757, one hundred years after Anne’s death, Mary Darby Robinson begins her life journey in Bristol, in the Kingdom of Great Britain. Robinson’s tragic travels deliver her to an early death in 1800 in Englefield Green, Surrey. Robinson’s sad life informs her responses to Bradstreet’s questions. Thus, with a deep sigh, Robinson bewails, “Because we women dwell far too long — left to wallow in our own Caves of Woe and Solitude.”
Thirty years after Robinson lays to rest across The Pond, Emily Dickinson arises — and remains from 1830 to 1886 — within the confines of her home in Amherst, in what becomes the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Dickinson too asks, “Why do we find such Ransom in our Voices? Why do we use Language as Infinite Defense? And why, stroking the melody, do we wonder: Is this the way? What have we to show — today?”
Gertrude Stein appears in 1874 in Pittsburgh, forty-odd years after Dickinson and five hundred miles southwest in Pennsylvania. Stein becomes an expatriate in Paris, France. Before she finishes life there in 1946, she forms a response to her sister-poets. Stein’s explanation, a bit incoherent at first, boils down to this: “there are too many types of obscurity in life, language, identity: after all we know a rose is just a rose that arose.”
Hilda Doolittle also appears at first in Pennsylvania, but in Bethlehem, about three hundred miles east of Stein’s birthplace. Doolittle uses a pen name and becomes known as H.D. She also considers the questions that came before her. H.D. states, “Yes, it does demand all our visionary powers to defy fractures that attempt to define and limit us.” H.D. dies in 1961 in Zurich, Switzerland, four hundred miles southeast of Stein’s Paris.
Another American, Marianne Moore arrives just one year after H.D. in 1887, but hails from Kirkwood in Missouri, one thousand miles west of H.D.’s birthplace in Bethlehem. Moore picks up the threads of literary questions. In New York City, Moore writes till her end in 1972. With Emphatic Reticence, she demands: “What is the source of Feminine Language? Why, poetry is all nouns and verbs. Our thorns may be the best parts of us.”
Louise Bogan emerges ten years after Moore, but fourteen hundred miles northeast in Livermore Falls in Maine. Bogan too works the thorny themes of women. She describes women artists as Alchemists who travel the Landscape and take up the Quest. Two years before Moore passes, Bogan ends her poet-trek in New York City in 1970. She offers this as she leaves: “The Initial Mystery that attends any journey is how did the traveler reach her starting point in the first place? Yes, women poets, perhaps this instant is our time.”
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Susan Powers Bourne
Tiferet | Twenty-Nine
Prose poem mined from
Women Poets: 1650-1960
Ed. Harold Bloom, 2002.