Sunday, January 20, 2013

Judith Wright, Naked Girl and Mirror

This is not I. I had no body once-
only what served my need to laugh and run
and stare at stars and tentatively dance
on the fringe of foam and wave and sand and sun.
Eyes loved, hands reached for me, but I was gone
on my own currents, quicksilver, thistledown.
Can I be trapped at last in that soft face?

I stare at you in fear, dark brimming eyes.
Why do you watch me with that immoderate plea-
'Look under these curled lashes, recognize
that you were always here; know me-be me.'
Smooth once-hermaphrodite shoulders, too tenderly
your long slope runs, above those sudden shy
curves furred with light that spring below your space.

No, I have been betrayed. If I had known
that this girl waited between a year and a year,
I'd not have chosen her bough to dance upon.
Betrayed, by that little darkness here, and here
this swelling softness and that frightened stare
from eyes I will not answer; shut out here
from my own self, by its new body's grace-

for I am betrayed by someone lovely. Yes,
I see you are lovely, hateful naked girl.
Your lips in the mirror tremble as I refuse
to know or claim you. Let me go-let me be gone.
You are half of some other who may never come.
Why should I tend you? You are not my own;
you seek that other-he will be your home.

Yet I pity your eyes in the mirror, misted with tears;
I lean to your kiss. I must serve you; I will obey.
Some day we may love. I may miss your going, some day,
though I shall always resent your dumb and fruitful years.
Your lovers shall learn better, and bitterly too,
if their arrogance dares to think I am part of you.

1. Did this poem evoke memories of adolescence? How did it alter your remembered perceptions or help you see those memories or experiences in a new light?

It reminded me more of getting older, the idea of being betrayed by your body. IT is odd that she feels betrayed by "lovely", when I was more frustrated by what I saw as no lovely enough. But the idea of your body not being your own resonated.

2. What words or images captured your imagination or remained with you? Why?

"I have been betrayed", "shut out from my own self", "lovely, hateful naked girl" "Why should I tend you? You are not my own; / you seek that other - he will be your home.", "I must serve you; I will obey."

3. Identify your feelings at the end of the poem: sadness? celebration? fear? Then return to the poem and find evidence that confirms your (multiple) responses.

Pity and a sense that she is wrong, that she will learn to be "part of you".

1. Is the movement between past, present, and future suggestive of this difficulty?

The future section seemed to retrain the resentment and repulsion towards the body that suggests to me that the perspective is a younger, less mature one. There seems to be no reconciliation with the body that I feel would come with time.

2. Does the voice in the poem know too much (or too little) about the "dumb and fruitful" future of the body that must be obeyed?

The line "I may miss your going" seems young to me, written before the body starts to get older and worn and you do, in fact, miss its going. Also the association of the lovers only with the body suggests to me that the poet isn't writing from the perspective of having had more mature relationships that involve more than the physical aspect.

In particular, the voice in the poem seems to know too little - the voice idealizes childhood as if it was only a carefree time of joy and as if the child never has any conflict between physical self and mind. Judith Wright had a daughter later and I feel that she must have been aware that childhood is not like that and that children too have complicated relationships with their bodies and their control over them. The voice also seems to be less knowledgeable about the future - "I must serve you; I will obey" suggests that the voice isn't considering the option of enjoying the experiences of the body in the future.

3. How does one explain the contradiction between a self that refuses to own its burgeoning flesh and a self that can project how its unknown lovers would react to what she has always known--she must serve and obey the body that has never been "me"?

Perhaps by objectifying her own physical self, she sees that it will be done in the future by her lovers.

4. Read this blog: . Comment on the writer’s perspective on the poem. Does it reflect your own?

The blogger's perspective is that "the walls of age crumble and I am 13 again, gazing into a mirror, raw, trembling on the cusp of womanhood." My initial reading of the poem made me more think of an body aging at a later date, of the sense that the mind still feels young, but the aches and pains separate it into an older, other. Upon rereading I was struck more by the fact that the persona's hatred seems directed at the body's loveliness and unlike the blogger, that didn't bring me back to my 13 year old self, who saw only the body's flaws. However, on a third read, I identified with the sense of being led by the body and feeling a lack of control over it that I did sense when I was 13.

Some poetic features worth noting are the sustained conceit of shadows and reflections, the alliterative effects based on both letters and sounds (stars, sand, sun, fringe, foam, currents, quicksilver), the imperfect rhyme scheme, the hidden conceit that pursues natural or creaturely imagery--foam and wave and sand and sun; currents ... thistledown; curves furred; this girl as the bough to dance upon (as the precarious foundation for her true self); fruitful--, imperatives, interrogatives (some may be rhetorical), declaratives, and subjunctives, transferred epithets such as "shy curves" and so on.

1. Why or how are these poetic features important to the meaning of the poem?

There is an interesting contract between the use of nature to express her joy in the first stanza and then her alienation from the natural processes of her own body. I found that the interrogatives and the shadows/relections made me feel that by turning herself into an object to gaze on, she sees that others will do the same.

Another of her other poems seem to contain similar mind/body division. In "Ishtar" she says "When in fear I became a woman"..."it is not my mind you are concerned with"..."You neither know nor care for the truth of my heart; / but the truth of my body has all to do with you. / You have no need of my thoughts or my hopes, / living in the realm of the absolute event."

A line from "Two Dreamtimes", "in a land I thought was mine for life", also calls this poem to mind. In both there is a contrast between how things were and how things are now, with now being worse. That line suggests to me that perhaps the worse is at least in part the result of a change to something that she thought would stay the same, stay hers for life. In "Naked Girl and Mirror" perhaps some of the resentment comes from a balking at the changes of a body - for don't we all tend to think of our body now as being who we are and the changes to it making us less like who we are?

No comments: