Women's Literature from 1900 to 1960: Primary Sources

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SOURCE: Lowell, Amy. "The Captured Goddess." In Sword Blades and Poppy Seed. New York: Macmillan, 1914.

In the following poem, the narrator evokes a figure of divinity and mystical experience through descriptions of flowers, colors, and stones, but then withdraws in shock as the goddess figure is bound by men and offered for sale in the marketplace.


Over the housetops
Above the rotating chimney-pots,
I have seen a shiver of amethyst,
And blue and cinnamon have flickered
A moment,
At the far end of a dusty street.
Through sheeted rain
Has come a lustre of crimson,
And I have watched moonbeams
Hushed by a film of palest green.
It was her wings,
Who stepped over the clouds,
And laid her rainbow feathers
Aslant on the currents of the air.
I followed her for long,
With gazing eyes and stumbling feet.
I cared not where she led me,
My eyes were full of colours:
Saffrons, rubies, the yellows of beryls,
And the indigo-blue of quartz;
Flights of rose, layers of chrysoprase,
Points of orange, spirals of vermilion,
The spotted gold of tiger-lily petals,
The loud pink of bursting hydrangeas.
I followed,
And watched for the flashing of her wings.
In the city I found her,
The narrow-streeted city.
In the market-place I came upon her,
Bound and trembling.
Her fluted wings were fastened to her sides with cords,
She was naked and cold,
For that day the wind blew
Without sunshine.
Men chaffered for her,
They bargained in silver and gold,
In copper, in wheat,
And called their bids across the market-place.
The Goddess wept.
Hiding my face I fled,
And the grey wind hissed behind me,
Along the narrow streets.


SOURCE: Teasdale, Sara. "If Death Is Kind." In Flame and Shadow. New York: Macmillan, 1920.

In the following poem, originally written in 1919, the speaker ruminates on the subject of death and the afterlife.

Perhaps if Death is kind, and there can be returning,
We will come back to earth some fragrant night,
And take these lanes to find the sea, and bending
Breathe the same honeysuckle, low and white.
We will come down at night to these resounding beaches
And the long gentle thunder of the sea,
Here for a single hour in the wide starlight
We shall be happy, for the dead are free.


[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]


SOURCE: Chona, Maria. "The Autobiography of a Papago Woman," edited by Ruth Underhill. Memoirs of the American Anthropological Association 46 (1936): 36-7.

Chona was born in Mesquite Root, a Papago village in the Spanish province of Upper Pimeria, now Arizona. Daughter to Con Quien, a village governor, Chona was a noted basketweaver and medicine woman, and possessed extensive knowledge of tribal affairs, customs, and traditions. The following excerpt is from chapter six in her autobiographical account of her life.


My father said to me: "Look, my girl. We are going to marry you, over at that house."


ISAK DINESEN (1885-1962)

Born Karen Christentze Dinesen in 1885 in Rungsted, Denmark, Isak Dinesen was an author acclaimed for her poetic prose style, complex characters, and intricate plots. She is best known for Seven Gothic Tales (1934)—a collection of short stories written in a romantic style and employing fantasy to explore aristocratic sensibilities and values—and the autobiographical novel Den afrikanske farm (1937; Out of Africa). Dinesen studied English at Oxford University and painting at the Royal Academies in Copenhagen, Paris, and Rome. Following her marriage to Baron Bror Blixen-Finecke in 1914, Dinesen moved to East Africa as the owner and manager of a coffee plantation near present-day Nairobi, Kenya. After the death of her lover Denys Finch-Hatton and the eventual sale of her farm in 1931, Dinesen returned to Denmark. Out of Africa presents Dinesen's experiences as a British East African coffee plantation owner, her relationship with the Africans who lived and worked on and around her plantation, her divorce from Blixen, her affair with Finch-Hatton, and the ultimate failure of her coffee enterprise. Dinesen became a founding member of the Danish Academy in 1960 and died in Rungsted in 1962. Dinesen's views on feminism and women's issues are related in her posthumously-published works, such as Breve fra Afrika 1914-31 (1978; Letters from Africa: 1914-1931), a collection of her correspondence, and Daguerreotypes, and Other Essays (1979).

He did not say the boy's name out of modesty, just motioned with his lips eastward down the valley. The place he meant was Where the Water Whirls Around, where I went with my clay jars every time our pond went dry. I knew every house there and the people in them. I knew who the marriageable young man was. It was the medicine man's son. I had never spoken to him; I had never spoken to any young men except relatives and of course we do not marry relatives. But my breasts were getting large, now. That is how we know when a girl should marry. "They ought to be used for something," we say.

So my father and mother had been consulting. It must have been when I was asleep at night for I had not heard them. They had decided on a man to ask and then my father had sent my mother to tell my aunts and uncles about it. They all approved. They had not told the boy yet. That is done last of all. But of course no man would refuse, even if he already had a first wife. It would not be polite.

My father went on talking to me in a low voice. That is how our people always talk to their children, so low and quiet the child thinks he is dreaming it. But he never forgets.

"We want you to behave yourself as we have always taught you to. Stay there in the right way. Don't wait for your mother-in-law to tell you what to do. Get up early, find wheat, grind flour. If you can't make tortillas, have flour ready for her to make them. You stay right there and make your home there. It has been here, but now you belong there. Stay home, don't run around. Do your work, carry the wood, cook something, whatever there is. Any work you see, you do it.

"Don't go off to people's houses and walk around and gossip. Gossip may spoil a good home. That husband of yours, listen to him. Don't talk when he's talking, for he is like a chief to you. Don't beg him to take you with him here and there, but if he wants you to go, go whether you feel like it or not. Don't one day get mad at your mother-in-law or father-in-law. Don't think you can get mad and run home. A day will come when your husband will want to visit us and will bring you. Now that's your home and if good luck is with you, you will grow old and die there. This is the way it is. Now I'm going over to tell the boy's father and mother."

So my father went to those peoples' house, down Where the Water Whirls Around.

"Your son is industrious and I have an industrious daughter. Shall we marry them?"

No one can say anything but yes to such a question. If they really thought the girl was lazy and bad, they would try to be away from home. But they were very distant relatives and, of course, someone had told them what was being talked about. They said: "Very well."


AMY LOWELL (1874-1925)

Amy Lowell is remembered for her forceful theorizing on poetics, her eccentric, outspoken personality, and her iconoclastic approach to poetic form. Although she was Ezra Pound's successor as chief advocate of Imagism—a movement that stressed clarity and succinctness in presenting the poetic image—Lowell is herself generally categorized as a minor, though versatile, poet, whose work displays occasional bursts of brilliance. Influenced in both style and theme by her studies of Far Eastern verse, she also sought to liberate poetry from the strictures of meter, using as her vehicles free verse, polyphonic prose, and haiku. Lowell was born in 1874 into the socially prominent, affluent Lowell family of Boston, Massachusetts. In later years, the proper, conservative values Lowell acquired in her youth clashed with her naturally independent and domineering personality, creating an unresolved conflict that is reflected in her life and work. In her late twenties Lowell decided to become a poet. In 1913 she met Pound and immediately embraced Imagism, a style she first employed in her collection Sword Blades and Poppy Seed (1914). With this widely acclaimed work, Lowell moved to the forefront of American poetry, a position from which she lent support to other writers, among them D. H. Lawrence. During the next decade, she wrote several books of criticism and over six hundred poems, edited three Imagist anthologies, and became a popular speaker at American universities. Accompanying Lowell during her last years was Ada Russell, a former actress who became Lowell's secretary, close friend and inspiration for several love poems. Lowell died in 1925, shortly after completing John Keats, a biography of the poet whom she saw as her greatest influence. What's O'Clock, a collection of what is viewed as the best of Lowell's late work, was posthumously published and awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1926.

My father told them: "I'm going to see that my daughter behaves herself. You watch her, too, and make sure that she follows my training." They said: "That is what we feel about our son. We have talked to him long enough; he should know his duty. See that he follows it and so will we."

So they sent the boy to our house so that in my first nights with a man I could have my mother near. Before he came, my mother said: "If he wants anything, don't be afraid of him. That's why we are having you marry."

But I was very much afraid. I did not go and hide in the granary basket, the way one of my friends did. That was Rustling Leaves, but she was being married to an old medicine man who had her three sisters as wives already. My husband was a boy, not much older than I and he had no other wives. Only, when I thought of him, fear ran through me like a snake. He used to come to our house after dark, because it would not be modest for him to sit and eat with our family by daylight. And when morning stood up he went away. That's how I was married.

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Women's Literature from 1900 to 1960: Primary Sources

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Women's Literature from 1900 to 1960: Primary Sources