Sunday, March 12, 2017

Poetry Sunday: To the Indifferent Women

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a prominent American feminist, sociologist and writer of the late 19th and early 20th century. She wrote poetry, nonfiction, and short stories, the most famous of which, The Yellow Wallpaper, is the story of a woman who suffers from mental illness and is locked in a room by her husband, supposedly for the sake of her health. The room featured a revolting yellow wallpaper with which the woman became obsessed. The story was based in part on Gilman's own experience with a bout of severe postpartum depression. 

I found this poem of hers last week on a poetry website that celebrated women poets in honor of Women's History Month. I found it very meaningful for the times in which we live, particularly that third stanza:

The one first duty of all human life 
Is to promote the progress of the world 
In righteousness, in wisdom, truth and love; 
And you ignore it, hidden in your homes, 
Content to keep them in uncertain peace, 
Content to leave all else without your care

Let us not be indifferent women. Instead let us "Unite to raise the standard of the world."


To The Indifferent Women

by Charlotte Anna Perkins Gilman

Related Poem Content Details

A Sestina
You who are happy in a thousand homes, 
Or overworked therein, to a dumb peace; 
Whose souls are wholly centered in the life 
Of that small group you personally love; 
Who told you that you need not know or care 
About the sin and sorrow of the world? 

Do you believe the sorrow of the world 
Does not concern you in your little homes? — 
That you are licensed to avoid the care 
And toil for human progress, human peace, 
And the enlargement of our power of love 
Until it covers every field of life? 

The one first duty of all human life 
Is to promote the progress of the world 
In righteousness, in wisdom, truth and love; 
And you ignore it, hidden in your homes, 
Content to keep them in uncertain peace, 
Content to leave all else without your care. 

Yet you are mothers! And a mother's care 
Is the first step toward friendly human life. 
Life where all nations in untroubled peace 
Unite to raise the standard of the world 
And make the happiness we seek in homes 
Spread everywhere in strong and fruitful love. 

You are content to keep that mighty love 
In its first steps forever; the crude care 
Of animals for mate and young and homes, 
Instead of pouring it abroad in life, 
Its mighty current feeding all the world 
Till every human child can grow in peace. 

You cannot keep your small domestic peace 
Your little pool of undeveloped love, 
While the neglected, starved, unmothered world 
Struggles and fights for lack of mother's care, 
And its tempestuous, bitter, broken life 
Beats in upon you in your selfish homes. 

We all may have our homes in joy and peace 
When woman's life, in its rich power of love 
Is joined with man's to care for all the world. 

6 comments:

  1. It is so timely and true! It seems to have been written today.

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    1. That was my sentiment exactly when I first read it.

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  2. The Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, "defined by acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world." This poem states this concept so well - we must look past the borders of our own little worlds.

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  3. Great! It made me think that women raised by such mothers (not me!) only have that example and so it perpetuates.

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    1. Maybe it's true that we all become our mothers in the end.

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