Woman to Man


The author of this text is the Australian poet Judith Wright.
The title of this text is Woman To Man.
The form of this text is a poem. The visual appearance of the text on the page indicates to us that it is a poem: it is positioned in the centre of the page and it is made up of uniform sections, or stanzas. The form is more constrained than that of a novel, which runs freely across the page from left to right. The text also utilises formal poetic features, such as: multiple stanzas containing equal numbers of lines; line breaks between stanzas; and a regular number of beats per line. The knowledge that Judith Wright is a well-known poet adds to the evidence that this is a poem.
This text has more than one intended audience. The primary audience is Judith Wright's husband. It is a well-known fact (in literary circles) that Wright addressed this poem to her husband when she was pregnant with one of their children. The intimate nature of this exchange between Wright and her husband is evident in her use of personal pronouns: "?you and I have known it well"; "?your arm?"; "?my breast?". The second intended audience is every woman and every man, as an expression of something from every woman to every man. The title Woman To Man makes the poem universal, more than just a poem from Judith Wright to her husband. There are no names given to the woman and the man within the world of the poem. The experience of 'the Woman' becomes the experience of 'every woman'. The third audience for this text is the literati ? the world of literature. Judith Wright is a well-known Australian poet; this poem has been published many times; this poem obviously did not stay between Wright and her husband. The poem displays the poet's highly technical and sophisticated control over language: this skill has been analysed in essays and studied in schools for years. The poem requires an intelligent and educated audience to appreciate its poetic proficiency.
Wright's purpose in writing this text was to articulate her feelings about her unborn child and its creation. On one level this was an announcement to her husband about the procreative act: "?the third who lay in our embrace" and the mystery of the operations of life, "?silent, swift and deep from sight?". She reveals, to her husband, her emotions about the child they have created, as it grows inside her. However, Wright has also taken a feminist stance by speaking about conception, pregnancy and childbirth in an era when women did not speak of such things publicly. Her purpose is not only to reveal her emotions to her husband, but to reveal her emotions to the world.
We need to consider the social context of the poem. Woman To Man was written in 1949. During the post-war years Australia was experiencing a period of affluence. Men were enjoying their role as 'breadwinner' and the 'traditional' place for women was in the home with the children. While Wright, on one level, is tenderly revealing her emotions about her 'yet to be born' child she is also taking a feminist stance. She is being up front and confrontational by speaking so openly about the act of sexual intercourse, conception, pregnancy and birth. This was something that was 'not done' in 1949.
The physical and emotional context of pregnancy and its effect on Wright also needs to be considered. Wright was heavily pregnant at the time of writing the poem. Her body had undergone many physical changes and she was on the verge of giving birth. The physical experience of the child in her womb ("?the blind head butting in the dark?") and the emotional experience of pregnancy would have been a major part of her life during the time in which she wrote Woman To Man.
I have never experienced pregnancy. The context of my reading of the poem cannot include first-hand knowledge of pregnancy: my reading of this text is shaped by the knowledge I have gleaned from textbooks, school lectures and conversations with pregnant friends. The closest I have been to experiencing the intense emotions expressed by Wright is through my experience of my mother's pregnancy with my younger sister. However, I believe that the physical side of pregnancy cannot