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”Woman Work” by Maya Angelou

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  • Pages: 7
  • Word count: 1517
  • Category: Poems

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The poem Woman Work is written by Maya Angelou and depicts the daily routine of a black woman in the southern states of America whereas the poem overheard In County Sligo is a poem set in Ireland written by Gillian Clarke. The poem tells the story of an Irish housewife and her unattainable dreams.

Woman Work asks us to consider the black woman’s plea as we hear of the gruelling routine she faces everyday. This woman does not have many wishes; she just strives for a break in her day and dreams of returning to her African home country. We do not know if she has ever been to Africa but she considers it her home. The poem asks us to think about all the things we take for granted as we all have such big aspirations whilst this woman just yearns for a rest. In contrast to this the poem women work tries to make us realise how much women were expected to give up in the early 19th century to become housewives. They were expected to give up their dreams and aspirations and the opportunities of a career for women weren’t really there. As in woman work the female character in this poem asks us to hear her plea and listen to all her lost dreams and similar to woman work she feels like a slave in her own home.

Woman work has five stanzas as does over heard in county Sligo. The first in woman work describes her daily routine and the four after reflect on her dreams and aspirations for life. In comparison to this stanzas in overheard explore the woman’s situation, dreams and ambiguity, the lady In woman work does not portray ambiguity whereas the lady in county Sligo is said to “live in the lap of the land, in the back of beyond”. For some people this would be paradise but for her it is like prison; she craves the bustle of a city. The stanzas in woman work are not all the same lengths. The first stanza is long the rest have a pattern of four lines each. The first is longer because it reflects upon her daily routine, long with no breaks, whereas her dreams are put across in the last 4 stanzas and they are smaller and less demanding. This is not the case for overheard; the stanzas are all consistently 4 lines long.

Both poems are written in the first person, this really helps us emphasise with the women’s feelings and situations. For each poem a lot of dialect and vocabulary are used native to the countries these women are living in, Ireland and Southern America. In over heard it is more the names of places in Ireland which let us know the poem is set there whereas in woman work there is a lot of strong southern American dialect being used. A perfect example of this is the title of the poem “woman work.” To us this phrase is grammatically incorrect. The poet uses the phrase ” cane to be cut” this is a direct link to slavery and helps us believe she is African.

Overheard uses a cyclical effect to great use. The phrase “I married a man from county Roscommon” is used in the beginning of the first stanza and at the end of the last stanza. It changes its tone when it is used the second time to sound sarcastic on the verge of being cynical whereas in the first stanza it is meant to sound quite idyllic. The first stanza of woman work does not use punctuation neither does overheard. I believe that it is not used purposely in woman work because it reflects upon her hectic schedule in which she has no time for her self. In comparison to this when the woman is talking about her dreams punctuation is used, as if her dreams take her to another place in which she can rest, we also gather this from the repeated use of the word rest. Overheard also uses more punctuation whilst talking about the woman’s dreams.

The main use of imagery is natural or images of nature in both poems. The effect it has on the women though is the complete opposite of each other. In overheard nature is an indication of the prison this woman feels she is in. She hates nature and she strives to get away from it, she is cynical towards nature and the countryside. It’s almost as if she’s blaming nature or taking her anger out on nature for her failed dreams. This is certainly not the case for woman work. Mature is what comforts this woman and in this poem nature is portrayed as an indication of purity and beauty. Nature is used constantly throughout the last four stanzas whilst she is talking about her dreams and she comments “your all I can call my own” as if nature is her escape and her only happiness in life, she loves nature in comparison to the hate the woman in overheard feels for it. Woman work contrasts the hectic life she leads and the calmness she strives for whereas overheard contrasts her dreams to her lifestyle.

The poems both have a rhyme scheme but differ in consistency. Overheard has a very regular consistent abcb rhyme scheme, the way its so regular reflects the regularity of her daily lifestyle. In comparison to this Woman work does not maintain a consistent rhyme scheme, the first stanza has the rhyme scheme aa,bb,cc whilst the remaining stanzas have a a,b,c,b rhyme scheme. It also lacks a consistent rhythm or metre unlike overheard which displays a song like rhythm throughout, but this irregular rhythm does reflect upon the mood of the poem. In the beginning its alot faster, like the lifestyle she currently leads, and then the rhythm slows down as she talks of the slower paced lifestyle she would like to lead.

Overheard does not use any sound techniques like onomatopoeia or alliteration which I believe would have added to the overall effect and woman work also lacks greatly in sound techniques although there are a few cases of such as “cane, cut” and “fry” again words that are all very closely linked back to American culture.

The woman in overheard feels she should be appreciative but deep down she craves something more because she is very creative and ambitious. She feels her dreams and identity have been taken from her and this is making her very cynical towards the life she is leading. In the first half of the poem the woman’s life seems bearable and a lifestyle some people would strive for but after the third stanza the poem takes a sharp turn and the woman starts to become bitter and resentful towards the life she has become entwined in. During Woman work there is a subtle irony running throughout. This ladies cultural background is that of slavery, her culture and people were brought over from Africa as slave, but because this woman is of a different generation she isn’t an actual slave but yet she still feels as though she is.

What’s also ironic is that after everything that happened with slavery black men began to treat their wives as slaves within their own homes, women they were supposed to love. Woman work gives a very sad, solemn tone as it decribes this woman who has nothing to call her own and is treated as a slave inside her own home, all she strives for is a rest, and yet even with all the hardship she faces a sense of embitterment is not put across once. People reading both poems would notice that the lady in woman work is submitting a heart felt plea whereas the woman in county Sligo has a wavering appeal. Although we know she is unhappy it is also brought to our attention that “the freedom is there for the taking” showing us without a doubt that this woman could actually leave and begin a new. If she is so unhappy in her life why is she not taking this chance for freedom?

Of the two poems I preferred woman work by Maya Angelou I enjoyed it and the way it was written really helped me to empathise with the woman’s feelings and situation. The use of nature as a comfort to the woman was an excellent technique and the poem made me take a lot of things into consideration. In contrast to this I didn’t warm towards the character in overheard and I did not really enjoy the poem to a great extent. I did like the colloquial conversational way in which it was writtten, almost as if a fictional character was being created. I didn’t really empathise greatly with the character though and I found her very difficult to understand, she was almost contradicting. Both poems portrayed the other cultures well and really put across a sense of oppression to women by men, I think overheard could have you some more language techniques to make it stronger but they were both good poems.

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