Monday, January 28, 2008

Poetic metaphor - the gender bias

Silbury Hill

I think Gaia was a virgin
when the men came
took their dreams out
and buried them deep inside her
Then they wandered the fields bewildered
carved circles on rocks
and built stone chambers
trying to decipher
What is this great mound?
Surely it holds such plunder?
Oh you silly men
with your measuring strings
sandals tattered and torn
Everyone knows
this mound
is just a belly full of gods
waiting to be born

Persephone Vandegrift


Silbury hill

Bones of our wild forefathers,
O forgive,
If now we pierce the chambers of your rest,
And open your dark pillows to the eye
Of the irreverent Day!
Hark, as we move,
Runs no stern whisper through the narrow vault?
Flickers no shape across our torch-light pale,
With backward beckoning arm?
No, all is still.
O that it were not!
O that sound or sign,
Vision, or legend, or the eagle glance
Of science, could call back thy history lost,
Green Pyramid of the plains, from far-ebbed Time!
O that the winds which kiss thy flowery turf
Could utter how they first beheld thee rise;
When in his toil the jealous Savage paused,
Drew deep his chest, pushed back his yellow hair,
And scanned the growing hill with reverent gaze,
-Or haply, how they gave their fitful pipe**
To join the chant prolonged o'er warriors cold
. -Or how the Druid's mystic robe they swelled;
Or from thy blackened brow on wailing wing
The solemn sacrificial ashes bore,
To strew them where now smiles the yellow corn,
Or where the peasant treads the Churchward***path.

Emmeline Fisher

A couple of months back I read a book on the Wild by an author whose names escapes me, but at the time she made a point of how we use language to describe the 'conquest' of mountains. Now this idea probably started in the late 19th and early 20th century, and probably has its roots in Imperialism. But she made striking examples of how in the literature of that time, the words used to describe ascending the mountains, had more to do with the relationship between men and women. For instance, a mountain or a wild place such as the North and South Poles has to be conquered, subdued, tamed, brought into submission, yet for a women's interpretation of these words we might see rape or violation of these places, and of course quite a few men see exactly the same today.
A parallel can obviously be drawn with Silbury, the several tunnels have the same implication of violation, giving rise to the fact that Silbury is a female, though of course in defence the 'femaleness' of the mound is a modern definition, brought on by theorising of the 'mother earth' analogy.
The Persephone Vandegrit poem illustrates this perfectly, she has taken on board the notion that Silbury is a goddess, giving birth to gods, a subtle trick of female superiority is played here 'O you silly men' messing around with their bits of strings and spiral rock art. Gaia is a 'virgin' despoiled by men. It is the intuitive response of a woman one sees in this poem, similar in fact to the rape of the virgin farmed landscape around Tara that has a motorway being constructed through it. The rape here is defined by the historical and sacred nature of the landscape round Tara, how it lies in the heart of the Irish people, caught up in poetry and myths.
Now taking Emmeline Fisher's response, that of a young girl, we see something slightly different.
She falls back on the imagery of the 19th century, Bones of our Wild forefathers, please forgive, now we are viewing the pagan druid with all that fanciful stuff that has been written about, there is no hint of our female Silbury here, only that Of science, could call back their history lost, it is a plea to stop the wrecking of an old monument that has so much history written into it. Science as we know is incapable of calling back history, it can only summarise and deduce from the little known facts that are left behind.
To return to modern day poetry and its interpretation of the femaleness that imbues Silbury, perhaps in itself there is a false trail being left here. Fecundity of nature, giving of nature, the goddess Gaia is something that has built up in the mythology of religion and belief through the last 20th century, Ronald Hutton was at pains to deny the 'mother goddess' in nature, a storytelling trick used by 20th century feminists in the battle for equality...
In all this, when addressing one's own viewpoint, either from the imagination or the practical side of our nature, we are very subjective in our approach , the heart is too easily moved in poetry - there is poetry written from the soul or there is poetry written to a particular fashion., either way we have to judge impartially.

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