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Eavan Boland's "It's a Woman's World"

Poetasters, dirty politicians, and other liars soil the cosmos. Exposing them remains in my toolkit. I read charlatans so you don't have to!

Eavan Boland

Eavan Boland

Introduction and Text of "It's a Woman's World"

Eavan Boland's speaker, in this laughable attempt to bemoan the status of women throughout history, sets up a sad irony with the title, "It's a Woman's World."

What might seem an affirmative quip about womankind turns ruefully and suddenly into a mighty complaint.

The "world" could hardly be possessed by the sorrowful lot referred to in this piece of historical asininity.

Imagine people who never change, people who measure their lives by their forebears who have lived outside of history, people who count their failures as milestones, and people who just concoct excuses for living in a kind of blind stagnation.

People who had managed to live in such a manner would not last for a generation, much less be capable of owning the world.

Thus, the irony has been dispatched once it is recognized that that title remains wholly disparate from the actual qualities of those to whom it refers.

It will be understood that the speaker has merely built up a straw man for the purpose of burning him in the furnace of nasty accusation and utterly hysterical clap-trap.

No such people ever existed, except for this very inane thesis pushed by radical feminist academics and social justice warriors.

Hyperbole, Perhaps

Eavan Boland is a noted poet, so perhaps the integrity of the poem may be found by considering it as hyperbole. But hyperbole or exaggeration is used for emphasis, which means that the claim has to be true at its base.

For example, Thomas Wolfe's "We stooped because the sky hung so low" or Thomas Bailey Aldrich's "My leg weighs three tons." Both are easily recognized as exaggeration; we understand in the Wolfe sentence that the characters stooped and that Aldrich's character's leg had some weight.

Attempting to unpack Boland's poem vis-á-vis hyperbole, one quickly becomes aware of the unworkability of that option.

The opening claim exemplifies the recurring issue that continues throughout the poem: the lives of women have remained virtually unchanged since the first knife was sharpened by a grinding wheel.

This ahistorical remark, "Our way of life / has hardly changed / since a wheel first / whetted a knife," has to be puzzling because even the elementary school child has learned that the lives of all peoples populating planet Earth have been altered dramatically and many times since recorded history commenced.

Perhaps this speaker is reporting from a different planet. But even if one applies the hyperbole to that claim, it cannot be sustained, because the next claim is that other things have, in fact, changed: the use of fire and the further uses of the wheel, but not the lives of women.

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And the application of exaggeration disappears altogether by the time the speaker claims that women have made only low groans about certain oppressive situations. Every iteration of the "Women's Movement" has proclaimed itself loudly, even, vociferously.

The poem's speaker loses credibility through misuse of attempted irony and exaggeration–a loss that seems to expand and contract like a rubber band. The disingenuous speaker is simply narrating a fallacious account of women's supposed historical invisibility.

It's a Woman's World

Our way of life
has hardly changed
since a wheel first
whetted a knife.

Maybe flame
burns more greedily
and wheels are steadier,
but we're the same:

we milestone
our lives
with oversights,
living by the lights
of the loaf left

by the cash register,
the washing powder
paid for and wrapped,
the wash left wet:

like most historic peoples
we are defined
by what we forget

and what we never will be:
It's our alibi
for all time:

as far as history goes
we were never
on the scene of the crime.

When the king's head
gored its basket,
grim harvest,
we were gristing bread

or getting the recipe
for a good soup.
It's still the same:

our windows
moth our children
to the flame
of hearth not history.

And still no page
scores the low music
of our outrage.

Appearances reassure:
that woman there,
craned to
the starry mystery,

is merely getting a breath
of evening air.
While this one here,
her mouth a burning plume -

she's no fire-eater,
just my frosty neighbour
coming home.

Reading of "It's a Woman's World"


This piece exemplifies the shoddy mess poets make of both poetry and politics when they attempt to combine to two in disingenuous rhetoric that distorts historical reality.

First Movement: Unchanged Lives

According to this befuddled speaker, the way women have led their lives has remained virtually the same for a very long time, especially since the invention of knife sharpening on a grinding wheel. When that was is difficult to determine. The wheel was invented approximately five centuries B.C. in Mesopotamia, India, and China.

But exactly when a whet-stone was turned into a wheel is unclear. Thus, the speaker asserts the falsehood that women have just played out their lives in a stagnant mist from time immemorial.

Does that imply that men have changed their lives many times and in many ways? And if so, which is better? To live the same way for centuries or change your ways of living drastically and often?

Of course, there is no way to ascertain an answer to such a question because there has never been such a people; therefore, there is no genuine way to make a comparison.

Yet the speaker's implications do, in fact, make that comparison: men's lives have changed and prospered while women's have remained stagnant, dark, unfulfilled, and outside of history.

This ahistocial misinformation has led to the disparagment of masculinity found many treatises on contemporary feminism.

Second Movement: Failure to Participate

The implications of the fire emphasis are: fire has become more voracious, no doubt, through the modern inventions such as stoves that help confine it so we can get more heat from less fuel, and wheels work better because we have improved their form and now we may even use them for travel. Still, women live the same way.

Does that mean they refuse to take advantage of the new uses for fire, continuing to build their fires out of doors instead of making use of the new stoves? Does that mean that instead of using the new vehicles for travel, they still go on foot or by horse and bullock cart?

Sounds silly, but the speaker claims that woman's lives have remained the same, despite all these changing improvements. Those claims seem to imply that women continue using the same tools employed centuries ago.

Third Movement: Milestones of Failures

Women look at their lives, see only their faults, and make those faults the highlights of their lives. Forgetting a loaf of bread at the store is a major accomplishment, as is buying cleaning detergent and then forgetting to dry the clothes. These are important landmarks for women.

These bizarre notions rattle around in the mind like screws that have come loose and rattle around in their encasement.

Fourth Movement: Milestones of Fretting

Women also mark their milestones by fretting about things they will never do or never becoming the kinds of persons they wish they could be. People in the past used to decide who they were by what they didn't do or what they forgot, and that's what women do.

Who are those people? What people in history defined themselves by what they forgot? Is this a reworking of the old adage of history repeating itself, or if one does not learn by mistakes, one is destined to repeat them?

But why is this situation confined to women? Of those historic peoples, were men included? But surely not, since the speaker is addressing only the lives of women.

Also, women not only define themselves by what they forget, but they also define themselves by what they will never be. They will never have dreams or important goals worth striving for, as star-gazers do.

They will never pursue difficult tasks and overcome them as fire-eaters do. They will always find excuses for doing the same thing, century after century. Again, these claims fly in the face of history, as name after name of significant women in history comes to the reader's mind.

Fifth Movement: Never a Woman Activist or Criminal!

Women have never been part of important events or crimes like beheading a king. Although beheading the king didn't seem to be a crime at the time, it was the only way for his subjects to avoid death and assume freedom.

But nevertheless, when such important events were taking place, women were making bread or swapping soup recipes. And it's still the same, except when it was/is not.

Sixth Movement: Failure to Speak Up

Not only do women fail to participate in historical events, but they also try to prevent their children from doing the same. They want their children to stay home and not go out and get involved in community, country, or world events.

But then, after all this negativity and lack of participation, the speaker notes that no one has bothered to notice the indignation women have experienced because of these stagnated lives over the centuries.

That must be because the outrage is likened to low music, and they have only cursed their lot under their breaths while continuing to live those invisible lives.

Again, any reader can then list women from every historical period who have not remained inside invisible lives and who had spoken out clearly and loudly for their special causes.

Seventh Movement: Stubborn, Noisy, Ineffective

The speaker says that the way women continue to cope with their invisibility is by interpreting what they see in a way that fits their vision, the way that will still support the alibi.

The women who are getting out and trying to participate in lives outside the home are merely out taking a walk to get a breath of fresh air.

And the women who are speaking out and helping change certain antiquated laws are just stubborn, noisy women who will soon return to their homes and continue the sameness.

The speaker has built a fantasy that remains far removed from actual historical events, which always include both sexes. She has, nevertheless, likely invented a story in which she enjoys living, even if it remains nothing but a "big lie."

Demeaning Women's Lives

Without a clear use of a poetic device such as irony, hyperbole, or useful metaphor, this poem simply portrays a series of historical inaccuracies.

No doubt there are individual women who have lived sheltered, stagnated lives similar to that world dramatized here, but to broadcast in verse this kind of situation as universal is irresponsible because it demeans women's real lives.

How can one take this speaker seriously when it is common knowledge that from the beginning of history, women have always done more than "milestone / [their] lives / with oversights"?

Women have served in government, helped change antiquated laws that circumscribed the lives of men, women, and children, and have influenced and participated in history in all the same ways that men have.

Distorting history has no place in anyone's world, especially when that distortion diminishes the lives of just over half the world's population.

The following photo sequence demonstrates the strength, tenacity, and accomplishments of a mere handful of Irish women, whose lives belie Boland's fabricated "history" of the lives of women.

Of course, Irish women are not the only demographic to have possessed heroes such as these. The history of the world is replete with those heroic women who have taken part in all aspects of life on Earth.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes


Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on March 25, 2020:

The words, "Maybe flame burns more greedily," are from Eavan Boland's poem on which this commentary focuses. Otherwise, you are welcome to learn from anything I write, and I'll be glad to address any questions you might have about any issues. I am enjoying your responses and thoughts, and I wish you well with your literary studies. Glad to help in anyway I can be useful.

Thank you for your continued interest in my writings. Blessings to you and yours, Laurinzoscott!

Laurinzoscott from Kanab, Utah on March 23, 2020:

"Maybe flame burns more greedily"

I am your student ...if you'll have me.. Simply breathtaking the rhythums of your words..

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on May 12, 2019:

Yes, and radical feminism also destroys men and children and puts a blight on the culture. Political correctness is a poisonous branch from that poison tree, causing a divisive social structure. Let's hope for improvement as more people wake up to the devastation foisted on society by these godless ideologies.

RTalloni on May 12, 2019:

Nothing better to true! And so sad, when the truth is that radical feminism actually destroys women.

Linda Sue Grimes (author) from U.S.A. on May 11, 2019:

Thank you for responding, RTalloni.

It's certainly true that the proponents of the current wave of radical feminism are immune to facts. Bohland's utter blindness to the progress women have made historically and politically does women harm by infantilizing them and making it appear that women are always victims, never achievers. It seems that women writers who choose such tripe as subject matter simply have nothing better to offer than this mundane groupthink.

RTalloni on May 10, 2019:

An interesting and important read. Indeed, how one feels about an issue is no indication that what they think about it is related to facts. Thanks.

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