Unsung: Poems dedicated to Virginia Woolf No.1 #IWD2021

I am the song unsung,
the life un-lived,
the word as yet unwritten:
I ground the grain to make your bread
while you conquer’d empires
and dreams
and concubines
and while you drank the sweet, red wine of youth
I aged at home.

I’m Shakespeare’s sister, the
Madwoman in the Attic and
the Angel in the House, as yet un-killed;
so write, you bards and balladeers,
write your immortal lines;
and praise me with your elegiac verse
(I’ll be your muse
and bind my words in dreams)
but yet be warned:

I want the words you stole from me,
the life I gave,
the song as yet unsung.
As once upon a time the High Priestess
processioning, skirts rustling to grace
the altar with a knife held high
was heard
I’ve found my voice
whose blade
cuts out your tongue:
Now hear my song.

© Experimentsinfiction 2021, All Rights Reserved

Minoan fresco of a woman in procession, Crete c.1300 BC

The first of three poems dedicated to Virginia Woolf for International Women’s Day 2021

In her essay A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf imagined Shakespeare had a sister, every bit as talented as her brother, but bound in by a life of domestic duty and unable to fulfil her dreams:

…his extraordinarily gifted sister, let us suppose, remained at home. She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school. She had no chance of learning grammar and logic, let alone of reading Horace and Virgil. She picked up a book now and then, one of her brother’s perhaps, and read a few pages. But then her parents came in and told her to mend the stockings or mind the stew and not moon about with books and papers…

From Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, Chapter 2, first published in 1929.

Such was the lot of so many women over the centuries. Such is still the lot of many women around the world. But we are finding our voice, and that voice is getting louder. I believe this is both cause for dismay, that we are so far from achieving equality, and celebration, that despite all odds we have already come so far.

I am also linking this poem to Earthweal’s Weekly Challenge, in which Brendan has asked us to ‘write about the nature of poetry. There are lots of avenues you can take…’ I think this poem responds to the following aspect of his prompt:

Who taught you about this nature? Rilke was my inspiration for the writing of this challenge, though there were many other poets who also played a part, from Sylvia Plath to Wallace Stevens and Jack Gilbert and all of you. There were also professors who taught passionately and encouraged me to write. There are writers about poetry and the poet’s nature, and there were archaeologists and myths and dreams. Who inspired you to come close to your poetic nature?

As you can tell from the above poem, I was inspired by Woolf, as well as many others.

Take part in my celebration of International Women’s Day in poetry: link up a poem below or tag me on Twitter @Experimentsinfc or Instagram @experimentsinfiction. Add the hashtags #ChooseToChallenge and #IWD2021 and let your voice be heard!

35 thoughts on “Unsung: Poems dedicated to Virginia Woolf No.1 #IWD2021

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  1. This is a very interesting article and I loved your poem about emancipation. I am thinking of giving Mrs Hobbo a ten minute break from the housework to let her read it. What do you think?

  2. A deep reply to the challenge Ingrid — ancient sources here in the silencing of the woman’s voice, that sound which once was the lunar oracular core of our art — Male poets and their poetry have dominated the cultural airwaves a long time; a redress for that I think is now underway but so many layers of grievance to air. I loved the channeling of Shakespeare’s sister here, the empowering unsung: What a strength becomes available to you through it. Almost the entire community of online poets I’ve worked with these past years has been female–very strong female voices too — so maybe there’s hope. Unleashing the mythic sources of that bondage here surely is a road. Great stuff, Ingrid, keep it up, and thanks for bringin’ it to earthweal. – B

  3. There’s still a long way to go, but our voices are no longer subdued. So much was never even given a chance to be said, to be written, to be painted or sung. We stand on the silence of those who came before. (K)

  4. This is an interesting and inspired project, Ingrid, and I look forward to reading the other two poems. I love the lines:
    ‘I want the words you stole from me,
    the life I gave,
    the song as yet unsung

    I’ve found my voice
    whose blade
    cuts out your tongue:
    Now hear my song.’
    Thank you for the references to ‘A Room of One’s Own’, which I haven’t read in many years. Thinking about it, you could have added music from Shakespeare’s Sister to your post! Have you read Carol Ann Duffy’s poem Anne Hathaway from her collection The World’s Wife? It’s one of my favourites. She remained at home. Maybe she was ‘as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was.’ Maybe her voice found its way into Shakespeare’s work.
    I’m so sorry I missed your celebration of International Women’s Day. I’ve been under the weather again and struggling to keep up with prompts and challenges.

    1. I have not read Carol Ann Duffy’s poem but I will certainly look it up now you mention it.

      Thank you for your kind words and sorry to hear you’ve not been feeling well. It can be exhausting trying to keep up sometimes!

      I hope you feel better soon.

  5. This is a spectacul;ar poem, with too many good lines to quote. I would have to repeat them all. A truly wonderful read.

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