Introduction

“The Farmer’s Wife” is a poem about a woman’s grief, anger, and tribulations after her husband, who was a farmer, commits suicide. This poem also raises the importance of breaking stereotypes. The poet questions the culture views a woman as a burden and a dishonour.

Through the poem, P Latika Kumari challenges the existing male bigotry (prejudice). She points out to the long-held patriarchal attitude, as well as the privileges that come with it. She pledges to spend her life and fight against challenges with “the harvest of her womb.” She also pledges to instil in her children, the values and life skills that will prevent them from resorting to cowardly ways in the midst of any suffering.

About the Poet

P Lalita Kumari, a well-known Telugu writer, uses the pen name Volga (b.1950). She was born in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh. Her short stories, novels, and poems reflect eloquent feminist viewpoints without sacrificing literary style or failing to convey the characters’ reality. Her poetry makes extensive use of metaphor, which helps in the successful delivery of the message. 

Structure

The poem consists of non-rhyming lines, which closely reflect the natural rhythms of wife’s speech. Volga has thus, written the poem in free-verse with lines that do not follow a metrical scheme.

  • The poem is not divided into specific stanzas; however, the poem is explained in parts for an easier comprehension.

Part 1

You are virtuous and you are gone.
Poor sinner that I am remain 
Before your creditors. 
Unable to bend your head
Or stretch out your hand 
Or sell your crops 
You crossed over. 

The poem begins with a caustic remark about the deceased farmer being virtuous. Through the speaker’s words, the poet creates a sequence of contradictions. In the opinion of an orthodox society, the farmer’s widow says that he became virtuous by taking his life, but she remains a sinner. 

The farmer has managed to get away from his creditors and society. He had to bow his head with his hand spread in front of his creditors every time there was a crop failure, or he may sell his crops if he had any. However, he had now transcended over all of these possibilities.

Part 2

But I was born with a head bent 
A hand outstretched 
Not unused to being sold 
Knowing all this did you leave me? 
You found release with poison 
Poisoning my bitter existence 
The cotton crop is but yesterday’s 
But our family?
How often have I drowned in it 
How many times have I escaped death 
Whether you abused or reviled me 
Kicked me when you were drunk 
I thought, he is but a man 
Little did I dream you would deal
Me a death blow like this!

The poem initially criticizes the farmer for his desperate decision. It eventually shifts to a feminist tone because the androcentric society would not celebrate the birth of a girl child. The farmer’s wife depicts herself as a little girl, born with her head bowed and her hand stretched. Not only does the wife question her husband, but also the system, which would not approve of a widow, facing the society on her own. She wonders how her husband could undertake such a step, despite being completely aware that his absence would put his reliant family in jeopardy.

She adds that the cotton harvest is just a few days old, but that their family must live longer. She also admits that she has had difficult times, but she would never consider taking drastic steps. He had repeatedly mistreated, abused and insulted her, but because of the bastion of male chauvinism in the society, she believed it was acceptable for a man to do so! However, she had never anticipated his suicide.

Part 3

True, the crop was gone
The debt remained 
Our dignity hit the dust
Our hearts turned to water 
But how did you imagine 
My back would bear the burden of four children?
You saw your crop destroyed 
What of the harvest of my womb? 
Can I leave them to the wind
Like worm-eaten cotton pods?
It takes a moment to die
But open your mouth and ask 
What of this? 
Why is this?
Needs a firm heart.
To teach my children 
To clench a fist 
Not merely for a handful of rice
But in battle
I must live 
I must embrace life not death 
Embrace life and the struggle for life.

Now that her husband has committed suicide, her life is just a miserable existence, with no crops, outstanding debts, and her dignity in ashes (hit the dust). There are four children who cannot be abandoned to the wind. This stance upsets the farmer’s wife immensely. She adds that it only takes a second to think of extremes, but it takes a brave heart to confront life. She is adamant on becoming a brave person.

After all, she believes in educating her children and teaching them life lessons rather than raising them to be cowards. In any situation, they will not outstretch their hands in search of sympathy, but they will succeed in all the challenges they face. The poem ends with a lovely message on how life is a great gift. It is meant to be enjoyed.

Conclusion

As a result, the poem is both a tribute to the woman’s fearless spirit and an appeal to the despairing not to give up. Death, the poem implies, is not the remedy, but rather a convenient escape for those like the woman’s husband. As a result, she is determined to live life to the fullest.