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The poem “The Woman” is written by the first Zimbabwean woman poet, Kristina Rungano. It was published in her first poetry collection “A Storm is Brewing”, in 1984. The poem delves into the poignant portrayal of a woman’s daily struggles, reflecting the societal expectations and inequalities she faces. The poet does not hesitate to talk about the rampant issue of domestic violence and marital rape in the poem. The narrative of the poem unfolds through vivid imagery and a candid expression of emotions, providing insight into the burdens placed upon the female protagonist. The poem highlights the important issue of “women should stay silent” that is prevalent in her community and talks about how a woman is burdened with violence and then required to stay silent about all of it.
About the poet
Kristina Masuwa-Morgan Rungano was born in 1963 in Zimbabwe. She became the first Zimbabwean woman writer with the publication of her first poetry collection “A Storm is Brewing” in 1984. Her poems have been included in numerous anthologies like “Daughters of Africa” and “The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry”. Her second poetry collection, “To Seek a Reprieve and Other Poems” was published in 2004.
The poem is written in one big stanza. It consists of 36 lines, all varying in length. The poem is written in first person narrative and talks about very personal and intimate issues of the woman’s life, showcasing the features of confessional poetry.
A minute ago I came from the well Where young women drew water like myself My body was weary and my heart tired. For a moment I watched the stream that rushed before me; And thought how fresh the smell of flowers, How young the grass around it. And yet again I heard the sound of duty Which ground on me – made me feel aged
The speaker, a woman, talks about her day. She says that she just arrived home after returning from the well. She observed other young women like herself there. She talks about how her body was tired and fatigued and despite the refreshing surroundings of the fresh water flowing and the smell of fresh flowers wafting over her, she could not forget the weariness in her body and the fatigue in her heart. As she contemplates the beauty of the stream and its surroundings, the weight of duty resurfaces, making her feel aged and burdened. She notices the young grass but can still hear the sound of duty calling her, making her feel grounded and aged.
In these lines the woman recounts her day returning from the well, where she observed young women like herself. Despite the refreshing surroundings, the poet uses vivid imagery to portray her tired body and fatigued heart. The poet here uses metaphor and juxtaposition to symbolize duty as a burden that resurfaces, making her feel aged and grounded. This highlights the expectations that are placed upon women and the struggle against traditional gender roles. The poet contrasts between nature’s beauty and the weight of duty to reveal the theme of conflict, emphasizing the toll of conforming to prescribed roles and the loss of personal freedom.
As I bore the great big mud container on my head Like a big painful umbrella. Then I got home and cooked your meal For you had been out drinking the pleasures of the flesh While I toiled in the fields. Under the angry vigilance of the sun A labour shared only by the bearings of my womb. I washed the dishes; yours
The speaker describes bearing a heavy mud container on her head, comparing it to a painful umbrella. Returning home, she describes cooking a meal for someone who was busy taking pleasures of the flesh from elsewhere while she worked in the fields. She paints the scene of her working under a harsh and angry sun in the field. This laborious work was shared not by her husband, but only by the child in her womb. She tells us that she is pregnant with his child. She washes dishes which are his.
In this section, the poet vividly describes the physical strain of bearing a heavy mud container, comparing it to a “painful umbrella.” Through metaphor and symbolism, the poet highlights the themes of gender inequality, emphasizing the unequal distribution of labor and the impending challenges of motherhood. The mention of her husband seeking “pleasures of the flesh” adds a layer to social expectations, highlighting the sacrifice and hardship endured by the woman in fulfilling traditional roles within the relationship.
The imagery conveys the physical strain of labor under the sun’s harsh gaze, highlighting the unique burden carried by the bearings of her womb. The mention of washing dishes, specifically “yours,” emphasizes the unequal distribution of domestic responsibilities, revealing a theme of gender-based disparity in the speaker’s daily life.
And we swept the room we shared Before I set forth to prepare your bedding In the finest corner of the hut Which was bathed by the sweet smell of dung I had this morning applied to the floors Then you came in, In your drunken lust And you made your demands
The speaker describes doing the domestic chores of sweeping the shared room before preparing her partner’s bedding. She prepares his bed in the finest corner of the hut. She talks about how she had applied dung to the floors for a sweet smell, this suggests a meticulous effort in homemaking. She had just applied the dung on the floor earlier in the morning. However, the narrative takes a darker turn as the speaker describes the partner entering in a state of drunken lust, making demands.
In this section, the poet describes domestic chores, including sweeping the room and preparing her partner’s bedding in the finest corner of the hut, emphasizing traditional gender roles and expectations. The application of dung for a sweet smell adds ironic depth to the otherwise dedicated homemaking efforts. However, the narrative takes a turn after the arrival of the partner. He enters in a state of drunken lust, introducing a theme of power dynamics and vulnerability. The poet has used the unsettling shift in tone to contrast with the calm and serene domestic space, highlighting the complex and uncomfortable aspects of the relationship.
When I explained how I was tired And how I feared for the child – yours – I carried You beat me and had your way At that moment You left me unhappy and bitter And I hated you Yet tomorrow I shall again wake up to you Milk the cow, plough the land and cook your food, You shall again be my Lord For isn’t it right that woman should obey, Love, serve and honour her man? For are you not the fruit of the land?
The woman tries to reason with her husband. She explains to him that she will not be able to participate in the sexual act as she was tired. She also talks about how, as she was pregnant, she fears that intercourse could harm his child. She says that the damage would occur to his own child that was in her womb. But he still beats her and has his way with her. This incident left her angry and resentful towards her husband, but only for a short time.
The woman talks about how she hated her husband at the time but she knows that come tomorrow morning, she will get back to her daily domestic chores. He will wake him up in the morning again and then milk the cow, plough the land and cook food for him. She says that he will still remain her Lord, so one who she has to obey. Her responsibility and duty is to obey his commands, love him, serve him and always honor him. She ends the poem by saying that she has to do all of this because he is the “fruit of the land”.
The poet talks about the unsettling incident where, even though the woman expressed her exhaustion and concern for the child she carries, she was met with violence from her partner. He physically as well as sexually abuses her. But despite the unhappiness and bitterness that result, the woman knows that the cycle of domestic duties as well as the cycle of abuse will keep on repeating.
She will have to keep addressing her partner as “Lord” and meet the societal expectation for women to obey, love, serve, and honor their men. The poem concludes with the rhetorical question that highlights the oppression of traditional gender roles on women. The poet portrays the partner as the symbolic “fruit of the land” highlighting how he has a right on the land as well as the woman. This section highlights themes of domestic violence, societal expectations, and the internal conflict faced by the woman in conforming to roles within the relationship.