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Bogan is highly specific about women's shortcomings. Their senses are stunted, their imaginations dull, their claims upon the world meager and modest. They put up with their lot; they miss the pleasures of planning, work, and rest. They are limited, misplaced in their kindness, and out of step with the true nature of feeling. They blunder, misjudge, hold back, and in every way defeat themselves. Bogan may have been thinking about another poem; in "Women," Lizette Woodworth Reese had written:

Some women herd such little things--a box Oval and glossy, in its gilt and red, Or squares of satin, or a high, dark bed-- But when love comes, they drive to it all their flocks; Yield up their crooks; take little; gain for fold And pasture each a small forgotten grave. When they are gone, then lesser women crave And squander their sad hoards; their shepherds' gold. Some gather life like faggots in a wood, And crouch its blaze, without a thought at all Past warming their pinched selves to the last spark. And women as a whole are swift and good, In humor scarce, their measure being small; They plunge and leap, yet somehow miss the dark.

While it is gentler than Bogan's "Women," Reese's poem also projects women as self-diminishing, and both poems share the notion that women are by nature tinged with defective wills, "their measure being small." The unexpected point of view in Bogan's poem, and not in Reese's, and the unavoidable problem, is its obvious envy of maleness. Bogan's poem is full of it. Only men, it implies, are capable of broad, unfettered, unselfconscious action. Behind the invidious comparisons lurks the familiar spectre of paralysis; women, it seems, are given to formlessness, ineffectuality, and, therefore, immobility.


From Louise Bogan. Copyright © 1985 by Elizabeth Frank