Woman to Man Judith Wright #
This poem represents one of the first instances of a brave and bold depiction of the sexual act by a female poet. Men have recorded their conquests for centuries, but it takes a woman to wonder about the mystery of procreation.
Until about 2012, most critics assumed Judith Wright and Jack McKinney were married. Judith’s only child, Meredith McKinney, born in 1950, writes:
“My father was still married to someone else, and he was 20 years older than my mother. She had a reputation to protect as a young woman. Such things were important at that time. I was registered under Jack’s name.”
“She had a little bit of money from her family and she wanted to buy somewhere where he could live. Jack McKinney was essentially homeless, he’d left his family… She found a little place at Tamborine on Long Road. That’s where Jack went, and she came up on the bus every weekend. She moved up there full-time a couple of years later.”
In those days Tamborine Mountain was a remote, tiny community, very different to the Tamborine of today. There wasn’t a town centre back then, simply a few shops and a couple of small settlements with scattered farms between. Tamborine was kind to Judith and Jack. Their relationship blossomed and Meredith was born in 1950. Although they could not marry until the divorce laws changed, Judith changed her name to McKinney by deed poll so Meredith would have an easier passage through school. She continued to write under the name Judith Wright as she always had done.
“Certainly those years on the Mountain were her happiest because she was with Jack, but also because she loved Tamborine so much,” says Meredith
The eyeless labourer in the night,
the selfless, shapeless seed I hold,
builds for its resurrection day—
silent and swift and deep from sight
foresees the unimagined light.
This is no child with a child’s face;
this has no name to name it by;
yet you and I have known it well.
This is our hunter and our chase,
the third who lay in our embrace.
This is the strength that your arm knows,
the arc of flesh that is my breast,
the precise crystals of our eyes.
This is the blood’s wild tree that grows
the intricate and folded rose.
This is the maker and the made;
this is the question and reply;
the blind head butting at the dark,
the blaze of light along the blade.
Oh hold me, for I am afraid. (1949)
The anonymity of the title creates an impersonal mode, soon broken by the personal pronoun, “I hold”, asserting her agency. The poem explores the mystery of intimate erotic love within a cosmic frame, using paradox, ambivalence and archetypal symbols. The repetitive of “this is” could easily attempt to echo the thrusting of sexual intercourse. The partners are linked today to create a third, transcending their separateness in a sacramental ritual.
The “selfless, shapeless seed” lacking identity, primordial chaos and biblical seed - sperm. The union of bodies conceals the mystery of the unity of the piercing of the egg by a sperm to create a third - a seminal person - a zygot, foetus, issue, progeny, genealogy.
Sexual congress usually takes place in darkness - eyeless labourer, blind energy, blind love, deep from sight - leading to a blaze of light.
All creation myths emphasise the coming of light - And God said: Let there be light!
Hesiod: From Chaos came forth Erebus and black Night; but of Night were born Aether and Day, (115 – 120).
Comparing this poem to Men’s love poetry demonstrates the antithetical approaches. This one appears so much more mutual with inclusive pronouns “our hunter and our chase”, reminiscent of nymphs and satyrs. The lack of urgency or aggressiveness seems more passive and responsive, focusing on the procreative purposes of making love. The mystery of conception, gestation and birth stretches our imagination.
Though it may begin with a mutual animalistic desire, the reciprocity of their passion reaching towards a transcendency of spiritual ecstasy by religious terminology like “resurrection, and blaze of light”.
Balanced phrases, such as:
This is our hunter and our chase,
the third who lay in our embrace.*
The resolution is completed, resulting in conception, a foetus and ultimately a child,
This is the blood’s wild tree that grows the intricate and folded rose.
The phallic image of the tree, is counterpointed by the rose, archetypal symbol of the female.
This is the maker and the made;*
this is the question and reply;*
Our sexuality is a highly conflicted issue. While the #MeToo movement has made worthy contributions to our understanding of sexual predation, we should be on guard for a new wave of puritanism that can drive sexual instincts underground.
There always has to be a delicate balance.
In 2004 Meredith McKinney and Patricia Clarke compiled a book called* The Equal Heart and Mind: Letters between Judith Wright and Jack McKinney.*
Georgina Arnott perceives an effervescent sexuality in her early poems that foreshadow the erotic writing of Woman to Man(1949).
Women writers have made major insights into their sexual needs. Males tend to depict women as mere passive sexual receptacles for their urgent gratification.
Woman to Child #
You who were darkness warmed my flesh
where out of darkness rose the seed.
Then all a world I made in me;
all the world you hear and see
hung upon my dreaming blood.
There moved the multitudinous stars,
and coloured birds and fishes moved.
There swam the sliding continents.
All time lay rolled in me, and sense,
and love that knew not its beloved.
O node and focus of the world;
I hold you deep within that well
you shall escape and not escape-
that mirrors still your sleeping shape;
that nurtures still your crescent cell.
I wither and you break from me;
yet though you dance in living light
I am the earth, I am the root,
I am the stem that fed the fruit,
the link that joins you to the night.