Monday, July 3, 2017

Motherhood (poem)

I have a poem here called "Motherhood," showing two sides of the question. The author is unknown, so I'm sorry I can't give credit. The one side says this:

It's such a waste of time to cook.
I'm just a walking cookery book.
I make and bake the morning through,
The favorite pies and pudding, too.
And then in half an hour or less,
My toil has gone to nothingness.
It's a waste of time to dust the stairs,
To clean the brass and polish chairs,
To sweep and pick up bits of fluff,
For nothing's ever clean enough.
Five minutes after I have done,
Someone is sure to romp and run,
Kick out the stair rods, flick the mats,
Slam the doors and scare the cats.
Some sticky hand is sure to press
The brasses from their sprightliness.
I tidy up and do the dusting,
But all the while my wings are rusting.
Then washing day it seems to me
Is just a waste of energy.
What use to stand before a tub
And soak and rinse and blue and rub?

I guess we know that this poem must have been written a long time ago. I think modern housewives haven't a clue what bluing is. But I remember it.

What use to stand before a tub
And soak and rinse and blue and rub?
Next week the selfsame garment's stain
Will come into my hands again.
It's such a waste of time to mend.
One has no sooner reached the end
Of last week's pile then, need you ask it,
This week's filled up the mending basket.
The stockings, which were hale and hearty,
Return from each picnicking party,
Weak and worn and wanly show
Great gaping holes in heel and toe,
While buttons have a cantankerous way
Of disappearing every day.
Sponging off the spots and ironing creases,
Between it all I'm worn to pieces.
Woman, from cradle to grave,
Is nothing but a galley slave.

Now there is a lot of truth in that side, isn't there? But there's another side.

I've done an angel's work today.
Yes, such an honor came my way.
Real angel's work. Lest you doubt it,
I'm going to tell you all about it.
Well, first I cooked. It was so nice
To plan the pies, stewed fruit and rice.
God sent His angel once to make
Cakes for a poor wayfarer's sake.
Just today He honored me
And sent the task my way, you see.
Then while I tidied up the place,
Gave every knob a radiant face,
Back of my mind this thought would lurk--
That I was still at angel's work.
Putting away coats and dresses
And moving small, unsightly messes,
For oh, 'tis such a lovesome thing,
Just straightening out and freshening.
And after that, I washed a few
Small woolly garments, old, not new,
Things I had rubbed and rinsed before,
Quite forty times or even more.
And as I hung them on the line,
I thought what Godlike work was mine--
To cleanse, ah me, to wash out stains
Till not a single speck remains.
So later in the day, 'twas sweet
To sit and rest my tired feet,
Mending the clothes and plan out, too,
How to make old things into new.
For surely it is an angel's way
To put things right from day to day,
To find thin places and repair
The glad rags and the sturdy wear.
Since wear and tear must surely be
On this side of eternity,
I'm feeling very proud to say
I've done an angel's work today.

This poem certainly expresses two very different attitudes toward what has always been called women's work. I define women's work as the kind of work that nobody notices, as long as you do it, but the whole world is going to notice if you don't do it.