Monday, October 15, 2007

Sojourner Truth's Stirring Rhetoric Interpreting Women's Roles in light of Jesus' Origins

It's a poem by Robyn Bolam at the Guardian Arts Blog, based on the famous speech given by Sojourner Truth at the Women's Rights Convention in Ohio in 1851, as reported by an eye-witness, Frances Gage. Bolam has shaped Sojourner's words so as to conserve the force and spontaneity of the original. The speech is not pushed into a consistently symmetrical or perfectly rounded poem, but rhetorical patterns provide a sound underlying structure.

The voice is wonderfully present. It sits us in the front row of the audience, where we can see every gesture and facial expression, and feel for ourselves the speaker's passion, frankness and humour. We glimpse other figures in the crowd, too ("that little man in black, there") and I particularly like the aside in stanza five. One of the audience has muttered to Sojourner Truth the (supposedly) elusive word ("What's this they call it?/ That's it honey - intellect") and it's a fine moment of irony. This speech is not, somehow, just a simple piece of polemic. It is the whole character: it is Sojourner Truth.

Ain't I a Woman? by Robyn Bolam

But what's all this here talkin' about?
That man over there say that woman
needs to be helped into carriages,
and lifted over ditches, and to have
the best place everywhere...
Nobody ever helps me into carriages,
or over mud-puddles, or gives me
any best place!
And ain't I a woman?

Look at me! Look at my arm!
I have ploughed and planted
and gathered into barns -
and no man could head me -
and ain't I a woman?

I could work as much
and eat as much as a man -
when I could get it -
and bear the lash as well
and ain't I a woman?

I have born thirteen chilern
and seen 'em mos' all sold off to slavery,
and when I cried out with my mother's grief,
none but Jesus heard me -
and ain't I a woman?

Then they talks about this thing in the head-
what's this they call it?
That's it honey - intellect. Now what's that got to do
with women's rights or niggers' rights?

That little man in black, there -
he say women can't have as much rights
as men, cause Christ wan't a woman...
Where did your Christ come from?
From God and a woman!
Man had nothin' to do with him!

If the fust woman God ever made
was strong enough
to turn the world upside down, all alone -
these women together
ought to be able to turn it back
and get it rightside up again.
And now they is asking to do it -
the men better let 'em!

1 comment:

Simon Barrow said...

Wonderful :)