"Suspended between the Two Worlds": Gestation Metaphors and Representations of Childbirth in Contemporary Irish Women's Poetry

By Walter, Katharina | Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies, Annual 2010 | Go to article overview

"Suspended between the Two Worlds": Gestation Metaphors and Representations of Childbirth in Contemporary Irish Women's Poetry


Walter, Katharina, Estudios Irlandeses - Journal of Irish Studies


Introduction

The representation of childbirth in writing is challenging, due, on the one hand, to a tradition that has appropriated simplified images of gestation and birth to describe the writer's creative process and, on the other hand, because of the sheer extremity of the act of parturition. In a letter to his wife Nora written in 1912, James Joyce attributes maternity to the realm of women's, and outside literary experience:

I went into the backroom of the office and sitting at the table, thinking of the book I have written, the child which I have carried for years and years in the womb of the imagination as you carried in your womb the children you love, and of how I had fed it day after day out of my brain and my memory (Ellman 1975: 202-3).

The analogizing of Joyce's literary creation, nourished by his brain, to his wife's experience of maternity in the womb implicitly assumes the existence of a "natural" boundary between the two worlds. Rather than being the product of Joyce's individual bias, this position reflects the predominant cultural paradigm of the time when these lines were written, which was premised upon an inapt dissociation and gendering of male mind versus female body, with the implicit assumption that the corporeal was unworthy of art and literature, with the exception of highly stylized images as in the example above. This conception of the somatic as marginal to cultural representation is in contrast with the ancient Celtic tradition, where, as Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill explains, "[t]he body, with its orifices and excretions, is not treated in a prudish manner but is accepted as an naduir, or nature, and becomes a source of repartee and laughter rather than anything to be ashamed of" (1997: 51-2). As will be argued at more length in the analysis of Eavan Boland's "The Oral Tradition", in modern Ireland this alternative perspective on the somatic was preserved in oral culture and folklore, which have been valuable resources for redressing the aesthetics of representation that the excerpt from Joyce's letter exemplifies.

The cultural environment contemporary Irish women poets contend with tends to be suspicious of such simplified categorizations into gender binaries as manifested in Joyce's statement, but Medbh McGuckian explains that childbirth is still difficult to record in poetry: "No, it's impossible for the person who was born, and it's impossible for the woman who has gone through it, because she's usually so knocked out or crazy, suspended between the two worlds" (Holmsten 2004: 95). While McGuckian does not identify the "two worlds" between which the mother-to-be is suspended in parturition, the poems discussed in this essay demonstrate that certainly the worlds of creative expression and maternity are not mutually exclusive, as Joyce's letter to his spouse assumes. The first part of this article focuses on the implications of the gendering of the creative process in employing metaphors of female gestation, exemplified by the opening quotation from Joyce's correspondence with Nora, while the second section analyzes how, given the obvious challenges involved in writing about childbirth that McGuckian addresses, this traumatic event is recorded in a selection of poems by contemporary women poets in Ireland.

Metaphors of Female Gestation in Contemporary Irish Poetry

In "Creativity and the Childbirth Metaphor", Susan Stanford Friedman argues that "the childbirth metaphor validates women's artistic effort by unifying their mental and physical labor into (pro)-creativity" (1991: 371), whereas in a male text it apparently has the opposite effect:

   A male childbirth metaphor has three collisions
   for the reader to overcome: the literally false
   equation of books and babies, the biological
   impossibility of men birthing both books and
   babies, and the cultural separation of creation
   and procreation (376).

No doubt the extensive tradition within which male poets have analogized the creative process to gestation and birth (an equation which remains "literally false" when employed by women) causes many problems for a necessary revision of the discourses of maternity and femininity. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"Suspended between the Two Worlds": Gestation Metaphors and Representations of Childbirth in Contemporary Irish Women's Poetry
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.