The Rape of Mother Earth in Seventeenth Century English Poetry: An Ecofeminist Interpretation

By Phillips, Bill | Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos, June 2004 | Go to article overview

The Rape of Mother Earth in Seventeenth Century English Poetry: An Ecofeminist Interpretation


Phillips, Bill, Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos


Through ecocritical and ecofeminist theory, this paper describes how and why the earth and women are closely associated in many, if not all, cultures. The specific example of seventeenth century English poetry is used to demonstrate how women are associated with the land in a period of colonisation and imperial expansion. The poetry of John Donne and John Milton attempts to justify both the domination of women and of the land by men, whether it be done by lovers, colonists, or theologians. The poetry of Aphra Behn and Margaret Cavendish, on the other hand, reveals how women were aware of the way both they and the land were downgraded, and as a consequence they identify closely with the earth's sufferings.

Key words: ecocriticism, ecofeminism, English poetry, Behn, Cavendish, Donne, Milton.

   O Earth, mother of all life!
   Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound (1971: 23)

The rise of ecocriticism, or ecological criticism, has, in recent years, allowed literary texts to be studied and interpreted in important new ways. Together with postcolonial and feminist critical theories, ecocriticism reveals how representations of the land in a variety of genres and from all periods are heavily loaded with ideological assumptions. The close association of many feminist and ecological issues has led to ecofeminism, a term which embraces not only literary and cultural theory, but also political activism. Ecofeminism has shown how both women and the land are exploited by patriarchal societies and institutions, and the purpose of this paper is to reveal how this is manifested, specifically, in seventeenth century English poetry; and how men and women poets of the period differ quite distinctly in the way they represent the earth in their work.

The earth as mother is a universal metaphor. According to Ninian Smart, "there are powerful connections with the idea of the supreme Female, with the earth as being our Mother, with fertility, with motherly love, with falling in love. A devotee could see the Goddess under so many disguises, as provider of food, of great creatrix of the world." Smart is referring here to the "creative power or sakti of the Ultimate" (1989: 93), whose origins stretch back 5,000 years to the Indus Valley civilization. Even the Bible, which steadfastly represents the creator in masculine terms (in common with Ancient Near East religions in general [Smart 1989: 195-213]) occasionally crosses gender, as the following passage from the Apocrypha demonstrates: "For ask the earth, and she shall tell thee, that it is she which ought to mourn for the fall of so many that grow upon her. For out of her came all at the first, and out of her shall all others come. . ." (2 Esdras 10: 9-10).

However, the earth as mother is part of a wider perception of nature as feminine. According to Kate Soper:

   The association of femininity with naturality represents a more
   specific instance of the mind-body dualism brought to conceptions
   of nature, since it goes together with the assumption that the
   female, in virtue of her role in reproduction, is a more corporeal
   being than the male. If we ask, that is, what accounts for this
   coding of nature as feminine--which is deeply entrenched in Western
   thought, but has also been said by anthropologists to be
   crosscultural and well-nigh universal--then the answer, it would
   seem, lies in the double association of women with reproductive
   activities and of these in turn with nature. As feminists from de
   Beauvoir onwards have argued, it is woman's biology; or more
   precisely the dominance of it in her life as a consequence of her
   role in procreation, that has been responsible for her allocation
   to the side of nature, and hence for her being subject to the
   devaluation and de-historization of the natural relative to the
   cultural and its "productivity." The female, de Beauvoir tells
   us, is "more enslaved to the species than the male, her animality
   is more manifest. … 

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

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
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

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

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Rape of Mother Earth in Seventeenth Century English Poetry: An Ecofeminist Interpretation
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?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
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.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, 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." (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

    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.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.