Woman To Man (Judith Wright)
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.
This poem by Judith Wright has been with me all my adult life. ‘Woman to Man’ is possibly my favourite poem; it is certainly the one I have most used, for learning, to feel another’s empathy, to be comforted by. It is a poem that to me has always had a kind of grace, and it has bestowed that grace on me many times.
I came across Woman to Man when I was seventeen and studied it with one of those rarely gifted teachers. We talked in class at length about the abundant sexuality and sensuality, with the female teacher discussing her own awareness of the sex-act that had conceived her son. We got graphic and spoke of the ‘intricate and folded rose’ of the vulva and the womb. We knew the ‘blaze of light along the blade’ to be both ejaculation, and the cutting of the umbilical cord. That ‘the blind head butting at the dark’ was both the penis during sex, and its ultimate outcome, the blind head of the babe in the darkness of the womb.
It was a relevant age to find this poem, as it resonated through my early sex exploration. It helped explain why and how my body was designed, that in fact pleasure is part of the great design, and that the great design seeks only to replicate life over and over. It made me feel my body was quite sacred and that my pleasure was part of the design of life, even if I wasn’t ready or desirous at the time to bring forth that life. I watched a documentary once that showed the cervix up-close during female orgasm, how it gulped like a little mouth to draw in the sperm, so functional and effectively designed.
Years later I read the poem again and again as I and my partner faced conception. The first time- not wanted and terminated in a hospital procedure when we were young and powerless. Then the other times of conception, two, three and four, when all we wanted was for that embryonic potential to survive yet it did not. That is when the line ‘oh hold me for I am afraid’ took on different meaning, where sex was for life-creation and it promised hope or the despair of miscarriage. Then the conception that closed a loop, righted the universe in my womb and put life and light back in to bring forth ‘the third who lay in our embrace.’
The poem has been with me all my life as a signpost to that which is erotic, spiritual, romantic, biological and paradoxical between Woman and Man- that even as we are drawn to the embrace and its potential, we fear it. ‘Oh hold me for I am afraid.’