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♪♫ asked in Arts & HumanitiesPoetry · 9 years ago

What does the poem "Proem" mean?

Here is the poem.

I know it's really long, but if you have read it before, please help me!

In dark and early ages, through the primal forests faring,

Ere the soul came shining into prehistoric night,

Twofold man was equal; they were comrades dear and daring,

Living wild and free together in unreasoning delight.

Ere the soul was born and consciousness came slowly,

Ere the soul was born, to man and woman, too,

Ere he found the Tree of Knowledge, that awful tree and holy,

Ere he knew he felt, and knew he knew.

Then said he to Pain, "I am wise now, and I know you!

No more will I suffer while power and wisdom last!"

Then said he to Pleasure, "I am strong, and I will show you

That the will of man can seize you,–aye, and hold you fast!"

Food he ate for pleasure, and wine he drank for gladness.

And woman? Ah, the woman! the crown of all delight!

His now,–he knew it! He was strong to madness

In that early dawning after prehistoric night.

His,–his forever! That glory sweet and tender!

Ah, but he would love her! And she should love but him!

He would work and struggle for her, he would shelter and defend her,–

She should never leave him, never, till their eyes in death were dim.

Close, close he bound her, that she should leave him never;

Weak still he kept her, lest she be strong to flee;

And the fainting flame of passion he kept alive forever

With all the arts and forces of earth and sky and sea.

And, ah, the long journey! The slow and awful ages

They have labored up together, blind and crippled, all astray!

Through what a mighty volume, with a million shameful pages,

From the freedom of the forests to the prisons of to-day!

Food he ate for pleasure, and it slew him with diseases!

Wine he drank for gladness, and it led the way to crime!

And woman? He will hold her,–he will have her when he pleases–

And he never once hath seen her since the prehistoric time!

Gone the friend and comrade of the day when life was younger,

She who rests and comforts, she who helps and saves.

Still he seeks her vainly, with a never-dying hunger;

Alone beneath his tyrants, alone above his slaves!

Toiler, bent and weary with the load of thine own making!

Thou who art sad and lonely, though lonely all in vain!

Who hast sought to conquer Pleasure and have her for the taking,

And found that Pleasure only was another name for Pain–

Nature hath reclaimed thee, forgiving dispossession!

God hath not forgotten, though man doth still forget!

The woman-soul is rising, in despite of thy transgression–

Loose her now, and trust her! She will love thee yet!

Love thee? She will love thee as only freedom knoweth!

Love thee? She will love thee while Love itself doth live!

Fear not the heart of woman! No bitterness it showeth!

The ages of her sorrow have but taught her to forgive!

2 Answers

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  • Anonymous
    9 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    Well, let's try to figure this out. It's by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a famous American feminist from the late 19th - early 20th century. The poem is sort of an introduction to a book called "Women and Economics," published in 1898. (The rest of the book is in prose, and is a political, social, and economic argument; only this part is in verse.) The poem is a sort of "origin myth," like the story of Adam and Eve, explaining (in a fanciful and metaphorical way -- she didn't mean for it to be taken totally literally) how the relationship between men and women developed from prehistoric times into what it was at the time she was writing, and how it should be changed.

    Now that you know that background, understanding the poem should be easier. If there are specific words or phrases you don't get, please post them, but surely you can understand most of it, right? Take the first stanza: you don't need us to explain what "dark and early ages" means, do you? Or "living wild and free together"? So please narrow down the parts that are difficult for you, and we'll help with those.

  • Anonymous
    5 years ago

    I found this poem engaging and enjoyable. Your first stanza: Decisions made without a thought Are not the things that can be taught Split second ones can fill the page That cross my mind then disengage You set your goal in meter, rhyme and tonality. This excellent stanza is the foundation and precursor for the remainder of your poem and you don't disappoint. Your message is captivating, carrying through with the template you set with S-1. Your final couplet is a good summation and "sheathe" a courageous choice that works. Excellent poem, Bri.

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