Alfred Tennyson’s “The Woman’s Cause Is Man’s”

Blame not thyself too much,’ I said, ‘nor blame

Too much the sons of men and barbarous laws;

These were the rough ways of the world till now.

Henceforth thou hast a helper, me, that know
The woman’s cause is man’s: they rise or sink

Together, dwarfed or godlike, bond or free:

For she that out of Lethe scales with man

The shining steps of Nature, shares with man

His nights, his days, moves with him to one goal,

Stays all the fair young planet in her hands–

If she be small, slight-natured, miserable,

How shall men grow? but work no more alone!

Our place is much: as far as in us lies

We two will serve them both in aiding her–

Will clear away the parasitic forms

That seem to keep her up but drag her down–

Will leave her space to burgeon out of all

Within her–let her make herself her own

To give or keep, to live and learn and be

All that not harms distinctive womanhood.

For woman is not undevelopt man,

But diverse: could we make her as the man,

Sweet Love were slain: his dearest bond is this,

Not like to like, but like in difference.

Yet in the long years liker must they grow;

The man be more of woman, she of man;

He gain in sweetness and in moral height,

Nor lose the wrestling thews that throw the world;

She mental breadth, nor fail in childward care,

Nor lose the childlike in the larger mind;

Till at the last she set herself to man,

Like perfect music unto noble words;

And so these twain, upon the skirts of Time,

Sit side by side, full-summed in all their powers,

Dispensing harvest, sowing the To-be,

Self-reverent each and reverencing each,

Distinct in individualities,

But like each other even as those who love.

Then comes the statelier Eden back to men:

Then reign the world’s great bridals, chaste and calm:

Then springs the crowning race of humankind.

May these things be!’

Sighing she spoke ‘I fear

They will not.’

‘Dear, but let us type them now

In our own lives, and this proud watchword rest

Of equal; seeing either sex alone

Is half itself, and in true marriage lies

Nor equal, nor unequal: each fullfils

Defect in each, and always thought in thought,

Purpose in purpose, will in will, they grow,

The single pure and perfect animal,

The two-celled heart beating, with one full stroke,
Life.’

And again sighing she spoke: ‘A dream

That once was mind! what woman taught you this?’ 

– Alfred Tennyson

 

            The Victorian Age, roughly the time from the 1830’s to 1900 prefaced modern times. A lot changed in the way humans think; therefore, a lot changed in the way people live and what they believe in. Feminism and Women’s Rights had never been given a thought before this time. It is in this time that Tennyson wrote this “conversation.” I find it telling that the woman to whom he speaks has no hope for this to come to actualization. She is saddened by, yet has accepted her fate. While in this time many people started believing there was a need for change, this shows that at least in this woman’s case, she was unwilling to fight for this belief.

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