ANY WOMAN Katharine Tynan
CRITICAL APPRECIATION OF ANY WOMAN
PREPARED BY SAJEENA SHUKKOOR, HSST (ENGLISH), TRIVANDRUM
Katherine Tynan is an Irish born writer who enriched English literature with her novels and poetry. A short poem of six stanzas ‘Any Woman’ by Katherine Tynan is a beautiful portrayal of woman in her multifaceted role.
The poem celebrates the glory of womanhood – the spirit behind the existence and sustenance of life on earth. The speaker identifies herself with ‘the pillars of the house’, ‘keystone of the arch’, ‘fire upon the hearth’, ‘light of the sun’, ‘heat that warms the earth’, ‘light of love’, ‘twist of the sacred ring’, ‘knot of love’, ‘house from floor to roof’, ‘wall against all danger’ and ‘door against the wind and snow’. The speaker asserts that if she is taken away the whole edifice will be ruined ruining her life too. This bold assertion becomes a confession too – a revelation about the space where a woman enjoys her existence. She is confident that it is her warmth which perpetuates life on earth. The point here is that she is the source of warmth for the entire earth. Her warmth of fertility is the answer to the coldness of the barrenness of the earth. Once she becomes a mother, she spreads her hands supporting her children. She kindles the fire in the hearth and she becomes the source of love and life for the ‘precious’ children. She binds them within the tether of her love and no child can escape from that bondage. Remembering her duties and responsibilities, the speaker now equates herself to the house. She decorates the walls, spreads the board, spins the curtains and makes the bed. She defends the family in all the dangers.
The poet’s concluding note is a prayer to God with a reminder that only a woman is made instrumental in the Birth of Jesus Christ. Her appeal to God is to prolong her life till her children are grown up. The theme, the glorification of womanhood, is an oft repeated one in literature. But ‘Any Woman’ becomes remarkable with its poignant imagery which conveys the theme perfectly. This theme is all the more relevant in the modern world where womanhood is tampered and tarnished mercilessly. Katherine Tynan’s poem becomes a reminder to women also since they too forget their own worth. The poet’s message is clear. Woman becomes the axis around which the entire family revolves. Her role becomes indispensable even to the Birth of Jesus Christ.
The poem moves from emphatic assertion to an earnest appeal. The speaker in the poem elaborates on the functions of a woman and then concludes with a prayer. The magnanimity and compassion, the twin emotions related with motherhood is visible in this prayer. The tone of the poem is serious, sober and solemn.
The poem abounds with a flurry of metaphors. The speaker compares herself with ‘the pillars of the
house’, ‘the keystone of the arch’, ‘fire upon the hearth’, ‘light of the good sun’, ‘the heat that warms the earth’, ‘light of love’, ‘knot of love’, ‘house from floor to roof’, ‘wall against all danger’ and ‘door against the wind and snow’. All these metaphors are pointers to the maternal love. The metaphor of ‘sacred ring’ is deliberately used to indicate the holiness associated with marriage vows and subsequent bondage with which the children are fastened within the family. The ring is in the form of circle which means ‘forever’. It symbolizes wholeness, unity, perfection and peace. It is the gravitational pull of the mother’s love and devotion which compels her children not to go astray.
Yet another exquisite metaphor is ‘the wind and snow’ which stands for the crises affecting the family. The line ‘Their door against the wind and snow’ is adjacent to the line which alludes to the incident in which Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus Christ. This sets the beautiful example for the ‘wind and snow’ a woman faced in the world. The final prayer becomes the most touching line which draws our tear. A woman loves her life and wants to live in order to watch her children grow and lend them her hands in support to them.
The artistic effect is achieved with the usage of ‘anaphora’, the repetition of words ‘I am’. ‘Enjambment’ is another poetic technique used to give a sense of natural motion. The line ‘Take me away, and roof and wall/Would fall to ruin me utterly’ is an instance in which the idea run into next line. As for the rhyme scheme, all the stanzas rhyme except the first stanza in a pattern in which first line rhymes with the third and the second rhymes with the fourth.
In conclusion, the poem deals with a relevant theme and conveys a powerful message. It carries an
optimistic mood and airs a serious tone. The abundant use of poetic devices reinforces the theme and message. Thus, ‘Any Woman’ is an eloquent encomium in which each line speaks volumes about ‘womanhood’.
A Comparison Between the Poems `Toys` and `Any Woman`
A reading of the poem ‘Toys’ definitely makes me think of the poem ‘Any Woman’ by Katharine Tynan. Why I feel so is because of the theme dealt within both poems and of course for some other aspects found. There are similarities as well as differences between them. For instance while analysing the theme /content, the poem ‘Any Woman’ projects the importance of woman/mother in a house. Thoughts strike to realise how important is her presence for a healthy and balanced state of family. She is the pillars, keystone, roof, walls and the fire upon the hearth. ‘The woman’ is felt in the poem as a living energy in everything whereas in the poem ‘Toys’ we hear about ‘the mother’ who is no more. The father and the son in ‘Toys’ are affected in the absence of the mother. Had there been the mother alive things would have been easier for them. It is the mother who makes a house a home. In that sense, both poems are two ways of praising motherhood.
The poem ‘Any Woman’ is read as a universal prayer to god while the poem ‘Toys’ is in the form of a complaint and confession. In ‘Any Woman’ the mother/woman is the persona/speaker whereas in ‘Toys’ it is the father figure. The woman in ‘Any Woman’ suffers for the sake of her loving ones. She does never complain. But the father in ‘Toys’ finds it hard without his son’s mother. If we see a patient woman accepting all pains silently in ‘Any Woman’, in ‘Toys’ we see a man weeping out of extreme grief /pain. He is rather impatient and struggles to deal with situations. It makes one wonder how can a man be so emotional! Both poems have biblical allusions. For example we have the picture of Holy Mother laying little Jesus in manger in ‘Any Woman’. And in ‘Toys’, numbers six and seven mentioned, the idea of man’s creation out of clay, the indication of merciful creator God/Father. Even though ‘Toys’ praises the unconditional love and care of God/Universal Father, it deals with the conditional or changing love of man/father. But in ‘Any Woman’ the love and protective powers of woman/mother is unconditional and it is even equal to that of God.
There are concrete images coming in both poems. ‘Any Woman’ contains visual (the hearth, the house), and tactile (heat and cold) images. ‘Toys’ contains visual (lashes, blue bells…),auditory (spoke, sobbing), and kinesthetic (dismissed- the related movement in poem) images. Analysing the rhyme scheme ‘Any Woman’ follows abab pattern except for the first stanza. But ‘Toys’ sets an irregular pattern.
To sum up the analysis, ‘Any Woman’ thinks of the possible ways of treating emotions in a very controlled way whereas ‘Toys’ tries to liberate emotions.
Prepared by Smitha K, GHSS Kattoor, Irinjalakuda, Thrissur
( A REFLECTION ON THE POEM , “ANY WOMAN” BY KATHERINE TYNAN )
THE TALE OF A STAR
Every one says I am a star,
The sky is so high above me,
But I, the star, is so low
Bound in the four walls of the house.
A star is free there, upon the sky!
I am also free, the laws say!
But chained I am by traditions.
How can they say I am a star
That twinkles high upon the sky!
I also twinkle, nowhere else
Within the four walls of my house .
The kitchen is, perhaps my sky!
-NAYANA GOVIND,12 SCIENCE,GHSS KAMBALLUR,KASARGOD(14002 )
A Short Note
“Any Woman” written by Katharine Tynan , an Irish poet, speaks about the role of a mother. The sentiments of a mother expressed here by a mother poet about her part in a family is true in every place and time.
In this poem the poet says about the importance of a mother in a family. She is the keystone of the house. If something happens to her, the poet warns, the whole family will be ruined. Children live because of the warmth of mothers’ love. She walls all dangers and protects her family from ‘wind and snow’ which stands for external forces trying to harm the family.
In the last part of the poem the mother makes her humble wish to live long enough to see her children grow. She is selfless enough to think of her young ones.
Indeed she is the pillar of house without which it is certain the house – family – will fall apart. Now a days the presence of a mother in a family is rarely noticed. She is considered only as a machine who never gets tired of anything. She is neglected and confined within the four walls her house. This poem demands all readers to open their eyes to be considerate towards a woman’s inner feelings and to regard her as an individual.
This poem ‘Any Woman’ presents the all-embracing power of a woman to hold her family together. The mother figure in the poem and her private emotions are presented through a lot many metaphorical images such as pillars, keystone, fire on the hearth, light, etc. Except for the first stanza the rhyme scheme in the poem is to be identified to be ab, ab, cd, cd, …..
Sample Questions and answers
I. The following lines are taken from the poem, ‘Any Woman’. Read the lines and answer the questions that follow.
“I am the pillars of the house;
The keystone of the arch am I”.
1. Who is referred to as the pillar of the house?
2. What is the meaning of the word ‘keystone’ here?
3. What is the figure of speech used here?
4. Elaborate on the idea of the above lines.
1. Mother is referred to as the pillars of the house.
2. “Keystone” here means the most important part of a family – house.
3. The figure of speech used here is Metaphor. The poet metaphorically says that mother of a family is the ‘pillar’ and ‘keystone’ of the house.
4. According the poet the mother in a family is the most important part of it – keystone of an arch. If something happens to her, the family will be ruined. Hence give such a consideration to her.
“Thou whom a woman laid in a manger
Take me not till the children grow!”
1. Who is the ‘woman’ referred to here?
2. What is the meaning of the word ‘manger’?
3. What character trait of a mother is shown here?
4. Elaborate on the idea of the above lines.
1. Holy Mary, mother of Jesus Christ is the ‘woman’ referred to here.
2. ‘Manger’ means the box or trough for horses or cattle to feed from.
3. It shows selfless love and protective attitude of a mother.
4. The last two lines ring a biblical reference where one finds the element of sacrifice. Jesus Christ was born to wash off the sins of humanity. Soon after his birth, Mother Mary put him in a manger wrapped in old cloth. These lines are a prayer to Jesus Christ to keep the mother alive till her children grow. At the same time these lines speak of a mother’s selflessness. She prepares to lay down or sacrifice her conscience for the sake of her children.
1. What is the significance of the adjective ‘precious’ in the poem ‘Any Woman’?
The adjective ‘precious’ is attached to children so as to express the dearness, sweetness and the importance of children felt by the mother figure in the poem.
2. What is the significance of ‘sacred ring’ in the poem Any Woman’?
‘Sacred ring’ suggests the divine, godly circle or halo that is around the family binding them (the young ones) within the protective powers of the mother.
3. What is the significance of ‘wrap and woof’?
This is an imagery brought from weaving. The expression is used as a metaphor underlying structure or strength on which something is built. Here it is indicative of the grandness and immensity of the mother’s strength to protect her little ones.
In the first stanza, 3rd and 4th lines, what do the words ‘ruin me’ mean?
Does it mean ruin the home or mother?
‘Take me away,and roof and wall
Would fall to ruin me utterly’
‘Me’ stands for mother or home?
focus on the line
She is indeed the pillars of the house without which it would fall into ruins.This is the concept the poet would have had in her mind while creating those lines.
So it is clear that ‘me’ in the third line is mother and me in the fourth line is the house/(the family/home). I think it is a deliberate pun employed by the poet to stress the fact that mother is the house or the family. There is no home ,without the mother -CKR
Prepared by Thomas A A & Smitha K
GHSS Kattoor, Thrissur
I am the pillars of the house;
The keystone of the arch am I.
Take me away, and roof and wall
Would fall to ruin me utterly.
I am the fire upon the hearth,
I am the light of the good sun,
I am the heat that warms the earth,
Which else were colder than a stone.
At me the children warm their hands;
I am their light of love alive.
Without me cold the hearthstone stands,
Nor could the precious children thrive.
I am the twist that holds together
The children in its sacred ring,
Their knot of love, from whose close tether
No lost child goes a-wandering.
I am the house from floor to roof,
I deck the walls, the board I spread;
I spin the curtains, warp and woof,
And shake the down to be their bed.
I am their wall against all danger,
Their door against the wind and snow,
Thou Whom a woman laid in a manger,
Take me not till the children grow!
Katharine Tynan was an Irish-born writer, known mainly for her novels and poetry. After her marriage in 1898 to the English writer and barrister Henry Albert Hinkson she usually wrote under the name Katharine Tynan Hinkson, or variations thereof.