Written in the 18th century, A Woman to Her Lover, is the only known poem by the writer Christina Walsh. The poem is only four stanzas with varying line numbers and lengths and no rhyme scheme. You can read the full poem here.
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Summary of A Woman to Her Lover
A Woman to Her Lover is a poem in which the speaker, a woman, is addressing her lover and telling him what she will and will not tolerate. She refuses to be conquered or bent to his will, or be a “wingless angel who can do no wrong.” She also informs him that she has her own desires apart from him and is seeking a partnership between two friends and equals. Her body, and her life, are her own and not there for his enjoyment. This kind of love that she seeks she believes will lead the two of them to the utmost joy and eventually to God.
Analysis of A Woman to Her Lover
Do you come to me to bend me to your will
as conqueror to the vanquished
no servant will i be
if that be what you ask. O lover i refuse you!
This poem begins with a seven-line stanza that is mostly questions. The speaker, the woman in the relationship, is asking her partner how he thinks their relationship is going to go. She asks him, among other things,
Do you come to me…to make of me a bondslave…
She needs to know right from the start of their relationship what he is expecting of her. Whether he will try to require her to have children, to be a servant, or be bent to his will. All of these things she refuses. Walsh ends with stanza with the short phrase,
O lover I refuse you!
If he intends any of this list of things for her, she has no interest in him. All of these possible features of their relationship that she mentions have existed throughout time in traditional marriages between men and women, the woman bending to the will of the man, and living her life only as he sees fit. This first stanza may seem obvious to the reader, that these elements of a relationship, in the modern world, are inherently wrong to demand, but as the poem continues they become deeper and perhaps less straightforward. A Woman to Her Lover could be read both by 18th-century men and women and 21st, and still make a meaningful impact.
The second stanza of A Woman to Her Lover is five lines and speaks on two different possible aspects of a relationship that the speaker feels like she needs to address. The first is one that is still very prevalent in today’s world. She tells him,
…if you think to wed with one from heaven sent
whose every deed and wish is golden…go!
She needs him to know that every choice she makes in her life, or their life together, is not going to be perfect. Everything she does is not going to make him happy. She has her own wishes and is flawed just like anyone. This addresses the traditional idea that women should strive to be without flaws. That they should make each decision with the intent to please those around them and be careful not to step out of line. This is a prejudice that is still very much at work in all aspects of modern life from personal relationships to professional ones in which assertive, demanding women are often looked down on and criticized. Although this poem was written in the 18th century, it is still incredibly relevant.
She continues to deny the idea that she is a
wingless angel who can do no wrong
Then continues to the second half of the stanza in which she informs her partner that she will not be a doll for him to dress up, her life is not for him to control or direct. She will not sit to the side and be “feebl[y] worship[ed]” by him. She must direct herself. She once again reiterates at the end of this stanza that if these things are what he asks then he is a fool and she refuses him.
The third stanza is again seven lines and goes over another aspect of relationships that she will not stand for. She will not be,
…a creature who will have no greater joy
than gratify your clamorous desire…
She is asserting the fact that she will not be an object that exists for his own pleasure. Her body was not made for him, and does not belong to him. She exists for herself and no one else. She depicts this man as possibly having “clamorous desire,” as if he cannot control himself, he is animalistic in nature. If he were to behave this way she would not stand for it. She continues on to shame him if he feels that he would abase women in that way and tell him that if indeed he believes that a wife is his physical property that he will never gain the hand of any
…wakened woman of our time.
No woman who has risen about her forced traditional roles, and stepped out from the shadow of male dominance, will ever want him. This idea was much more revolutionary in the 18th century than it is now, the idea that a woman owns herself and has control over her own body would still have been greeted with hostility and not seen as a welcome public opinion.
The final stanza of A Woman to Her Lover brings together all of the speaker’s thoughts and informs her partner what she is looking for in a relationship. She begins,
But lover, if you ask of me
that I shall be your comrade, friend, and mate,
She wants to be on equal footing with her lover. She needs to be more than just his wife— also his comrade and friend. She seeks a relationship in which they may work side by side and love and die together. She continues on to state that she believes equality in a relationship is the only way in which they may know
the purity and height
of passion, and of joy and sorrow
If he too believes this to be the case, then she says she is his forever. The final lines address the beauty of this form of love, and how it will please the world. The “stars [will] laugh with joy” and the music of the universe will be the bridal march. They will exist equally within the world until their deaths when they will spiritually and physically “reach the very heart of God.”
About Christina Walsh
Hardly anything is known about the writer of this poem, Christina Walsh. Without any definitive evidence, it is believed that she lived sometime from the mid-1700s to the beginning of the 1800s. She is not known to have written anything else, although it is very possible, as is the case with many female writers of the time, that her works are lost. As she states in A Woman to Her Lover, it was traditional for a woman to stay in line behind her husband, tending to his needs, not pursuing goals of her own, especially if they related to the empowerment of women and the quest for equality.