‘A Woman’s Hands’ by Eva Bezwoda is a three-stanza work where a wife/mother is proclaiming her distress in the number of tasks she must tend to regarding her family. She expands the notion to include all “wom[e]n” by addressing “a nun” who has no husband or “child,” but the narration soon shifts back to how “tired” the narrator is from “always hold[ing] something.” This dissatisfaction seems to be the theme of ‘A Woman’s Hands’, and when considered with the idea that she feels “own[ed],” this poem could be a statement of allowing yourself to be happy. Had this relationship been more akin to what the “woman” was looking for, she may not have grudged it so.
In this, Bezwoda warns the married to be sensitive to the needs of the other party rather than insisting on a situation where one “always” gives and the other “always” takes. That kind of imbalance, after all, can lead to a ruined relationship.
A Woman’s Hands Analysis
A woman’s hands always hold something:
A handbag, a vase, a child, a ring, an idea.
My hands are tired of holding
They simply want to fold themselves.
The first two lines of ‘A Woman’s Hands’ are not specifically tied to the narrator, but rather “[a] woman” in general. It is not until Line Three that the reader can infer that the narrator is giving a personal story through this poem when the perspective shifts to first-person. This method of addressing the situation in such general terms mimics the commentary that the poem is issuing toward this “woman” and “wom[e]n” overall. The “woman” is “always” tending to something, so it is sensible to have the poem dive right into the heart of the matter rather than delay tending to the issue. Just as “[a] woman’s hands always hold something,” this poem “always” expresses its core meaning because it was addressed so early in the lines.
It is also worth noting that the whole “woman” is not regarded in this capacity—just her “hands.” This could be because “hands” are so synonymous with work, given how many tasks require “hands.” Very little can be uncovered that does not require the “hands” in some capacity, whereas something like legs would only be needed for certain chores. “A woman” can write, paint, or construct something while seated, after all. In this, the notion that “[a] woman” stays busy with “something” to do is represented by the most work-related part of her being.
While still in the general terms of “[a] woman,” the narrator refers to “[a] handbag, a vase, a child, a ring, [and] an idea” as things that are often in her “hands.” This extends the tasks of the “hands” to include a variety of things—like shopping with the “handbag,” decorating with the “vase,” and catering to her family with the “child.” Beyond those notions, however, the details become a bit more abstract. The “ring,” after all, could represent a marriage, which would mean that she “hold[s]” her marriage as a very real responsibility. It could also represent her desire to look her best, given that something like “a ring” could be utilized as an accessory.
Because of its placement next to “a child,” though, the argument of the marriage representation is quite likely, particularly when the next item on the list is something even more abstract than a marriage: “an idea.” No one can physically “hold” an idea, so this grants a figurative quality to the circumstance. In fact, the reader can note a progression of ideas from common and literal—the “handbag”—to something more revealing and intangible in the “idea.”
So what does this progression mean? It could be a representation of how out of “hand” chores can get when something “always” needs to be done, but it could also indicate an exaggeration on the part of the narrator. Just as a person cannot literally “hold” “an idea,” perhaps Bezwoda is subtly letting the reader know that the information cannot be taken at face value. Perhaps “[a] woman” does often “hold something,” but not “always.”
The personification in this poem is interesting as well in that these “hands” are being treated as if they have feelings. They’re “tired” and “simply want to fold themselves.” Since “hands” do not feel in these ways, a deeper meaning must be hidden within the word choice. Specifically, the narrator is saying that she—not her “hands”—is “tired,” but by directing the commentary toward the most work-related aspect of herself, she is deepening the connection she has to work and responsibility. They are the focal points of her labors, so to address them is to highlight how much those labors have worn on her. Their desire to “fold themselves,” particularly when paired with “simply,” indicates that she wishes for an easier existence where she can be closed off to her responsibilities and relax, like “hands” that are “fold[ed]” on a person’s lap.
On a crowded bus, I watched a nun’s empty hands
Till I reminded myself that she clutched God.
For these lines of ‘A Woman’s Hands’, the narration scales back to address another “woman” beside herself as she “watche[s] a nun” “[o]n a crowded bus.” This “crowd” could infer that multiple people experience this same detail, or it could be commentary that “[a] woman[‘s]” responsibilities go unnoticed by others. Since the narrator initially labels the “nun’s… hands” as “empty,” the latter option feels more solid. This narrator looked right at the “nun” and assumed she had no responsibilities, so it is likely that other people traveling with her would assume the same.
This notion of “empty hands” falls apart when the narrator realizes the “nun” “clutched God,” which would indicate a level of responsibility and work on its own. Her work, then, was different than the narrator’s since she likely did not have a family, but the work is varied did not negate that responsibility existed. In this uncomplicated pair of lines, Bezwoda has shown that the concept is universal and extends to different types of responsibilities.
My hands are tired of holding.
I’d gladly let them go, and watch a pair of hands
Run ownerless through the world,
Scattering cooking pots and flowers and rings.
That the narrator feels the need to repeat that her “hands are tired of holding” at the very start of returning the focus to her is telling. None of the responsibilities are the priority being dealt with because they are not the main components that she rushes to address. Rather, her “tir[ing]” is what she concentrates on. In fact, she is so “tired” of this situation that she would “gladly let [her hands] go, and watch [them r]un ownerless through the world.” The literal translation to this would be that she physically wants to remove her “hands,” but as that concept is unlikely, once more, the reader must look deeper to find the true meaning.
Specifically, the narrator is saying that she would like to free herself of the responsibilities in her life that have her “always” tending to “something,” and she even notes a series of things that qualify as those responsibilities: “cooking pots and flowers and rings.” All of these details are relatable to housework and family life, from making dinners to tending to the garden to catering to her marriage, so it is obvious that these are the circumstances that she feels weigh her down. In this, her immediate thought that the “nun” had “empty hands” would be reasonable because a “nun” would not have a husband and “child[ren].” These are her initial concepts that she thinks of in regard to work, which indicates how much she equates them with the burdens that make her “hands” “always” busy.
That she labels these free “hands” as “ownerless” shows that she feels captured by her family, like she is no longer herself—but a belonging of someone else. This would logically add to her resentment of “always” having to tend to her family since, in essence, she is worked, and also untrue to herself. With those details in mind, it is somewhat understandable that she would “gladly” release responsibilities to be freer—to be herself.
This, in the end of ‘A Woman’s Hands’, could lead to the end of the marriage since the narrator proclaims that she would “gladly” separate from the responsibilities, which provides a warning for imbalanced relationships. The structure can create unhappiness, resentment, and abandonment.
About Eva Bezwoda
Little information was found online about Eva Bezwoda. She is, however, the creator of the literary work, Poems, that was released in 1994.