Throughout, the poet uses a variety of literary devices and great examples of imagery. By the end of the poem, readers may find themselves considering whether these two women are real or are two separate people at all. Perhaps, the two women in this piece are two sides of the same person, or who one person used to be and who they are today.
Explore Two Women
‘Two Women’ by Marcus Wilcox is an interesting poem that provides readers with depictions of two very different women.
The first of these women is “repressed.” She lives a “black and white” life and, despite her young age, exhibits the characteristics of an older woman. She is contrasted with the second woman, someone who is filled with color. Her life is far more vibrant and satisfying. It’s with this second woman that the speaker feels connected, but they make sure to state that they are really somewhere between the two. They’re connected to them both. The speaker repeats the phrase, “How can they call her wrong,” several times in this poem, suggesting that there is someone, or some force, that disagrees with the second woman’s life. The speaker fully supports it, though, and reminds the reader once more at the end of the poem how connected they are to this person.
Throughout ‘Two Women,’ the poet engages with themes of identity and life. The two women they describe in this piece are quite different from one another. They lead very different lives, and one is far happier than the other, at least in the speaker’s eyes. On one side, the first woman is repressed and without the identity, she might have in another situation. The second woman is full of life, a striking contrast with the first woman.
Structure and Form
‘Two Women’ by Marcus Wilcox is a six-stanza poem that is separated into uneven sets of lines. The first contains six lines, the second: two, the third: six, the fourth: two, the fifth: five, and the sixth: four. These lines do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Despite this, there are examples of rhyme throughout the poem. For instance, the short “i” sound in “white” and “eyes” at the end of stanza one. A feeling of rhythm and unity is also created through the use of repetition and some literary devices.
Throughout ‘Two Women,’ Wilcox makes use of several literary devices. These include, but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines two and three of the first stanza or between lines one and two of the fourth stanza.
- Alliteration: can be seen through the use of the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “pan” and “potato” in stanza one and “sings” and “same” in stanza two.
- Repetition: occurs when the poet repeats an image, word, phrase, technique, or even a feeling more than once in a literary work—for example, the use of “life” twice in stanza three. There are also examples of anaphora.
- Imagery: occurs when the poet uses especially memorable and sense-related descriptions. They are skillfully capable of triggering the reader’s senses and encouraging them to imagine a scene in detail. For example, “She is colour / She is life.”
One fights at an electric pan
Making potato cakes
She is young and grey
She is black and white
There is no mystery in her eyes
In the first stanza of ‘Two Women,’ the speaker begins by using the phrase that later came to be used as the title, “Two Women.” The “w” in “Women” is capitalized, a choice that forces the reader to note the repetition between the title and this line and places added emphasis on the phrase itself. Of these two women, the first is in a kitchen working on making “potato cakes.” The speaker describes her simply, stating clearly that there is “no mystery in her eyes.” There’s nothing deeper besides the surface level “black and white” of her appearance of interest.
The use of the phrase “black and white” can be considered in different ways. First, it’s a way of suggesting that this person is uninteresting. There is nothing vibrant or colorful about them. On the other hand, it suggests (especially when it is accompanied by the word “mystery”) that this person lives a life that’s “black and white” there is no gray area. Meaning, there are no details; everything is either one way or another. She doesn’t spend time considering options or stepping outside her predetermined boxes.
The phrase “young and grey” should also be considered. It suggests that she’s “young” but also “old” at the same time. Perhaps, the life she’s living has aged her. She’s young, but she might as well be old and graying.
Her repression is her happiness
She dresses for old and sings for the same cause
In the next two lines, the speaker adds a few more details to the reader’s understanding of whom this first woman is. The speaker states outright that this woman is “repressed.” This is a fact of this woman’s life that the reader might have wondered at after reading the first stanza. It’s not clear why, but she’s repressed, contained within her life in a way that smothers her high aspirations. Perhaps, this is due to her social station, a relationship, her family, or another reason that’s not suggested here. But, despite her “repression,” she’s happy.
This woman has found contentment in the life she’s forced into. Her “repression is her happiness.” This is a curious state to consider, and is illuminated to a degree in the next line.
The poet brings in again a suggestion of old age. She “dresses” and “sings” for “old.” The phrasing here is curious. It suggests that “old” is something she can act for or towards. Readers should make a note of the fact that the poet did not include the word “age.”
(But)the other woman sings for the harvest
And wears things she enjoys
She is colour
She is life
Her spirit is so strong
Life is hers to give
The third stanza introduces the second of the two women the title refers to. As one might’ve expected, the second woman is quite different from the first. She “sings for the harvest.” Immediately with the word “harvest,” readers should consider other images. These include life, growth, family, togetherness, etc. She’s far happier. It seems like the first woman.
The poet uses anaphora through the repetition of “She” in this line. The woman is “colour” and “life.” She has a strong spirit, and “Life is hers to give.” These simple statements draw a deeper contrast between the two women. It’s safe to assume that the first woman is not filled with life and does not have a strong spirit, at least not in the way the second woman does.
In her spirit I am one
How can they call her wrong
The fourth stanza uses first-person pronouns, a shift that may change the reader’s opinion of the piece. While still talking about the second woman, the speaker says that they are connected to “her spirit.” They share the same outlook, strength, and “colour” that the second woman exhibits. The stanza ends with a rhetorical question. “How,” the speaker asks, could anyone look at this woman’s life and “call her wrong.” It’s unclear exactly why anyone would say so, or what “they” could find at fault in this woman’s life. Perhaps, “they” is used to refer to those who’d rather see the second woman’s life as the first woman does, repressed and “grey.”
I am in between
Neither know me but I know them
How can I escape the One as I reach for the pagan beauty
The earth is in her eyes, and
I am there with her
The speaker knows both of these women and counts themselves between the two of them. They don’t know the speaker, but they stand as two sides of this person’s life. The third line of this stanza brings in a new element, “the One.” The capitalization of the word “One” suggests the speaker is referring to a higher power or force, something that has control over their life. It’s a force that they are having trouble escaping as they “Reach for the pagan beauty.” The use of the word “pagan” has religious and metaphorical connotations. It connects to the second woman far more than the first, but the relationship to the speaker is unclear.
They go on to mention the “earth…in her eyes.” The “her” they’re referring to is likely the second woman at this point, but it’s not explicitly clear. Whoever this person is, metaphorical or real, the speaker is “there with her.”
In her spirit I am one
How can they call her wrong
In her colours I am warm
How can they call her wrong
The final stanza uses repetition to reiterate much of what was already said in the previous lines. The speaker is connected, in spirit, to one or both of these women. They are “warm[ed]” in this woman’s colors (an interesting example of a metaphor). The poem ends with the speaker repeating their question about “they” and how they can call “her wrong.” As the poem ends on this note, the reader might be left with a few questions in regard to whom the two women are and which woman the speaker is talking about in the final stanza. Perhaps a combination of them both? Or their focus may remain on the second woman, with the first only used as a means of contrast.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Two Women’ should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Identity’ by Elizabeth Jennings – a poem that focuses and explores the concept of a person’s image, not just their physical appearance but their personality.
- ‘Gretel in Darkness’ by Louise Glück – is an incredibly creative poem. Through the perspective of Gretel, the poet explores what it’s like to be ignored and controlled by men.
- ‘Phenomenal Woman’ by Maya Angelou – defies the stereotypes women are often faced with today. It is a poem filled with strength and determination.