Friday, July 27, 2012

How A Woman Defines Herself

When I first viewed Marie-France's sensuous painting, "Oh! cherry, oh...!", I was immediately struck by this lovely woman's resemblance with her reddish hair and angular face to that of Keira Knightley in the historic film, The Duchess (2008). The British actress portrayed the beautiful and vibrant 18th century Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. In the movie, an aristocratic girl marries for social prominence and noble alliance. Her husband is only interested in her financial dowry and ability to produce a male heir. Thus, the young woman is trapped in an elegant world lacking real love and personal freedom. Her identity is associated with her partner's name and rank. Her anguish and imaginative dreams are limited to the privacy of her garden and boudoir.

My poem portrays the duchess alone in her bedroom, draped in the morning light and the sheer freedom of curtains blowing in a cool breeze. Here, she expresses her honest thoughts and longing to escape without regret or a guilty conscience. She defines herself as a ghost with hair the same color as that of the red heron, prized for those soft, auburn feathers on his neck. Like the water bird, she perceives her purpose in life as ornamental, her youth sacrificed to serve the pleasure and desire of others, the male elite.

Glancing out the window, she contemplates the wild cherries growing on the hill. She wants to fly off to such a place and possess the same attributes as that tart and tantalizing fruit. Not only are they powerfully tempting, but they also have pits (stones) that have the potential to hurt those who bite too hard or choke those who swallow while laughing arrogantly at how domestic or habitual their flavor has become. She longs for the ability to defend her individuality and sarcastically mock (without penalty ) those who would take her beauty and womanhood for granted.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, On Fowl And Fruit
From a letter to her husband, 1784.

Leave me these moments

where I can breathe, where nothing

thought or dreamt of will lend

the window a face of regret.

Private thoughts, the white bedroom, Chatsworth estate.

Draped in the morning's light

one views me as a ghost, long hair braided

and coloring my neck

with the same softness seen

in the red heron's plume.

Strange migrant of the marsh

who's prized for his neck,

feathers that will adorn

fan or hat, they venerate you;

but rob your body of its life.

Your presence relegated

to an auburn wraith

in the looking glass.

And here I wake, woman akin

to that water bird. Pursued

for the ornamental, awash

in these sheer billows

of curtain and sun.

I long to fly off.

Some place high and cool

where cherries dangle from the branch

tart, tantalizing --- and with stones

that chip the tooth

which bites too hard

or lessen the breath

that brags how domestic, habitual

their flavor has become.

The beautiful painting, entitled, "Oh! Cherry oh!..." can be viewed with other gorgeous works of French artist, Marie-France Riviere, at her on-line gallery. Please visit her works here --

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