Woman Work

Woman Work

 by Maya Angelou

I’ve got the children to tend
The clothes to mend
The floor to mop
The food to shop
Then the chicken to fry
The baby to dry
I got company to feed
The garden to weed
I’ve got shirts to press
The tots to dress
The can to be cut
I gotta clean up this hut
Then see about the sick
And the cotton to pick.
Shine on me, sunshine
Rain on me, rain
Fall softly, dewdrops
And cool my brow again.
Storm, blow me from here
With your fiercest wind
Let me float across the sky
‘Til I can rest again.
Fall gently, snowflakes
Cover me with white
Cold icy kisses and
Let me rest tonight.
Sun, rain, curving sky
Mountain, oceans, leaf and stone
Star shine, moon glow
You’re all that I can call my own.

Summary of Woman Work

  • Popularity of “Woman Work”: Published in her own poetic collection, Still I Rise, this poem has set the trend that entirely corresponds with the main idea of the collection. Although it appeared in 1978, the poem has proved a milestone in spreading feminism associated with African American marginalization in the United States. The poem has beautifully enumerated the daily chores a woman has to perform that start at dawn and end quite late at night. The poem has won popularity due to the simplicity involved with domestic chores.
  • “Woman Work” As a Representative of Tedium of Domestic Chores: The poem shows a first person speaking to her readers. She is likely a woman fed up with her domestic chores. She presents her activities which include taking care of her children, clothes, mopping, shopping, frying, and drying from home to garden. She goes on to state ironing, cutting, cleaning, tending, and then picking cotton. It includes gardening, nursing, and farming. This shows how a woman starts her work and continues working until late at night.
    The most important thing that she stresses is that it does not end even in dry, wet, rainy, or cold, or hot weather. Weather and age do not impact it. She always continues floating here and there, working without enjoying “snowflakes” and beautiful weather. She then enumerates the wonders of nature to imply that she misses all of them though they are her own. This shows her tedium with the domestic chores.
  • Major Themes in “Woman Work”: Tedium, boredom, and feminine resistance are three major thematic strands of the poem “Woman Work.” Although it is not clear that the speaker is facing or experiencing tedium and boredom, the immediate impact of the enumeration of various tasks one by one makes it obvious. This leads the speaker to conclude that although natural elements around her are in abundance and she can own all of them, she has little time to enjoy them. She can only state that “Let me rest tonight” and move on to state that she can call them her own. This dreary life of daily chores ends on this claim which shows a type of feminine resistance toward a daily routine.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in Woman Work

Maya Angelou’s power and skill in using literary devices in simple language are obvious. Some of the major literary devices are analyzed below.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /a/ and i/ in “Shine on me, sunshine” and “Rain on me, rain” and the sound of /o/ in “The floor to mop.”
  2. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession, such as the sound of /w/ in “with white” and /t/ in “tots to.”
  3. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /t/ in “The tots to dress” and the sound of /sh/ in “Shine on me, sunshine.”
  4. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. Maya Angelou has used imagery in this poem, such as “Shine on me, sunshine”, “The clothes to mend” and “Fall softly, dewdrops.”
  5. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between objects that are different in nature. The poet has used the metaphor of wind that blows her away or snowflakes that cover her.
  6. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. The poem shows symbols such as children, shop, company, and garden to show the tasks women have to perform.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in Woman Work

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction: It means the type of language. The poem shows very good use of simple and melodic diction.
  2. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. Maya Angelou has used end rhyme in some of the quatrains, such as white/tonight and stone/own.
  3. Quatrain: A quatrain is a four-lined stanza borrowed from Persian poetry. Here each stanza is a quatrain.
  4. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows AABB in the first fourteen verses and then ABCB in the next quatrains.
  5. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are five stanzas with fourteen verses in heroic couplets and rest quatrains.
  6. Tone: It means the voice of the text. The poem shows a trivial, common, and then dreary tone.

Quotes to be Used

The following lines are useful to quote about the work of a woman.

The tots to dress
The can to be cut
I gotta clean up this hut
Then see about the sick
And the cotton to pick.