The week just departed was a very important one here at The Reader Organisation, what with the advent of Get Into Reading London at The Reading Cure event in the capital itself and, of course, the successful holding of the first national Get Into Reading Conference alongside the New Beginnings Readers Day after a slight delay. This coming week is also an important one, namely for approximately half of the population. Today is International Women’s Day, a day observed worldwide to recognise the status of women in society and to celebrate their many achievements, be they political, artistic or relating to anything else. Mother’s Day, another important event for some, if not all women (as daughters can celebrate with their mothers too) also takes place this week – for the UK and Ireland it’s at the concluding part of the week but a number of countries across the world honour their mums today. So, it truly is all about the female of the species.
The origins of International Women’s Day date as far back as 1911, at a time when the women’s rights movement was coming to life yet still had a long way to go. Since 1975, the United Nations have officially recognised International Women’s Day. Each year, it is given a different theme to highlight issues relevant to women on both a local and global scale. Though subject to regional variations, 2010’s theme is ‘Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all’. Despite the phenomenal strides women across the world have made towards gaining equality in all spheres of life, there remains a great deal of inequality between men and women in the modern world. It is especially easy at times for those of us in more privileged societies to take for granted the increasing opportunities we have, yet matters such as ‘the glass ceiling’ still exist.
To consider the ongoing need for progress, but also significantly to note just how far things have come and indeed improved, I have chosen as this week’s featured poem The Captive Dove by Anne Bronte. Writing in the 19th century, at a time when women writers were generally met with prejudice, the Bronte sisters all used male pseudonyms – Currer (for Charlotte), Ellis (Emily) and Acton (Anne) Bell – to publish their works. Now all three are regarded amongst the finest writers in English literature. Anne in particular seems suited to the furthering the cause of women’s empowerment through her writing – The Tenant of Wildfell Hall portrays independent female characters and has been called one of the first ever feminist novels. Considering the period in which it was written, we can take the captive dove of the poem to represent many women – of course this was a time when the outlook for women was not good, to say the least. Now it can stand for something, or someone else – women, or even men and children, who are in less fortunate circumstances than ourselves. But even then, it seemed to also stand for another thing as Anne herself mourns for the dove’s captivity; her worries are diminished in light of witnessing this defenceless creature. It is a poem of mourning and empathy but also hope and the power of companionship, or at the very least having someone else to ensure your own voice is heard.
The Captive Dove
Poor restless dove, I pity thee;
And when I hear thy plaintive moan,
I mourn for thy captivity,
And in thy woes forget mine own.
To see thee stand prepared to fly,
And flap those useless wings of thine,
And gaze into the distant sky,
Would melt a harder heart than mine.
In vain–in vain! Thou canst not rise:
Thy prison roof confines thee there;
Its slender wires delude thine eyes,
And quench thy longings with despair.
Oh, thou wert made to wander free
In sunny mead and shady grove,
And, far beyond the rolling sea,
In distant climes, at will to rove!
Yet, hadst thou but one gentle mate
Thy little drooping heart to cheer,
And share with thee thy captive state,
Thou couldst be happy even there.
Yes, even there, if, listening by,
One faithful dear companion stood,
While gazing on her full bright eye,
Thou mightst forget thy native wood.
But thou, poor solitary dove,
Must make, unheard, thy joyless moan;
The heart, that Nature formed to love,
Must pine, neglected, and alone.
Anne Bronte (1820-1849)