Stevie Smith And Marriage Stevie and Marriage: Preface Florence “Stevie” Smith grew up in unstable family conditions. Her family was falling apart, and she observed every moment with hushed censure. These repressed feelings can be seen in her poetry. Her unfortunate childhood experiences attribute to a mistrustful, cynical tone in her poem “Marriage I Think.” For sources I have consulted three separate levels of libraries. At the high school library I found a series called Critical Survey Of Poetry that has been most helpful in providing background information on Smith, as well as critical reviews of some of her poems.
The Shippensburg Public Library as well as the Bosler Library has provided a collection of Smith’s later poems (of which I chose my focus poem) called Me Again, as well as The Norton Anthology Of Literature By Women that has helped with finding out about Smith’s childhood and other biographical information. The Dickinson College Library has been most helpful. There I checked out Stevie Smith, In Search of Stevie Smith, and Stevie, all of which contain vast amounts of research into her childhood and younger years as related to her later poems, thus providing a wealth of both criticism and biographical information. I have also consulted numerous websites to look for her poems and other information, but with very little success. I have two main sections to my paper, excluding my introduction and conclusion.
The first section contains information about Smith’s view of the institution of marriage. This section provides evidence from the focus poem, Smith’s friends, as well as her own life. The second section of my paper contains information regarding the way in which she saw men or interacted with them as a result of her childhood. It has evidence from her further literary works, her own life, as well as interviews with friends. Stevie and Marriage Florence “Stevie” Smith grew up in unstable family conditions.
Her family was falling apart, and she observed every moment with hushed censure. These repressed feelings can be seen in her poetry. Her unfortunate childhood experiences attribute to a mistrustful, cynical tone in her poem “Marriage I Think.” Smith’s poem “Marriage I Think” contains many references to her belief that the bond of marriage between a man and a woman is fraudulent, particularly for the woman. Her poem reads, Marriage I think For women Is the best of opiates It kills the thoughts That think about the thoughts, It is the best of opiates. (lines 1-6) By comparing marriage (for women) to a mind-numbing narcotic, Smith clearly uses a pessimistic tone.
She contends that the marital bond, contrary to popular belief, hurts women on the inside. In 1906 4-year-old Smith, her ill mother Ethel, sister Molly, and aunt Margaret are deserted by her father Charles, the main support of the family. Charles grows bored with the marriage, and abruptly sets out on his childhood dream of becoming a naval officer (Sternlicht 4). At this point, Smith’s family of four women, including two children and a sick mother, are left to fend for themselves, with the care of Smith’s aunt. In another one of Smith’s poems entitled “Papa Love Baby,” she writes that she “wished mama hadn’t made such a foolish marriage./ .. it showed in my eyes unfortunately/And a fortnight later papa ran away to sea” (Barbera and McBrien 9).
As she grows up in a predominantly feminine household, Smith dwells on her father’s family desertion. She jokes that “for many, marriage is a chance clutch upon a hen-coop in mid-Atlantic” (Barbera and McBrien 65). The evidence in the poems points to feelings of loneliness and abandonment. Smith also wrote in her poem “Every Lovely Limb’s a Desolation” about women who are caught up in dead-end relationships fretting over loneliness (Magill 3075). The evidence from “Marriage I Think” shows that later in her life, she focused on the abandonment of her mother in a supposedly sacred marriage.
Smith grew up in an England where women were to support and submit to the furthering of men, but “broke out of that trap, not with a powerful rebellious thrust of a sword, but subversively, with the stealth of oil (Stevie Smith 16). In her maturity, Smith maintained a calm, passive exterior. “Inwardly she laughed, cried, seethed, suffered, and defended ‘self'” (Sternlicht 24). No matter how much she resisted the female stereotype, Smith was not in the least a feminist. Rather, “Stevie fought the ancient battle against male control alone and in the only way she could: by being herself” (Stevie Smith 105).
After growing up knowing the harsh reality of an uncaring husband, Smith realizes that a marriage is nothing more than a mental narcotic that dulls a woman’s perception of reality. Smith’s realization of marriage as a fraud leads to loneliness and heartbreak in her life, most of which stems from her father’s desertion. “Stevie nursed a lifelong resentment against her father. She took the desertion personally, and it made her suspicious of men and their commitments (Stevie Smith 2). Evidence of this grudge can be found in Smith’s lifelong devotion to poetry.
But too long in solitude she’d dwelt, And too long her thoughts had felt Their strength. So when the man drew near, Out popped her thoughts and covered him with fear. (lines 8-11) Within Smith’s writing, a clear and ominously lonely tone appeared. She maily wrote with three separate voices: a child, an adolescent, and a lonely old woman, but the lonely old woman seems to speak the loudest in such poems (Stevie Smith 101). Eventually a ray of hope dawned on the horizon in the form of a German who Smith became aquainted with.
Even after this romance was dashed because of a war, Smith met another boy named Eric Armitage. Unfortunately Armitage was looking for a conventional wife, which Smith practically detested, so they went their separate ways (Stevie Smith 6). In her book Novel On Yellow Paper, she describes their courtship “like a game that has no significance but to play we are engaged .. and in our hearts we are beginning to think: Never never can we marry” (Barbera and McBrien 59). Throughout all of these relationship disasters, Smith has one solid relationship that she relies on.
This pillar of friendship is based around her Aunt “Lion” whom she was cared for by as a child. In an interview Peter Orr, Smith talks about this relationship. “I live with an aunt who is ninety. I’m very fond of her, but we live alone” (Sternlicht 37). Eventually Smith learns to accept the way women are treated in her society. She goes on to write in her poem, Better that she had kept her thoughts on a chain, For now she’s alone again and all in pain; She sighs for the man that went and the thoughts that stay To trouble her dreams by night and her dreams by day.
(lines 13-16) Through acceptance, Smith sees her life for what it really is due to her choices. However, “she did not anticipate the loneliness waiting in the middle-age desert of biological singlehood” (Sternlicht 8). This solemn void has a significant impact on Smith, but she remains steadfast. Even after gazing over the vast wasteland of this desert, Smith regains a sense of endurance that her “archly crafted, powerfully ambiguous poetic performance strives to negotiate” (Sternlicht 110). The mistrustful, cynical tone in Stevie Smith’s poem “Marriage I Think” is a result of her unique childhood circumstances.
This tone can be traced back to hidden feelings from a young age, in which Smith observed the horrible situation of her environment. Smith is one of many poets that rely on adolescent experiences to communicate retained attitudes. Appendix “Marriage I Think” by Stevie Smith Marriage I think For women Is the best of opiates. It kills the thoughts That think about the thoughts, It is the best of opiates. So said Maria.
But too long in solitude she’d dwelt, And too long her thoughts had felt Their strength. So when the man drew near, Out popped her thoughts and covered him with fear. Poor Maria! Better that she had kept her thoughts on a chain, For now she’s alone again and all in pain; She sighs for the man that went and the thoughts that stay To trouble her dreams by night and her dreams by day. Bibliography Bibliography Barbera, Jack, and William McBrien. Me Again: Uncollected Writings of Stevie Smith. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux. 1981. Barbera, Jack, and William McBrien.
Stevie: A Biography of Stevie Smith. New York: Oxford University Press. 1987. Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Norton Anthology Of Literature By Women: The Tradition in English.
New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 1985. Magill, Frank N. Critical Survey Of Poetry.
Vol. 6. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Salem Press. 1992. Sternlicht, Sanford.
In Search Of Stevie Smith. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press. 1991. Sternlicht, Sanford. Stevie Smith.
Boston, Massachusetts: Twayne Publishers. 1990. Poetry Essays.