On "Lady, Lady"

Maureen Honey

"Lady, Lady," brings to the surface the three major themes of women's poetry (equation of Blackness and femaleness with strength, resistance to white male oppression, survival of the core self) and illustrates how they are intertwined with nature metaphors. Typical of much Renaissance poetry, it studies a member of the working class, a launderer, made invisible by racism and classism. The washerwoman bears the stamp of her oppressor. Her face has been chiseled by pain from carrying "the yoke of men"; her hands are twisted "like crumpled roots" by the labor she does for white people, symbolizing the stunting of her growth and crippling of her true posture. They are also "bleached poor white," a sign of her consignment to a draining, exploited existence controlled by whites. Despite the harsh life she has led, however, there remains a sacred inviolable place within her where a spirit burns brightly, "altared there in its darksome place," host to a transcendent guiding force.

Women's search for roots and identity led inward, moved backward to an imaginary Eden where sensitivity could survive and even flourish. For writers who largely could not travel to Europe or Africa, the concept of a hidden self, rich with wisdom, offered an attractive substitute for an unknown, removed history. Moreover, it was accessible and consistent with the Romantic notion that truth lies within, uncorrupted by one's external circumstances.

From Shadowed Dreams: Women’s Poetry of the Harlem Renaissance. Ed. Maureen Honey. Copyright 1989 by Rutgers University Press.

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