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Woman in Kitchen

Woman in Kitchen

'Woman in Kitchen' is a 1982 free verse poem by pioneering Irish poet Eavan Boland. It comes from the collection Night Feed (1982). This poem follows the restricted and lonely life of a housewife.

Below is a summary and analysis of 'Woman in Kitchen'. You will also find a brief biography of Eavan Boland and a table of some key quotes from the poem.

Written in1982
Written by Eavan Boland
FormFree verse
MetreNo set metre
Rhyme schemeIrregular rhyme scheme
Poetic devicesRepetition, enjambment
Frequently noted imageryKitchen appliances, mortuary
ToneOppressive, overbearing, intense
Key themesIsolation, movement
MeaningThe oppressive and lonely nature of life as a housewife.

Eavan Boland: 'Woman in Kitchen'

Eavan Boland was born on 24th September 1944 in Dublin. Her father was a diplomat and her mother was a painter. Due to her father's job, Boland's family moved around a lot when she was young. She spent time in London and New York, before returning to Dublin in her mid-teens. It was around this time Boland began writing.

Boland received a degree in English Literature and Language from Trinity College, Dublin. She taught for a period and also wrote reviews for The Irish Times. Eavan Boland married the novelist Kevin Casey in 1969. The couple had two daughters together.

New Territory (1967) was Boland's first complete published poetry collection. This received mixed critical reviews. Boland would go on to publish numerous poetry collections in her career. Some of the most successful include In Her Own Image (1980), Night Feed (1982), Outside History (1990), and A Woman Without a Country (2014).

Boland quickly gained popularity and is now regarded as one of the most important Irish poets of the twentieth century. She mainly made strides for female poets and writers in Ireland. Boland's work is recognised for its focus on the often taboo topic of women's issues and on Irish history and mythology.

Eavan Boland took up a teaching position in Stanford University in 1996. She lived between Stanford and Dublin until her death from a stroke in 2020 at the age of seventy-five.


'Woman in Kitchen': poem

Let's first take a look at Boland's poem.

Breakfast over, islanded by noise,

she watches the machines go fast and slow.

She stands among them as they shake the house.

They move. Their destination is specific.

She has nowhere definite to go:

she might be a pedestrian in traffic.

White surfaces retract. White

sideboards light the white of walls.

Cups wink white in their saucers.

The light of day bleaches as it falls

on cups and sideboards. She could use the room

to tap with if she lost her sight.

Machines jigsaw everything she knows.

And she is everywhere among their furor:

the tropic of the dryer tumbling clothes.

The round lunar window of the washer.

The kettle in the toaster is a kingfisher

swooping for trout above the river's mirror.

The wash done, the kettle boiled, the sheets

spun and clean, the dryer stops dead.

The silence is a death. It starts to bury

the room in white spaces. She turns to spread

a cloth on the board and irons sheets

in a room white and quiet as a mortuary.

Stanza one

The first stanza of Boland's poem sets the scene. A third-person narrator is describing the life of the female subject, who is in her kitchen after breakfast. She is clearly a housewife, observing the various household appliances around her and noting the noise they make. Importantly, the woman also notes that these inanimate appliances seem to have more purpose than she does. This is an indicator of how 'Woman in Kitchen' will develop.

Stanza two

Boland's next stanza shows readers how this woman views her kitchen. It describes how overwhelmingly white it is. This paints a very intense picture of an overbearing room. Boland even suggests that it is bright enough to aid blindness. The oppressive nature of this kitchen creates an unpleasant atmosphere that the woman is uncomfortable with. She is trapped in this place.

Stanza three

This stanza describes the household appliances that surround the woman in more detail. These include a 'dryer', 'a kettle', and a 'washer'. The appliances all make an overwhelming amount of noise, which is emphasised in this stanza. Boland describes these noises as a 'furore', suggesting to readers that this woman is in an extreme and overbearing atmosphere. Boland builds this atmosphere gradually throughout the stanzas of 'Woman in Kitchen'.

A furore is a strong and sudden outburst from a large group. This can be caused by feelings of anger or excitement, or perhaps due to some kind of controversy.

Stanza four

Boland's final stanza tells readers that these household appliances have now stopped. A silence then falls on the kitchen. This seems even worse than the previous noise for the woman. She begins the task of ironing sheets. The whiteness of the room is emphasised again, being compared to a 'mortuary'. This is a negative end to the poem that shows little hope of this woman's life improving.

'Woman in Kitchen' by Eavan Boland: analysis

Let's move on to analyse 'Woman in Kitchen' in more depth.

Meaning

'Woman in Kitchen' revolves around a housewife in her kitchen after the ritual of breakfast. Her family has apparently left for the day, and she is alone. Boland emphasises the oppressive and overbearing nature of domestic life in this poem. She creates an uncomfortable and intense tone through various poetic devices. Boland is arguing against the idea that women must be housewives and spend their days confined to the domestic space. Female liberation was a prevalent theme in Eavan Boland's work. She often argued against the subjugation of women.

Form, metre, and rhyme scheme

'Woman in Kitchen' is a four-stanza poem, with each stanza consisting of six lines. This poem takes the form of free verse.

Free verse is a form of poetry that does not follow a specific metre or rhyme scheme. It is regularly found in contemporary poetry.

As it is in free verse, 'Woman in Kitchen' does not follow any specific metre. It also has an irregular rhyme scheme. Each stanza follows a different rhyme scheme. For example, stanza two follows the scheme ABCBDA while the final stanza of 'Woman in Kitchen' follows the scheme ABCBAC.

All of this contributes to helping 'Woman in Kitchen' sound close to natural speech, which was likely intentional. 'Woman in Kitchen' comes from Boland's 1982 collection, Night Feed. An important aim of this collection was to capture the reality of the lives of Irish women in the 1980s. The use of realistic speech patterns could be seen as contributing to Boland's efforts to convey the real issues of Irish women.

Poetic devices

Now we will look at poetic devices in 'Woman in Kitchen'.

Repetition

There is the continuous use of repetition throughout Boland's poem. The use of this device in poetry is typically to emphasise what is being repeated.

The word 'white' is repeated six times in 'Woman in Kitchen', four of these instances being in the second stanza and the other two being in the final stanza. Boland uses the repetition of white to paint a picture of the kitchen. She gives the impression of an overbearing and oppressive atmosphere that shines so bright it is almost damaging to the eyes. This does not seem like a pleasant place.

The last stanza of 'Woman in Kitchen' solidifies the negative connotation of white in this poem. Boland uses a simile to suggest that the kitchen in question is as white as a 'mortuary'. This emphasises how wrong it is for this living woman to be trapped in this oppressive domestic space.

Enjambment

Enjambment frequently occurs in 'Woman in Kitchen'.

Enjambment is a poetic technique that involves a line continuing into the next without being broken up by any kind of punctuation. This can continue on for multiple lines or even stanzas.

The use of enjambment in Boland's poem creates a sense of urgency. Readers are encouraged to read on faster to see where the line goes and what happens next. This adds to the intensity of 'Woman in Kitchen' and builds on to its oppressive atmosphere. A stanza from the poem containing enjambment can be seen below.

White surfaces retract. White

sideboards light the white of walls.

Cups wink white in their saucers.

The light of day bleaches as it falls

on cups and sideboards. She could use the room

to tap with if she lost her sight. (ll. 7-11)

Task! Can you identify exactly where the enjambment is in this stanza?

Frequently noted imagery

Let's look at the imagery in 'Woman in Kitchen'.

Kitchen appliances

As a housewife, the woman in this poem is surrounded by kitchen appliances. These become almost recurring characters in the narrative. Boland paints a vivid image of the woman's kitchen, surrounded by the loud noises from these appliances.

The images of these machines seem to have multiple functions in 'Woman in Kitchen'. They serve to emphasise the woman's loneliness and lack of purpose. In Boland's first stanza, readers are told that this woman is 'islanded' by the noise that these machines create. This puts focus on her isolation. It is also noted that these machines have a 'destination' or purpose that she feels she lacks.

The imagery of the machines also highlights the woman's situation. Her surrounding atmosphere is not portrayed as very pleasant, yet the machines are described as 'everything she knows.' She does not know another life, perhaps because society has not allowed her to pursue anything else. This domestic space is her world.

Mortuary

Eavan Boland brings in a new image in the final line of 'Woman in Kitchen'. She uses the image of a 'mortuary' to describe what the now quiet and very white kitchen resembles. This is a very negative image to use in this context.

A mortuary is where dead bodies are kept before they are either buried or cremated.

It may also suggest that this is not where this woman should be. She is a living person in a place that resembles somewhere for those that are no longer alive. This is the final image that Boland leaves readers with and, therefore, their last impression of 'Woman in Kitchen'.

Tone

The tone of 'Woman in Kitchen' is also key to understanding the poem.

The tone of a poem refers to the mood and atmosphere created by the narrator's voice.

Many of the elements of the poem that we have already addressed contribute to the poem's tone. Boland's use of enjambment and repetition helps to create an oppressive and overbearing tone. The reader is encouraged to read the poem quickly and note the same words recurring. There is also an intensity to the atmosphere of 'Woman in Kitchen'.

Boland uses the tone of her poem to create the uncomfortable environment that this woman is surrounded by. This makes it clear her criticisms of the life of a housewife being forced upon women. Writing about these kinds of issues was quite taboo when Boland published 'Woman in Kitchen'.

Key themes

Below are some relevant themes found in 'Woman in Kitchen'.

Isolation

Isolation is key in Boland's poem. The female subject of the poem is the only character that readers are introduced to. She spends the entirety of the poem alone. In the poem's first line, she is compared to an island. This emphasises her loneliness.

There is also a focus in 'Woman in Kitchen' poem on groups and collectives. Many objects are often grouped together, whereas this woman is always referred to in the singular. We can see this in the comparison of the 'she' and 'they' pronouns in the poem's first stanza. The second stanza depicts all the white objects in this kitchen. They are also represented as being in various groups. This can be seen in the below quote.

Cups wink white in their saucers.

The light of day bleaches as it falls

on cups and sideboards. (ll. 9-11)

Isolation is also a critical theme because of what it implies about the status of women in 1980s Ireland, which Boland presents as being overwhelmingly negative due to the poem's oppressive and lonely atmosphere.

Movement

Movement, or lack thereof, is key in 'Woman in Kitchen'. Once again, the female subject of Boland's poem is contrasted with what is around her. Boland uses language to achieve this contrast. The verbs' move' and 'shake' describe how the household appliances that surround this woman operate. These are very active verbs to use.

On the other hand, the woman is described by much more passive and still verbs. She 'stands' and 'watches'. She lacks movement and does not take action, representing her lack of agency.

To have agency means to have control and power over one's life.

Boland emphasises the woman's lack of engagement with movement. Her surrounding atmosphere is overbearing and oppressive, and she also seems trapped in this kitchen. She does not seem to have any control over her own life.

'A Woman in Kitchen': quotes

Now let's look at some key quotes from 'Woman in Kitchen'.

QuoteLocationExplanation
'She has nowhere definite to go:she might be a pedestrian in traffic.'Lines 5-6Boland here is showing the situation this woman is in. She lacks purpose and agency, as directionless as a pedestrian in traffic. This metaphor suggests stillness and danger.
'She could use the roomto tap with if she lost her sight.'Lines 11-12This quote emphasises how bright and white this kitchen. This could be seen as a good thing. Boland, instead, makes it clear that the kitchen is overly bright and oppressive. It is so bright that the woman believes it could help alleviate blindness.
'Machines jigsaw everything she knows.'Line 13This line shows readers that, despite her discomfort, the domestic world is all this woman knows. The machines make up the height of her knowledge. This is likely because she hasn't been societally permitted to expand her knowledge beyond this.
'The silence is a death. It starts to burythe room in white spaces.'Lines 21-22This quote comes when all the machines in the kitchen stop and silence falls. Despite how loud they were, the silence seems worse. This silence combines with the whiteness of the kitchen to create an unpleasant atmosphere for this woman.

Woman in Kitchen - Key takeaways

  • 'Woman in Kitchen' is a 1982 free verse poem by Irish poet Eavan Boland.
  • The poem shows the oppressive and lonely life of a housewife.
  • Two key themes in the poem are isolation and movement.
  • Boland uses the poetic devices of repetition and enjambment in 'Woman in Kitchen'.
  • The poem has an oppressive, overbearing, and intense tone.

Frequently Asked Questions about Woman in Kitchen

Boland's poem is about how oppressive the life of a housewife can be.

1982.

Eavan Boland.

Boland often uses detailed descriptions to portray everyday life and reality.

Final Woman in Kitchen Quiz

Question

When was 'Woman in Kitchen' written?

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Answer

1982.

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Question

What are two key themes in 'Woman in Kitchen'?

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Answer

Isolation and movement.

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Question

What poetic form is 'Woman in Kitchen'?

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Answer

Free verse.

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Question

Why does 'Woman in Kitchen' have no set metre or rhyme scheme?

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Answer

Because it is in free verse.

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Question

What two poetic devices does Boland use in 'Woman in Kitchen'?

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Answer

Repetition and enjambment.

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Question

What word is repeated multiple times in 'Woman in Kitchen'?

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Answer

'White'.

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Question

What are two important images in 'Woman in Kitchen'?

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Answer

Kitchen appliances and the mortuary.

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Question

What kind of tone does 'Woman in Kitchen' have?

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Answer

Oppressive, overbearing, and intense.

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Question

What kind of verbs are used to depict the woman in 'Woman in Kitchen'?

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Answer

Still and passive verbs.

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What is Boland using 'Woman in Kitchen' to criticise?

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Answer

The status of women in 1980s Ireland.

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Question

Which poetry collection is 'Woman in Kitchen' from?

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Answer

Night Feed.

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Question

What is free verse?

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Answer

A form of poetry that doesn't follow a specific metre or rhyme scheme.

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Question

What does the use of enjambment in this poem create a sense of?

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Answer

Urgency.

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Why is the creation of groups relevant in this poem?

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Answer

Because it emphasises the woman's isolation.

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Question

When was Eavan Boland born?

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Answer

1944.

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