by Ted Hughes
Big Poppy Women and Femininity Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (line)
Her maternal nectars into her own (18-19)
Now we have a different notion of femininity placed onto the poppy – woman-as-mother. The "bleeding" part has a couple layers of meaning, one of which could easily be menstruation (and the other one we'll get to in the "Mortality" section). In this quote, though, the blood isn't actually leaving the body – just like how a woman will stop menstruating when she's pregnant, which is exactly what the flower is at this point. So motherhood is framed as a kind of gory process here, more like internal injury than the creation of anything new and beautiful.
"She wore herself in her hair, in her day,
And we could see nothing but her huge flop of petal,
Her big, lewd, bold eye, in its sooty lashes (21-24)
We've broken this last chunk of the poem into two distinct quotes because they have such different ways of talking about femininity. (Women may be super-contradictory in this poem, but at least they're consistently so.) In this first bit, the poppy-as-woman is incredibly feminine in a traditional way – big skirts, big hair (both indicated in the "flop of petal"), mascara on the eyelashes, and bold, but in a distinctly female way.
And that stripped, athletic leg, hairy,
In a fling of abandon—" (25-26)
But what is up with this part? Suddenly we have an unshaven leg that probably plays soccer or something! This sets up a final contradiction that, overall, makes women out to be something nearly unfathomable at the end of the day. First, the poppy is all done up in skirts and makeup, and yet the poem ends by framing the stem of the poppy as a decidedly masculine body part (inasmuch as we think of masculinity when we see the word "athletic" – a dumb stereotype, to be sure, but combined with "hairy," it's tough to avoid). So the woman-poppy in this poem is incredibly complicated, almost past the point of understanding: passive and aggressive, feminine and masculine, maternal and promiscuous. All at once!