Study Guide

Women Sound Check

By Louise Bogan

Sound Check

It's easy to get caught up in this laundry list of things that women don't do correctly, but in this section we're going to try to stop and smell the language a little. It may just seem like our speaker is on an epic rant (because, you know, she is), but this isn't just about raging out. There's some real-life poetic technique going on here, in fact. So let's look closer, shall we?

One place to aim your poetic magnifying glass would be the very beginning of the poem:

Women have no wilderness in them,
They do not see cattle cropping red winter grass
(1-2)

Read those two lines out loud, Shmoopers. Go ahead—no one's looking. Hear those repeated Ws in the first line ("Women" and "wilderness") and the Cs in the second ("cattle cropping")? If so, congratulations—you've just picked up on a poetic technique known as alliteration, in which the beginning sounds of words are repeated.

Here, coming in the first two lines of the poem, the alliteration is a kind of sonic hook, waking up your ears to the music of the language and getting you to tune in to the many, many criticisms that will soon follow.

That's not all that's happening here sound-wise, though. Check out the rest of that first stanza

Content in the tight hot cell of their hearts
To eat dusty bread.
(3-4)

Another out-loud reading should show you that your tongue is tapping the top of your mouth quite a bit with these two lines. All those T sounds point to the presence of consonance in these lines. More than that, the Ts subtly underscore the confinement being described in these lines. Your tongue bounces off its ceiling to make the T sound and physically gives your mouth a sense of being a tight cell.

More consonance comes later, only this time with Ls instead of Ts:

As like as not, when they take life over their door-sills
They should let it go by.
(19-20)

Here the L sounds are a fitting way to end the poem, creating a kind of forceful push in the mouth to underscore how our speaker thinks women should treat life (push it away, or "let it go by") and, ultimately, how our speaker seems to view women in general. (She's pretty fed up with them and would sooner push them out the door herself.)

The sounds in this poem, then, work to subtly reinforce all the speaker's ranting throughout. So it's not just a list of grievances. The criticisms are working on multiple levels—not that this should make women feel any better.