With reference to Mary Gilmore’s “Eve Song”, what is the meaning and force of the repeated phrase “I span and Eve span”?
The poem “Eve Song” by Dame Mary Gilmore is from the perspective of a woman who feels neglected by her husband and feels she has lost her purpose in life. But in saying that, in the second stanza she has a realization that her children are her legacy and that they are her real purpose in her life “one of us learned in our children’s eyes That more than a man was love and prize.” With this background knowledge of the persona of the mother, the audience can begin to understand the meaning of the forced repetition of “I span and Eve span”.
There are multiple reasons for the repetition of “I span and Eve span” one of which I found out that the phrase “Eve span” by itself is a religious reference to John Hall’s speech in 1381 about the peasant’s revolt. The original quote about Eve span comes from “Adam delved and Eve span”. With Hall’s speech, he discusses the issues of oppression and how the lower class feel rejected by society. This parallels to the persona of Gilmore’s poem as the woman’s perspective in the poem is almost like an outcry for help as she too feels as if she is stuck in her world and is neglected by husband. So with the reference to “I span and Eve span” could mean that the persona is placing herself in the same position of Eve in the circumstance of being oppressed by higher power.
Also the repetition of “I span and Eve span” could be symbolic for all women as Eve is portrayed often as the mother of mankind. With this, Gilmore isn’t just describing the life of one woman but all women at this time as many were treated poorly almost like second-class citizens. So Gilmore could use the force repetition to enforce the audience of the sterotyping and treatment of women in the 19th century.
With these two ideas of the forced repetition of “I span and Eve span” does indicate to the audience that women in this time did feel almost trapped in their lives. But with the definition of span being “the length of time for which something lasts”, the last stanza does have a hopeful tone to it meaning that this feeling of oppression was starting to change as in Australia, feminism had just become apart of Australian culture.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00x2yp9 (link to the John Hall speech, credits to the BBC)
http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/span (link to the definition of span)
http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/8481/ (credits to Margaret Preston)