Monday, January 25, 2010

Body of Bird and Woman

I believe that Anne Kingsmill Finch’s poem substitutes the body of a bird for that of a woman. The bird is trapped inside although at first it is unaware: it admires the scene on the arras and then proudly decides to leave the “imitated Fowl” behind to explore the greater world. The ceiling, however, “strikes her to the ground.” I think the parallel can be made between this trapped bird and women because during this time women were restricted by the regulations of society and could not fly freely. It is interesting that Finch chooses a bird as the metaphor: birds are delicate like women and birds are easily trapped in a confined space, yet if there is a “kind hand” (God? Male benefactor?) they are unstoppably free—they can fly and explore the heights of the world.

After our class discussion, I agree that poetry is the answer to the question, as Liz suggested in her comment to my post. Expression through the written word is a powerful tool, especially for a woman who did not have many tools at her disposal during this time. I would like to connect Finch’s poetry to that of Montagu—they are both female poets and both use the image of a “glass” in their works. In Finch it is the “transparent Panes” which “stop” the bird from freedom and in Montagu it is the “faithless glass” which Flavia rebukes because it shows her a “frightful spectre”. Both of these glasses provide barriers to the woman’s freedom: the bird is locked in by the window and the woman is locked in by her disappointing reflection in the mirror. I believe that both of the poets use the glass in ironic ways—the window is clear, like an invisible wall that, as we discussed in class, is a metaphor for self-reflection; the “faithless glass” is a jibe at women who find all of their value and esteem in their appearance. Both women will need to surmount the glass obstacles in order to be truly free, and Finch and Montagu attempt to surmount them through their freedom of expression in poetry.


  1. I too think it interesting that she chooses a bird, since birds often stand in for the poet. Thus we might read this not only as a comment on the restrictions experienced by aristocratic women but also on what it means to be a woman poet in this period.

  2. "Poetry" seems to be the answer to the question, "What is the hand that opens the casement?" It makes sense in several different ways. First, writing is a means of expression which frees suppressed, or, as we see with the bird, trapped, thoughts and feelings. As we see in the poem, Finch can express her own feelings of entrapment that arise from having to fit her gender stereotype. Furthermore, the casement leads to "ample space, the only Heaven of Birds." If a bird stands for a poet, then what would be a more open space for expression, flight, than the lines of a poem.
    And, finally, her last name is Finch, a species of bird, implying that this poem is not merely about the condition of all women, but perhaps a small autobiography as well.