About the Poet:
Annie Louisa Walker was a teacher and author. Born in Staffordshire, England, on 23rd June 1836, she was the ninth child of her parents, Robert and Anna Walker. In 1853, their father, who was a civil engineer, moved the family to Canada. In 1858, Annie Louisa founded a private girl’s school with her sisters Frances and Isabella. The school was only open a few years before the deaths of Frances and Isabella forced its closure.
Poems by Annie Louisa had been published in newspapers and periodicals beginning when she was a teenager. She published an anonymous collection of poems entitled Leaves from the Backwoods in 1861. From this volume, the poem ‘The Night Cometh’ was taken and set to music by Ira D. Sankey, who published it as a hymn ‘Work, for the Night is coming’ in the collection Sacred Songs and Solos.
Women’s Rights: Summary
The poem ‘Women’s Rights’ consists of six stanzas. Each of these stanzas is again made up of four lines. Hence, the entire poem consists of twenty-four lines in total.
“You cannot rob us of the rights we cherish,
Nor turn our thoughts away
From the bright picture of a “Woman’s Mission.”
Our hearts portray.”
In this stanza, Annie Louisa addresses society at large and says that society should allow women to pursue the kind of life that they value. Society should also not convince them to think of anything other than what they believe is women’s duty to the world. This sense of duty is not a burden to women, but rather it cheers them and provides a bright vision for their future. It is also a call that comes to them directly from their hearts. Hence it is natural and instinctive and cannot be suppressed.
“We claim to dwell, in quiet and seclusion,
Beneath the household roof,–
From the great world’s harsh strife and jarring voices,
To stand aloof;–“
In this stanza, Annie Louisa acts as a representative for all women of Victorian English society and speaks on their behalf. She says that women stay within the domestic sphere, away from the world of men, in peace and quiet. This world of men is what lies outside the threshold of the house and is in direct contrast with the world of women. Instead of tranquillity and silence, what you find in the world of men is discordant noises and many arguments and battles. Women choose to stay away from all this trouble and concentrate instead on making the home a welcoming and peaceful environment.
“Not in a dreamy and inane abstraction
To sleep our life away,
But, gathering up the brightness of home sunshine,
To deck our way.”
In this stanza, Annie Louisa defends Victorian English women’s lifestyle from the way in which it can be misconstrued. She says that women may choose to live separate from the difficult world outside, but this is not any form of escapism on their part. It is not that staying in the house is a convenient excuse to while away their time doing nothing. They don’t just relax or sleep the whole day. Instead, they decorate their houses with brightness and vigor, in the same way that the morning sun greets humans with a new day. Just as the sun does away with the darkness of night, and provides vitality to men, so do women help men forget the dangers and inhospitality of the world outside as soon as they enter the homestead.
“As humble plants by country hedgerows growing,
That treasure up the rain,
And yield in odors, ere the day’s decline,
The gift again.”
In this stanza, Annie Louisa compares Victorian English women with plants. She says that plants have no pride whatsoever. They just grow next to rows of shrubs in the rural countryside, but they are very resourceful despite this. They store up the water from the rainfall that showers down on them. They do not then waste this water but give it back to the earth in the form of the scent they give off all day. Women are the same way. They take what little is given to them, by way of what is available to them in nature (for example, cotton), and use that to create beautiful things (like cloth and dresses).
“So let us, unobtrusive and unnoticed,
But happy none the less,
Be privileged to fill the air around us
In this stanza, Annie Louisa elaborates on what kind of activities women should engage in, according to her. She says that women should not crave a public audience, as men do. Rather they should remain out of sight, doing their work without expecting or desiring any prizes for the same. They should be happy with their quiet little lives. They should also believe that it is their special advantage that they are allowed to spread happiness to the world around them.
“To live, unknown beyond the cherished circle,
Which we can bless and aid;
To die, and not a heart that does not love us
Know where we’re laid.”
In this stanza, Annie Louisa shows what a noble life Victorian English women should have. In doing so, she sets up a contrast between men and women of her time. She says that it is men who are valued in society. Women, on the other hand, only serve those who are valued. However, Annie Louisa doesn’t think women should resent this kind of service that they provide to men. Instead, they should be content to live like that and to die without anyone other than their family knowing where their graves are. In other words, women should expect no place in history.