Lorine Niedecker’s work finds itself interspersed within the second wave of the feminist movement in America. This movement is characterized by its generalized focus on family and home inequalities, as well as inequalities in the workplace. Niedecker’s poetry clearly displays these same sorts of themes, lending her poetry to the long list of writers talking about the polarizing subject of the day.
As an example of this second wave feminism in her work, the poem “Wilderness” can be looked at as a prime example of her personal fear due to domestic inequalities in her life. She writes:
You are the man
You are my other country
and I find it hard going
You are the prickly pear
You are the sudden violent storm
the torrent to raise the river
to float the wounded doe
In this poem, the fear of being regarded and treated as the weaker sex in the relationship is apparent. The first stanza creates a gulf of distance between the two sexes. She states in line one, in the accusatory fourth wall breaking manner, that her subject is the male reader. Niedecker proceeds first to describe the man as another country, separate from her. This would suggest a reference to the traditional gender spheres and how they are expected to be separate. In line three, she finds it hard going to breach these boundaries and associate with the man. These boundaries cause difficulty for her social movement.
In the second stanza, Niedecker discusses the issue of domestic violence involving males against women. The metaphor of the prickly pear for the man suggests that getting near to them will always be matched with pain. The man, the accused reader in this case, is prone to getting angry easily at the woman, which devolves disagreements into “sudden violent storms” (Niedecker line 5). This establishes that Niedecker’s speaker is living in fear of possibly disturbing the man, even in her own home or with her own family.
The final stanza is a continuation of the second in the torrent of violence but focuses on the helpless nature of the woman. The speaker metamorphizes herself as the wounded doe in the river. The man is still the storm, growing in violence with problems that take shape as dangerous river that drowns the wounded doe. The doe can’t swim because it’s wounded, so it must suffer the consequence of man in the river and succumb to the violent torrent of his place.
By establishing itself as a poem during the 1970’s that depicts that distinct lack of power women had in the relationship, and the fear in which they lived, Niedecker’s poem is able to transcend second wave feminism and be utilized by the more recent fourth wave. The fourth wave feminist movement focuses most on the empowerment of women. This poem acts as an example of the powerlessness that women can experience in a male-dominated and psychologically or physically abusive relationship. The poem speaker situation presents a valid representation of the fear women could possibly endure, which society should rise above from. The accusatory nature of breaking the fourth wall also gives the poem an active element, engaging the male reader as the problem and forcing them to look at their own relationships and how they treat their partners.
Though Niedecker wrote this poem during the second wave feminist movement, it resonates well today as a forward moving statement and element of fourth wave feminist interests.
Niedecker, Lorine. “Wilderness.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/56727/wilderness-56d2397eaa9ae