Katharine Tynan’s ‘Any Woman’ is a deeply touching poem that celebrates the self-effacing love of mothers. It tells us about the cares, worries and burdens that mothers bear everywhere to hold their homes in order. The poem also reflects Tynan’s view of motherhood as the supreme gift for the sake of which she could accept gallantly even a lessening of her literary position.
Summary of Any Woman: The poem opens by introducing the central metaphor of the house. The mother says that she is the pillars of the house. She is the keystone of the arch without which the roof and wall would fall and the house would be ruined.
A mother is not only the foundation of the household; she is the ‘vita lux et amor’ – the life, light, and love that fill a house. Like the sun which warms the earth, she is the fire upon the hearth. The children warm their hands at her. Without her the house would be cold and lifeless and the children would not thrive.
The mother is also like a twist or a knot in the ring that holds the different strands together. She holds the children together in the sacred ring of love. Without the knot of love many a child could go a-wandering and get lost.
Finally, the poet describes the countless chores a mother performs every day in the house which may make her children wonder whether she has a thousand hands. She decorates the house, gets the table ready for dinner, spins the curtains, and makes their bed. Here she is also compared to a mother bird who builds the nest, feeds the nestlings and makes their bed with her own soft feathers. She walls out the wind and snow and protects them from all danger. The poem ends with the mother’s prayer to Jesus to keep her alive till the children grow.
Analysis of the poem: All the metaphorical images in the poem revolve around the central metaphor of a house and underline the proposition that a house and a mother are synonymous. A house is a house only when there is a mother. But her value is often not understood until she is lost.
Images of pain and suffering abound in ‘Any Woman’ and point to the hardships and burdens that a mother has to bear for her children. The pillars that bear the weight, the keystone that bears the tension, the fire that burns itself, the knot of the ring that is twisted by force, and the mother bird that sheds its soft feathers underline the selfless suffering that motherhood involves.
W.B Yeats has always voiced his opinion that Katharine Tynan is at her best when she expresses her own affectionate nature, or her religious feeling, either directly or indirectly. Both these feelings find expression in ‘Any Woman’.
Even though the poem reflects Katharine Tynan’s belief that the woman is the central figure in a family, it has nothing to do with her view of her own mother. Tynan was essentially a father’s child and ‘Any Woman’ shows the great affection that the poet had for her children. As her own daughter remembers, “she had, as mother, that rare and indefinable and most precious of all gifts, that lights a fire on the hearth, a lamp in the window, for the children coming home to her… lifting her eyes from the writing pad to meet those of a child coming for comfort to where it was never refused.”
So it is a true mother speaking out for every single mother who has rocked and crooned her little ones to sleep. And the same prayer moves any woman’s lips; be it in the civilized west, in the torrid Africa, or in the remote villages of India as we see in Nissim Ezekiel’s ‘Night of the Scorpion’.