Men prefer an island

With its beginning ended:

Undertones of waves

Trees overbended.


Men prefer a road

Circling, shell-like

Convex and fossiled

Forever winding inward.


Men prefer a woman

Limpid in sunlight

Held as a shell

On a sheltering island…


Men prefer an island.




But I am mainland

O I range

From upper country to inner core:

From sageland, brushland, marshland

To the sea’s floor.


Show me an orchard where I have not slept,

A hollow where I have not wrapped

The sage about me, and above, the still

Stars clustering

Over the ponderosa pine, the cactus hill.


Tell me a time

I have not loved,

A mountain left unclimbed:

A prairie field

Where I have not furrowed my tongue,

Nourished it out of the mind’s dark places;

Planted with tears unwept

And harvested as friends, as faces.


O find me a dead-end road

I have not trodden

A logging road that leads the heart away

Into the secret evergreen of cedar roots

Beyond sun’s farthest ray—

Then, in a clearing’s sudden dazzle,

There is no road; no end; no puzzle.


But do not show me! For I know

The country I caress:

A place where none shall trespass

None possess:

A mainland mastered

From its inaccess.


* * * *

Men prefer an island


Dive in
  1. What is the poet’s critique of men or patriarchy?
  2. What is the relationship between the speaker and nature? How is nature used to express freedom and adventure? 
  3. Choose a verse from the second half of the poem. List all the sensory elements found in the verse. What drew you to this verse?  
  4. Written in an era when women in Canada fought for the right to vote, how does this poem remain relevant?
  5. Practice reciting this poem inside (bathroom, living room, bedroom etc.), and practice reciting it  outdoors (garden park, near water, by the mountains etc.). What was the effect of the setting on your reciting?


Writing Activity


Choose an aspect of nature (or share a memory of being outside) that gives you a feeling of autonomy, courage and empowerment. Write 2-3 verses that express the relationship you have with the natural phenomenon or memory you have chosen.


Useful Links


  1. Vancouver Sun article: https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/canada-150/canada-150-award-winning-poet-was-an-early-feminist-and-international-journalist
  2. McMaster University Library audio recording of Dorothy Livesay reading and interview: https://digitalcollections.mcmaster.ca/hpcanpub/case-study/dorothy-livesay-and-call-my-people-home-audio-recording


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Bibliographical info

Dorothy Livesay, "Other" from  "Other" from Section Lines: A Manitoba Anthology. Copyright © Dorothy Livesay Reprinted by permission of Dorothy Livesay's estate.


Source: Section Lines: A Manitoba Anthology (Turnstone Press, 1988)

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