Men prefer an island
With its beginning ended:
Undertones of waves
Men prefer a road
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
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
A mainland mastered
From its inaccess.
* * * *
Men prefer an island
- What is the poet’s critique of men or patriarchy?
- What is the relationship between the speaker and nature? How is nature used to express freedom and adventure?
- 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?
- Written in an era when women in Canada fought for the right to vote, how does this poem remain relevant?
- 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?
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.
- Vancouver Sun article: https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/canada-150/canada-150-award-winning-poet-was-an-early-feminist-and-international-journalist
- 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
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)