Writing on Women Writers

A site for college students to write about women writers.

Lucille Clifton gives a Voice

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Lucille_Clifton_r

 

Lucille Clifton embodied the ultimate woman.  She was proud of who she was; proud of her body, her race, and her heritage.  Clifton wanted all women to be proud of who they are.  In one of my favorite Lucille Clifton poems, “sarah’s promise”, Clifton gives a voice to Sarah; the wife of Abraham in the Old Testament telling of the Bible.  Most women in the bible were ignored or seen only as objects who gave birth.  Most of the women who have actual stories in the Bible were portrayed as whores or as weak human beings who easily gave into sin.  In “sarah’s promise”, Clifton gives not only a voice, but a powerful voice, to a woman who didn’t have one.

AbrahamSarahThe Story of Abraham and Isaac<– this is the link to the story straight from the Bible

In the book of Genesis, we have the story of Abraham and Sarah, and then Abraham and Isaac.  For years Abraham and Sarah were unable to have children.  Finally, God blesses them with Isaac.  In the story of Abraham and Isaac, Sarah is barely mentioned.  God goes to Abraham and tells him that the only way to prove his faith is by sacrificing his only son.  Abraham does not want to do it, but he has no choice.  He cannot disobey God.  Abraham then takes Isaac up to a hill, puts him on an altar and is about to sacrifice him when God comes to Abraham and tells him to stop; that he has proved his faith enough.  Then Isaac lives and everyone lives happily ever after.

sarah’s promise

who understands better than i
the hunger in old bones
for a son? so here we are
abraham with his faith
and i my fury. jehovah,
i march into the thicket
of your need and promise you
the children of young women,
yours fora  thousand years.
their faith will send them to you,
docile as abraham. now,
speak to my husband.
spare me my one good boy.

 

caravaggio

Sarah was never mentioned in that chapter of the Bible.  You think she would be, since Isaac was her son as well.  She is not mentioned in the story of Abraham and Isaac, and then in the next chapter she dies.  Poor Sarah has no voice at all in the proposed sacrificing of her son.  Lucille Clifton gives a voice to Sarah in “sarah’s promise”.  In the poem, Sarah is infuriated and pleads with God to spare her son by saying “jehovah, i march into the thicket of your need and promise you the children of young women, yours for a thousand years”.  Sarah’s voice is not only pleading, but powerful when she says “now, speak to my husband. spare me my one good boy.”  Here Sarah is speaking straight to God.  She is ordering God to spare Isaac and to be content with the children of young women who can keep having children.  GASP!  A woman speaking straight to God and bossing him around?  Unheard of.  But so was Sarah in the Bible.  Why should Abraham be the only one to decide whether Isaac is sacrificed or not?  In the story, Abraham and Sarah are both 100 years old and this is the only chance they will ever have for a son.  In the first line of the poem it reads, “who understands better than i the hunger in old bones for a son?”  Clifton shows that Sarah has longed for a son for many years, and now God wants to take him away without her consent.  “so here we are abraham with his faith and i my fury” continues to show the strong, powerful voice that Clifton gives to the forgotten mother of Isaac.

As you can see in the link of the story of Abraham and Isaac, Sarah was not mentioned once even though she was the wife of Abraham and the mother of Isaac.  I guess the writers of the Bible did not think her feelings were very important, as well as the feelings of other forgotten women in the Bible.  Lucille Clifton, however, thought so.  With “sarah’s promise” she was able to depict the passionate, infuriated feelings of Sarah; a mother who has to give up her son unwillingly.  Her voice is powerful, demanding God to talk to Abraham and to spare her son.  Lucille Clifton, the ultimate woman, was able to give her powerful voice to Sarah and show us what she was feeling.

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