Poem introduction

There's a poem by George Herbert, the metaphysical poet, that I've always really liked. It's called 'The Flower' and in the poem he uses the flower as a metaphor for his own spiritual death and recovery - the death of the flower in winter. And there are some wonderful lines in the poem: "And now in age I bud again,/After so many deaths I live and write;/I once more smell the dew and rain,/And relish versing:" And they seem extraordinary lines to me - because I like walking in the rain, because they seem so sensual for someone to have written in the 17th century. And because it was always a favourite poem, one day I was ironing - and all my life hated ironing - and suddenly I sort of smelt the scent coming off the cloth (of course very horrible cheap scents which are put into washing powder) but it was suddenly a wonderful feeling and it connected with a feeling for me that my life had got a lot better. And so I used the idea of the Herbert poem - this idea of a spiritual death and recovery - to write my own poem but using the metaphor of ironing.

Ironing

Ironing

I used to iron everything:
my iron flying over sheets and towels
like a sledge chased by wolves over snow;

the flex twisting and crinking
until the sheath frayed, exposing
wires like nerves. I stood like a horse

with a smoking hoof,
inviting anyone who dared
to lie on my silver padded board,

to be pressed to the thinness
of dolls cut from paper.
I'd have commandeered a crane

if I could, got the welders at Jarrow
to heat me an iron the size of a tug
to flatten the house.

Then for years I ironed nothing.
I put the iron in a high cupboard.
I converted to crumpledness.

And now I iron again: shaking
dark spots of water onto wrinkled
silk, nosing into sleeves, round

buttons, breathing the sweet heated smell
hot metal draws from newly-washed
cloth, until my blouse dries

to a shining, creaseless blue,
an airy shape with room to push
my arms, breasts, lungs, heart into.


from The Handless Maiden (Jonathan Cape 1994), copyright © Vicki Feaver 1994, used by permission of the author and the publisher.

Books by Vicki Feaver