Lucille Clifton

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Can you give me information about Lucille Clifton's poem "There is a girl inside" from a feminist viewpoint?  

An older woman, longing for the days of her youth, when she could be free and have sexual relations with whomever she wanted, says that she will embrace her youth in old age. She is not afraid to let go of the social expectations that tell her to keep quiet about her sexuality and desires, for those expectations have meant that she has had to wait through a long, lonely life. Now that she is old and has nothing left to lose, she will seize what is hers by right. She will not cower in fear or hide from public disapproval. The public need not worry about what it thinks or feels; it is too late for them to do anything but accept her as she is: wild and free.

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I read the poem as an announcement in the voice of an older woman. The message is that the older woman will not embrace the social expectations of old age, which require her to be non-sexual. Instead, in her advanced age, she will embrace her youthful self, though the courage...

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I read the poem as an announcement in the voice of an older woman. The message is that the older woman will not embrace the social expectations of old age, which require her to be non-sexual. Instead, in her advanced age, she will embrace her youthful self, though the courage she feels with age will allow her to express her sexuality and her needs in ways that she could not as a girl or a young woman.

The poem's use of voice is tricky. We do not know if it is the older woman speaking, or a distant omniscient narrator. It is certainly not the girl speaking, because that persona is referenced as "she."

The first stanza is a description of the boldness that lies within:

There is a girl inside. 
She is randy as a wolf. 
She will not walk away and leave these bones 
to an old woman.

It is interesting that Clifton casts this young persona as a "girl," and not as a "young woman" which is the clearest opposite to an "old woman." A girl is generally considered too young to be sexual, though the feelings are there. A girl, conventionally, is told to keep those feelings quiet or to save them so that she does not harm her reputation.

All of these social expectations for a girl contrast with the second line: "She is randy as a wolf." "Randy" means to be sexually excited. In Scottish English, it refers to someone who has a coarse manner. To make her desire more lurid, she is likened to a wolf. Wolves are wild and, like most wild animals, ruled by instinct. If she is "randy as a wolf," then she is responding to her instinct to pursue sexual pleasure, which is validated by the final line: "She will not walk away and leave these bones to an old woman." She will claim her body in the same way in which a wolf would claim its prey.

In the second stanza, the analogy is more benign:

She is a green tree in a forest of kindling. She is a green girl in a used poet.

The girl is now "a green tree," a strong, supple living being in the summer of life. However, she is planted "in a forest of kindling." She exists in a space that will destroy her, just as girls must exist in a society that can destroy them, physically and/or spiritually. Moreover, "she is a green girl." The notion of being "green" refers to a state of naivete. That greenness, however, exists "in a used poet." Here, Clifton may be saying that, in spite of the woman's advanced age, the girl within reminds her of all the things she has yet to experience.

The third stanza likens the girl's patience to that of a nun:

She has waited patient as a nun 
for the second coming, 
when she can break through gray hairs 
into blossom

She has been pure. She has been obedient. She has been dutiful. Yet, none of this was in her interest. She was simply waiting for the time in which she could be herself, a time that has come with age.

It is significant that there is a break between this stanza and the next, though no period to separate them as in the other stanzas. There is a pause after blossom -- a literal empty space in which we can contemplate what it means to blossom, or what it would look like. Meanwhile, "her lovers will harvest / honey and thyme." She will have more than one lover, hence the plural. The harvest of honey likens the lovers to drones in a hive, which would make the woman the queen. They will do all of the work, but she is not passive. The "harvest" is designed to please her. Her role is one of power and agency.

Historically, thyme was used by the ancient Greeks and Romans for purification. If the older woman is undergoing a process of renewal -- reclaiming her youthful self -- then, rituals of purification have a place in our reading of the poem.

The poem ends with a prediction of what this future "second coming" will look like: "and the woods will be wild / with the damn wonder of it." Once the "kindling" is replaced with "honey and thyme," the "woods will be wild" again, meaning that it will be a place teeming with life and activity. When one thinks of old age, one does not think of life and activity. However, if more old women had the courage to pursue life and activity, they could be free and help to construct a society ("the woods") in which they could be themselves ("wild"). People, however, still might not understand or approve, hence "the damn wonder of it." "Wonder" here has a double-meaning. It could refer to public shock or outrage, or excitement and awe at what is to come. 

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