What is Anne Hébert's poem “Woman Bathing” about?

Anne Hébert’s poem “Woman Bathing” is about a woman immersed in the sea. It’s possible to talk about the poem in terms of its vivid imagery or how it ties into ideas that women and nature possess a special bond.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As the title indicates, Anne Hébert’s poem talks about a woman who's bathing. Using vivid imagery, Hébert creates an idyllic scene of a woman in a sea. She details the shifting colors. In the first stanza, the sun moves from red to yellow to white to blue. In the second stanza, she describes the colors of the sea itself. Similar to the sun, the sea is not restricted to one color. The sea is blue, green, red, and then, finally, a combination of blue and green.

The second stanza also delves into the speaker’s actions. The speaker appears to fully immerse herself into the sea. “Deep swell I go down,” says the speaker. It’s possible that the deep union between the woman and the sea relates to notions that women can have a particularly profound relationship with nature.

Moving on to the third stanza, things might get a tad confusing. The speaker comes back to the surface. Hébert then switches to an image of silver fish on their back and belly. Although, perhaps the silver fish are on the woman’s back or belly, which would further the idea that this woman is becoming one with nature.

In the final stanza, it appears as if the speaker has captured eel nets and the sun. This suggests that the speaker is not simply passively bathing in the sea but is actively acquiring items for herself.

When talking about Hébert’s poem, it could prove beneficial to talk about it in context with other prominent works that feature the theme of women bathing or women in water. These might include Rembrandt’s painting A Woman Bathing in a Stream, Mary Cassatt’s painting Woman Bathing, or Kate Chopin’s novel The Awakening.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial