Weeds and Wild Flowers
Gender and Nature in Alice Oswald’s Daisy
In ‘Daisy’, Alice Oswald uses the evolving imagery of a narrator considering her actions towards a daisy to symbolise the meekness and conformity socially linked to womanhood- and the poem’s progressively aggressive tone mirrors her desire to reject these feminine ideals. Nonetheless, the constant focus on the image of a flower is able to portray the natural world as a beautiful force.
In ‘Daisy’, Oswald uses the extended metaphor of a ‘daisy’ to symbolise social perceptions of femininity which are rejected by the narrator. The poem opens through the imperative ‘I will not meet that quiet child’ to immediately establish the poet’s discordance with social expectations of women to remain voiceless, with the poet’s decision to open through personal pronoun ‘I’ immediately defining the narrator’s sense of self, and the form of monologue can be seen to further reject these stereotypes through actively establishing an independent female voice. In the closing enjambment in which the persona states her desire to ‘make a lovely necklace out of her green bones’, the diction choice ‘lovely necklace’ creates a satyrical tone to mock the public perception of women as obsessed with fashionable accessories, and the adjective ‘green’ perhaps suggests that the daisy, thus by extension, the feminine stereotype, is sickly and therefore flawed, an idea made all the more imperative through movement into iambic pentameter. Indeed, the declarative ‘I will not’ is reformulated throughout the opening half of the poem in order to establish the persona’s resilience towards those expecting her to conform to the mould of femininity, and perhaps the most interesting example of this reads ‘I will not lie small enough under her halo/to smell its laundered frills’. The diction choice ‘halo’ is particularly compelling as it dramatises the character’s lack of compliance with the belief that women should remain pure and somewhat holy, and with the adjective ‘laundered’- through connotations of household chores- the clause also can be seen to reject the stereotype of women as primarily housewives and carers of the home. Despite this, the poet’s decision to name the poem ‘Daisy’, which might reference both the flower and a female name, may hold unfortunate suggestions that women will never be able to escape the social expectations placed on them, and yet the narrator’s determination to do just that hold more compelling suggestions that she will be able to define her own identity: the poet writes \she is more/ summer-like more meek/ than I am’, and the personal pronoun ‘she’ and ‘I’ are separated at opposite ends of the syntax to represent the distance between the persona and social perceptions on her feminine identity, with the alliterated ‘m’ further establishing a distinctive and outgoing tone to the persona’s voice in contrast with the ‘quiet[ness] she refuses to conform to.
Nonetheless, the rich imagery of the poem allows it to be read as a testament to the beauty of nature. Indeed, the personification of the flower through personal pronoun ‘she’, throughout the poem, coupled with Oswald’s placement of the flower’s name- ‘Daisy’- as the title elevates the flower, and by extension nature, to a high degree of power and prestige, which is enriched through descriptions such as the narrator’s assertion that she will not ‘let the slight whisperiness/ find out her friendliness’. Here, the neologism coined by Oswald implies that the beauty of nature is almost indescribable thus new words must be made to illustrate it, with the movement from soft sibilance to gentle fricatives adding a musical cadence to the poem, thus marking out nature as a somewhat high art, which finds extreme expression as the narrator claims she will not ‘open my mouth among her choristers’. To use the metaphor of choristers to describe the petals of the daisy, and to do so through emphatic alliteration, further adds to the poem’s sense of awe when talking of the natural world, and the form of enjambment and lack of sentence structure perhaps implies that the feeling of awe when surveying nature is not one that can be wholly merited in a mere single poem. There are contrasting semantic fields of transience and strength throughout the poem to portray the multiple forms in which the power of nature may manifest, and nowhere is this better demonstrated than the persona’s assertion that she will not ‘look her in her open eye/ or feel her hairy wiry strength’, in which the image of an ‘open eye’ is able to suggest the intellectual wisdom of nature, and the ‘wiry strength’ used to colour nature as an immense force of physical prowess.
To conclude, Oswald, in ‘Daisy’, is able to both reject social ideals associated with femininity and capture the pure beauty of the natural world; perhaps suggesting that a discordance with society’s view on womanhood would not leave her unable to appreciate the finer beauty of her natural surroundings.