Friday, December 08, 2006

Auden's "Miss Gee"

Miss Gee
by W. H. Auden

When you read this poem, you feel sad for the woman who has been struggling to do her work and be a good woman in God's eyes. You see her walk alone through the streets while she fights her illness until finally she dies from cancer. As you see her life, you also see how no one notices her. And when her body is turned over to students for educational purposes, you see how little they too think of her as anything but a tool to further their education. But Auden's poem is not so much about th is poor woman's life, as it is about the lack of respect so many people have for other people. No one, except for the doctor, seems to care at all about Miss Gee, and most seem to feel contempt towards her, even blaming her for her own death from cancer. This poem is more of a statement about the human condition than it is about a little old woman who died from cancer.

Here are links to other interesting interpretations (points about) of this poem. These links are followed by the poem itself.

From the International Journal of Epidemiology:

From the British Medical Journal:

For your reading pleasure, "Miss Gee" by W. H. Auden

Let me tell you a little story
About Miss Edith Gee;
She lived in Clevedon Terrace
At number 83.

She'd a slight squint in her left eye,
Her lips they were thin and small,
She had narrow sloping shoulders
And she had no bust at all.

She'd a velvet hat with trimmings,
And a dark grey serge costume;
She lived in Clevedon Terrace
In a small bed-sitting room.

She'd a purple mac for wet days,
A green umbrella too to take,
She'd a bicycle with shopping basket
And a harsh back-pedal break.

The Church of Saint Aloysius
Was not so very far;
She did a lot of knitting,
Knitting for the Church Bazaar.

Miss Gee looked up at the starlight
And said, 'Does anyone care
That I live on Clevedon Terrace
On one hundred pounds a year?'

She dreamed a dream one evening
That she was the Queen of France
And the Vicar of Saint Aloysius
Asked Her Majesty to dance.

But a storm blew down the palace,
She was biking through a field of corn,
And a bull with the face of the Vicar
Was charging with lowered horn.

She could feel his hot breath behind her,
He was going to overtake;
And the bicycle went slower and slower
Because of that back-pedal break.

Summer made the trees a picture,
Winter made them a wreck;
She bicycled to the evening service
With her clothes buttoned up to her neck.

She passed by the loving couples,
She turned her head away;
She passed by the loving couples,
And they didn't ask her to stay.

Miss Gee sat in the side-aisle,
She heard the organ play;
And the choir sang so sweetly
At the ending of the day,

Miss Gee knelt down in the side-aisle,
She knelt down on her knees;
'Lead me not into temptation
But make me a good girl, please.'

The days and nights went by her
Like waves round a Cornish wreck;
She bicycled down to the doctor
With her clothes buttoned up to her neck.

She bicycled down to the doctor,
And rang the surgery bell;
'O, doctor, I've a pain inside me,
And I don't feel very well.'

Doctor Thomas looked her over,
And then he looked some more;
Walked over to his wash-basin,
Said,'Why didn't you come before?'

Doctor Thomas sat over his dinner,
Though his wife was waiting to ring,
Rolling his bread into pellets;
Said, 'Cancer's a funny thing.

'Nobody knows what the cause is,
Though some pretend they do;
It's like some hidden assassin
Waiting to strike at you.

'Childless women get it.
And men when they retire;
It's as if there had to be some outlet
For their foiled creative fire.'

His wife she rang for the servent,
Said, 'Dont be so morbid, dear';
He said: 'I saw Miss Gee this evening
And she's a goner, I fear.'

They took Miss Gee to the hospital,
She lay there a total wreck,
Lay in the ward for women
With her bedclothes right up to her neck.

They lay her on the table,
The students began to laugh;
And Mr. Rose the surgeon
He cut Miss Gee in half.

Mr. Rose he turned to his students,
Said, 'Gentlemen if you please,
We seldom see a sarcoma
As far advanced as this.'

They took her off the table,
They wheeled away Miss Gee
Down to another department
Where they study Anatomy.

They hung her from the ceiling
Yes, they hung up Miss Gee;
And a couple of Oxford Groupers
Carefully dissected her knee.

Photo of Auden from:


Blogger VF said...

Your analysis of this poem blunts any subtlety or nuance. Auden is not pejorative in this piece, rather he is using humour to prompt responses.

1:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Nice Blog . I don't really know a lot about Human Anatomy study or art, but that's just my 2 cents. Really great job though, Krudman! Keep up the good work!

10:29 PM  
Blogger Calvin said...

Great blog really helped me with my coursework thanks been great help

11:51 AM  
Blogger faithfulstar said...

Actually, the poem depicts the life of a spinster in Post World War 1 Britain. THe war resulted in such losses that there was a shortage of men for women to marry. Hence both the title "Ms. Gee" and her fantasy about being the Queen of France and the Vicar. THe guilt and penitent supplication to God and the Bull.
THe repetitive "up to her neck" would seem to signify the passing years and the aging Ms. Gee. Dr. Thomas's reference to "creative" could be an allusion to childbearing. Of course the reference to Dr Thomas's wife presents an interesting counterpoint to the narrative of Ms. Gee. Only he really understands her true condition. The original analysis provided thus seems to get hit the target. But in terms of analysis, it may be wide of the mark.

12:10 PM  
Blogger Frederick TheSecond said...

The phrase is "back-pedal brake", not 'break'. The image is quite central, since back-pedal braking is what Miss Gee does all her life.

4:16 AM  

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