A new poem.

This is a story I came across again when I was researching the bit of the novel that is about the French Revolution and couldn’t use. It had struck me years ago and is why I quite lost my temper when the late Andrea Dworkin described herself as a Feminist Jacobin.

Because, as followers of Rousseau and his incredibly sexist ideas about the true natural life of human beings – don’t take my word for it, read Mary Wollstonecraft – the Jacobins hated feminism and feminists. And they did something about their feelings of outrage.

THEROIGNE DE MERICOURT

Somebody told them of Theroigne de Mericourt
all those tough women,
who pushed market stalls
all the way through the streets to the poor quarters
up from the quays
where they sold day-old fish
carts that brought turnips
– you cut out the rot –
calling on bakers who put out stale bread for you
that you could soak
in water and milk
and make it fresh again
eat it with chicken heads,
pig feet and marrow bones
turnip bread fish-bone broth
what the poor eat and not like the food that she ate
luxury diet for Theroigne de Mericourt

Someone came down from the club of the Jacobins
showed them engravings of her with her tits out
drinking champagne, eating something called caviare
came to their clubhouse, and bowed to them courteous
like a good citizen, not an aristocrat
where they sat comfortable drinking from tankards
smoking their pipes on a warm autumn evening
resting their feet from the sores of their wooden shoes
with stays unlaced, them as wore them, for comfort
petticoats open, legs open to cooling air
just for the pleasure and not the depravity
nothing like lecherous Theroigne de Mericourt

She was no citizen though she pretended
she had a head that was full of ideas
noone should have – that were all about women
Women should vote, women should speechify
women read poetry, storybooks too,
make fancy love like that bitch-whore the Queen
not push their stalls, through the cold before dawn
not make the broth that keeps children alive
not lie in bed with your husband asleep
staying awake to give him a thick ear
if he comes at you to make a new child.
She was all fancy, in sleeves that were slashed
big floppy hats that nobody would wear –
that’s how you’ll know she is Theroigne de Mericourt

Somebody told them she needed a lesson
told them her friend had just gone to the scaffold
friend called Olympie and what kind of name was that?
Probably slept with her, wrapped her legs round her
all those aristos are perverts and sluts.
She though was clever and was not found guilty.
Full of her lawyer’s tricks, treason in petticoats
needed a lesson in what decent citizens
thought of her nonsense, and here’s where you find her
sipping her coffee among decent citizens
even though she’s evil Theroigne de Mericourt

Battered her senseless with broth-spoons and wooden shoes
shattered her hand with the wheel of a cart
kicked in her face, how dare she be pretty
left her in street dust and pissed on her there.

That was the end of fair Theroigne de Mericourt
left there all damaged her looks quite destroyed
hardly could speak and forgot all her poetry,
never could wear fancy clothing again
lay in a cell, in her filth, and grew old there
sometimes they pushed her out into the yard
swilled water over her, washed her to cleanliness
not that they care for her, just for the stink of her
sometimes exhibited Theroigne de Mericourt
that is what happens to women above themselves
women believing they think like their better halves
Even the street sluts know better than that,
even the worst of them, blood on their petticoats
kicked the ideas out of Theroigne de Mericourt
face full of old scars and brain full of rotteness.
Twenty-four years like that, not even knowing
what had been taken. And then she was forgotten.
Let us remember poor Theroigne de Mericourt
who had ideas just ahead of her time
always remember to watch for your sisters
love them, but still keep the wall to your back.

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About rozkaveney

Middleaged, trans, novelist, poet, activist
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to A new poem.

  1. paratti says:

    Superb.

    And poor woman:(

  2. pnh says:

    The Wikipedia article on Theroigne de Mericourt looks like it could use some attention — it appears to be substantially the text of a piece from an antique edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica that’s now in the public domain, and it’s as tendentious as you might expect: “The following year she became insane, a fate not surprising when one considers her career.”

    However, if the Wikipedia piece’s dates are correct, Theroigne de Mericourt lived for 24 years after her brutal beating, not 40.

    My ignorance of the French Revolution is oceanic, but this was a good poem.

  3. deliasherman says:

    Lovely, Roz. I hate it when people get all gooey and sentimental about the women of the Revolution, who would have had a good laugh if they’d heard what was said about them and then cut out their guts for garters. Not that I blame them, mind. It’s the problem with seeing history as all good vs. evil and forgetting that human beings aren’t all either, but both, depending on context and what they’ve had to eat lately, and whose fault they’ve been told it is if they haven’t had enough to eat, or any. So thank you for putting the shades of grey back into history.

  4. calimac says:

    On the same lines, I confess myself puzzled as to why African-Americans protesting against a history of slavery should declare themselves Muslim.

  5. selenak says:

    Great poem, and oh, Theroigne de Mericourt. I knew about Olympe des Gouges, but exactly what had happened to Theroigne. Damm.

  6. crazycrone says:

    Crikey, that’s a good one.

  7. cangetmad says:

    This is bloody grea. Thanks.

  8. gothwalk says:

    That is an absolutely stonking piece of work. Thank you!

  9. ffutures says:

    It’s amazing how stuff like this gets edited out of popular history. I’m sorry to say I’d never heard of her before.

    Sorry – amazing isn’t the right word. Maybe scarily predictable?

  10. cmcmck says:

    As you know, my historical specialism is in the military/political aspect of revolutions, rebellions and revolts and I’ve yet to find one where anyone says don’t go there, the patriarchy will retain control regardless………

    I think you’ve pretty much summed up my somewhat cynical view of revolutionaries and rebels here!

  11. diotimah says:

    Great poem. What a wonderful idea to write about Théroigne de Méricourt, who’s so often overshadowed by Olympe de Gouges, and/or described as “mad” even in relatively recent accounts.

    It’s always frustrating to see how woman have really important roles in revolutionary movements of any type, only to get relegated to conventional positions once said movements become established …

    Btw, there’s a really interesting cycle of poems on the French Revolution by a German poet called Gertrud Kolmar, who was killed by the Nazis. Doesn’t really write on female Revolutionaries (her hero was Robespierre, who was pretty conservative in this respect), but really worth checking out, if you’re into that period.

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