Carolyn Kizer’s Bitch: Closing the Doors on the Past
The poem “Bitch” by Carolyn Kizer, published in 1984, is one that truly grasps the reader’s attention, beginning with the title itself. The overall tone of this poem intertwines the feelings of sadness and anger and also reveals quite a bit about the speaker’s past. The speaker is referring to her inner self as the “bitch” and her hurt condition is clearly present throughout the poem. She uses words such as “bark, growling, slobbers and whimper” to drive this meaning across to the reader.
It is in the speaker’s own representation of her inner self as a “bitch,” one that not only bark[s] hysterically,” but also may “whimper,” and even “cringe”. The speaker is easily inclined to remember past memories from the relationship and struggles with revealing her inner emotions and putting on a calm outward appearance. This is an experience which is quite familiar to me, as a reader. I am often faced with the choice of being a “bitch” to someone (ex-boyfriend, annoying relative, a backstabbing friend… etc) and showing how I truly feel or being a controlled and relaxed young woman.
Kizer uses the imagery of a dog throughout the poem to show the speaker’s different emotions. Bitch” begins by describing an encounter between the speaker and an ex-lover. Lines 1 and 2 (“Now, when he and I meet… growling”) reveal that these two have not kept in contact over the years. Although the speaker feels hurt and angry about the past, she tells herself to control her emotions. She is fghting with herself to not let her true feelings show. Should she scream out in anger or break down in tears to express her hurt state? Or should she stay quiet and maintain her calm nature?
There is obviously tension present in these first few lines. At this point in the poem, the reader does not know ow or why this relationship ended, but the break-up clearly hurt the “bitch” more than it hurt her lover. The speaker displays an outward appearance of kindness and self-control, while she is really growing more and more furious inside (lines 5 and 6). My voice says, “Nice to see you, as the bitch starts to bark hysterically’). In line 7 (“He isn’t an enemy now’) the speaker is telling herself that she should not be dwelling on the past because her ex cant hurt her anymore.
The “bitch” seems to be doing fine in controlling her emotions until line 9 when her ex-lover asks her: *dow are the children? They must be growing up. An immediate change of tone occurs here. There is an internal struggle going on between her heart and her mind. The speaker’s mind is telling her to be polite to her ex, forget the past and move on. The bitch’s heart, on the other hand, is keeping her from moving on and causing her to struggle with feelings of desire. This is clear, for example, in lines 10-13: “Ata kind word from him…
Down, girl! Keep your distance. ” The speaker knows that if she up getting hurt. Kind words and gestures can often be deceiving and I have learned that unfortunately charming people are dangerous. I have been hurt numerous times y such personalities by only looking at their kind side and ignoring other flaws. The bitch is warning herself to not get caught up in this trap of feelings again. Quite a bit of information about the past is exposed in (lines 17-21): ” She is basically loyal… Until he was ready to play. This means that the speaker was always loyal and kind to her lover, but he was bored with her and still thought that she was not good enough. The imagery here is being compared to the relationship between an owner and his loving and loyal dog. Some words that emphasize this relationship are “running”, “lay at his feet”, and “ready to play’. A bitch is always ready to do what one wants and it is clear that this was the sort of relationship that the speaker and her lover had. If he wanted her to wait for something, she was willing to wait.
If he needed something, she would get it for him. If she was given an order, she would immediately act upon it. The image of an obedient dog comes to mind while reading these ending stanzas. Although the speaker is struggling with feelings of anger and repression, she still desires reconciliation. Her emotions are running wild with memories of her past, but she knows she can’t express them. She wants to be the bigger person in this uncomfortable situation because she knows she will end up getting hurt again if she “barks” or “whimpers”.
In the final lines of the poem, from lines 28 to 34, the speaker reveals her final thoughts and emotions of the past and, especially, for this man, whom she cared for. The speaker seems to have given up her tender feelings for him. As she reveals these aspects, she also gives the readers and the “bitch,” or at least the woman that she was, some information on this man she has been speaking to. The readers learn that the unidentified man has perhaps remarried? (Line 31) Since he bitch sees that he has moved on with his life, she knows that it is only right that she does as well.