Take an Emotional Journal with the Poem 'The Luggage' by Constance Urdang

Take an Emotional Journal with the Poem 'The Luggage' by Constance Urdang

Monday, 7 August, 2023

This brief tale of three women travelers captures the many aspects of far-flung adventures: the anticipation, the surprises, the romance, and the truth that no matter where we go, we take ourselves with us

Each line of this poem is so precise and evocative — innocent valor, shivering stars, wifely tears — to tell a story that’s both tender and brazen. It’s easy to imagine these women (and their modern counterparts) packing their bags to venture into the delicious unknown with an umbrella and a handkerchief.


The Luggage — Constance Urdang

  • Travel is a vanishing act
  • Only to those who are left behind.
  • What the traveler knows
  • Is that he accompanies himself,
  • Unwieldy baggage that can’t be checked,
  • Stolen, or lost, or mistaken.
  • So one took, past outposts of empire,
  • ‘Calmly as if in the British Museum,’
  • Not only her Victorian skirts,
  • Starched shirtwaists, and umbrella, but her faith
  • In the civilizing mission of women,
  • Her backaches and insomnia, her innocent valor;
  • Another, friend of witch-doctors,
  • Living on native chop,
  • Trading tobacco and hooks for fish and fetishes,
  • Heralded her astonishing arrival
  • Under shivering stars
  • By calling, ‘It’s only me!’ A third,
  • Intent on savage customs, and to demonstrate
  • That a woman could travel as easily as a man,
  • Carried a handkerchief damp with wifely tears
  • And only once permitted a tribal chieftain
  • To stroke her long, golden hair.

About Constance Urdang

Constance Urdang (1922-1996) was a native New Yorker. She earned a BA from Smith College, and after graduation, she worked as a military intelligence analyst for the US Department of the Army. In 1956, she received an MFA in writing from the University of Iowa and, with her husband — the poet Donald Finkel — taught at Washington University, where they co-directed the graduate Writers Program. Her output includes seven poetry collections and the novel Natural History, which she described as ‘Not a novel. A series of images in the form of prose episodes. Their meaning, if any, to emerge when at the end one can look back to try and make out the significant patterns.’ This poem is from her collection Only the World, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press, 1983.

Top image courtesy of Peter Herrmann/Unsplash.

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