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A poem about Virginia Woolf

By Bianca Manu, 2023
SculptureStatues & MemorialsLiteraturePeopleActivismPrejudiceIdentity

In 2023 writer Bianca Manu researched into the life and works of Virginia Woolf. This was for a project exploring statues and memorials in Camden. There is a bust of Virginia Woolf in Tavistock Square. She wrote the poem below, with accompanying numbered notes, in response to what she found out.

a white older woman seated, gazing outwards. She is wearing her hair behind her ears and a dark suit.
Virginia Woolf Copyright: Harvard University Houghton Library

In 2023 writer Bianca Manu researched into the life and works of Virginia Woolf. This was for a project exploring statues and memorials in Camden. There is a bust of Virginia Woolf in Tavistock Square. She wrote the poem below, with accompanying numbered notes, in response to what she found out.

black and white archive photograph of young white woman wearing a white muslin dress, with her brown hair pulled back in a bun.
Virginia, 1902 Copyright: by George Charles Beresford Source: National Portrait Gallery
an older white woman with brown hair parted and swept back. She rests her chin in her hand and is wearing a ring and a fur coat
Virginia, 1927 Copyright: Houghton Library, Harvard Univeristy
a group of people, including Virgina Woolf, seated in deckchairs outside a writing cabin at Monk's house
Virginia and family outside the writing cabin, Monk's house Copyright: Houghton Library, Harvard University
the exterior of a cabin with white wooden doors and a large tree. A bench sits on a brick patio next to the cabin surrounded by grass
Exterior of Virginia's writing cabin, Monk's House Copyright: Cassia Clarke
georgian terraced house with yellow London brick and cream rendered windows with black railings. A blue plaque to the left of the front door and window
Virginia's home in Gordon Square Copyright: Cassia Clarke
a brinze bust of Virginia Woolf sits on a portland stone plinth surrounded by greenery
Virginia Woolf bust and plinth in Tavistock Sqaure Copyright: Cassia Clarke
Virginia Woolf by Bianca Manu


has many faces:

By nature and form,

There are several phases.

Waxing and waning

A regular reshaping

Like a sun, not yet risen 1

Constantly shifting, in transition

Freedom elicits contradiction.

Fact relaxes, begetting fiction. 2


Aided by money and private spaces, 3

‘A change of temper a fixed income’ created. 4

‘Fear and bitterness’ dissipated, 5

Until the point of emancipation:

‘the freedom to think of things’ without commiseration. 6

For Woolf, she exercised her liberation,

Her autonomy translated into literary inspiration.7

And so, the sun rose. 8

She wrote prolifically.

Preoccupied with documenting society,


Virginia remained reserved politically. 9

When the Sun had risen to its full height. 10

She resented the spotlight. 11

Feminism and anti-imperialism, she did endorse. 12

Through Hogarth Press, she published progressive discourse 13

She spoke in favour of women’s autonomy 14

For those and others, she elevated 15

Writers Ling Shuhua, Ahmed Ali and Nancy Cunard 16

Woolf was formidable at setting a new standard.


A complicated tour de force

Who expressed incendiary views with no remorse:

Unrefutably an anti-Semite. 17

‘Fear and bitterness’, she spoke in spite.

The Sun was sinking 18

How do you reconcile this volatility?

Separate politics from her literary?

Like sun, we are both dusk and dawn.

Our positions are forever changing form.


No person is ever fixed.

We all navigate internal conflict.

All of us make questionable remarks.

Each of us, both light and dark.

Every opinion will invariability separate.

We must not cancel or commiserate.

Instead, to write in retrospect,

It is a gift to reflect.

Can we offer some small grace instead?

Notes for the poem

In the poem above, Bianca has added numbers to the end of some of the lines. These correspond to the notes below.

interior of a cabin with the outdoors reflected in the glass window. a writing table and chair are in the middle of the cabin.
Interior of Virginia's writing cabin, Monk's House Copyright: Cassia Clarke
a bed with a white cover in the corner of the room, two sets of bookshelves line the walls filled with books. A fireplace with ornate tiles and a persian rug on the floor. A bedside table with a lamp and jug are next to the bed
Virginia's bedroom at Monk's House Copyright: Cassia Clarke
a sitting room with pale green walls and brown beams on the ceiling. A bookcase stands to one side and 4 chairs are infront of the fireplace. Ceramic jugs are on the mantelpiece
The sitting room at Monk's House Copyright: Cassia Clarke
the exterior of a house with a slopping roof and dormer windows surrounded by trees, shrubs and grass
Virginia's house in Rodmell, Monk's House Copyright: Cassia Clarke
a bronze bust of Virginia Woolf overlooks the gardens of Tavistock Square
Bust of Virginia Woolf overlooking Tavistock Sqaure gardens Copyright: Cassia Clarke
a bust of Virginia Woolf sits on top of a flint and brick wall with a commemorative plaque, surrounded by a tree and yellow flowers
The tree under which Virginia's ashes were buried at Monk's House Copyright: Cassia Clarke

1 In The Waves, the sun is presented to the reader as a reoccurring interlude to each chapter; this symbol is only visible to the audience, while the characters experience the change in an abstract and incremental way. By writing about the gradual shift of the sun, waves and trees, Woolf adopts a position of omnipresence to foreshadow the physical and psychological state of the characters. In writing of the sun, she becomes the sun, her comparable to the rising and falling of a constant but everchanging orb of light. Woolf, Virginia. 2016. The Waves :[Vintage Classics Woolf Series]. London: Vintage. Pg3. More on the structure of the Waves: Payne, Michael. 1969.“THE ECLIPSE of ORDER: THE IRONIC STRUCTURE of ‘the WAVES.’” Modern Fiction Studies 15 (2): 209–18.

2 Woolf is transparent about how a ‘certain number of pieces of paper which were left me by my aunt’ shifts her focus as a writer: ‘before that made my living by cadging odd jobs from newspapers, by reporting a donkey show here and there...all this became like a rust eating away the bloom of spring, destroying the tree at its heart’. The financial freedom allowed her to ‘bloom’: to write fiction. Woolf, Virginia. 1929. A Room of One’s Own. London: Hogarth Press. Pg29.

3 ‘No force in the world can take from me my five hundred pounds. Food, house, and clothing are mine for ever’. Woolf, A Room of One’s Own. Pg30.

4 Woolf, A Room of One’s Own. pg30.

5 Woolf, A Room of One’s Own. pg30.

6 Woolf, A Room of One’s Own. pg30.

7 Between 1915 – 1941, Virginia Woolf wrote 9 novels, including seminal works Mrs Dalloway (1925); Orlando (1928) and Between the Acts (1941); 23 short stories, and three long essays.

8 Woolf, The Waves, pg.50.

9 Woolf initially concealed her political views as a tactic, which she eventually confesses, ‘Secrecy is essential, We[women] must still hide what we are doing and thinking...when salaries are low...and jobs are hard to get and is rather criticize your master’. Although financially independent, criticism weighed on Woolf. It wasn’t until her later years she was able to speak of her opinion confidently as ‘facts’. Woolf, Virginia. 1938. Three Guineas. New York. Harcourt, Brace, World. Pg120.

10 Woolf, The Waves, pg.104.

11 Virginia Woolf ‘hated being looked at and needed much persuading to even sit for a portrait’. Charleston. Bust of Virginia Woolf. Charleston.

12 Woolf is hailed to some extent ‘as feminist (Black, N, 2004), with the acknowledgement that her position changed in her publications between 1920 – 1940, from ambivalence (Park, SS, 2005, 119) about suffragism to pacificism...her involvement with the Working-Class Women’s Guild’ to activism [quote Samantha Allen report]

13 In 1917, Virginia Woolf and her husband, Leonard Woolf founded Hogarth Press, named after their house in Richmond, which played a key role in publishing anti-colonial literature and works by writers of colour.

14 Woolf believed in the idea of the New Woman: being financially and socially independent from the constraints of marriage and motherhood. She explores this position ideologically through Orlando, and characters such as Rose Pargiter in The Years, Hulia Hedge in Jacob’s Room, and Mary Dachet in Night and Day. [quote Samantha Allen report]

15 Hogarth Press also published Trinidadian historian and Marxist, CLR James and Gertrude Stein’s Compositions as Explanation, in 1926.

16 Hogarth Press supported Ling Shuhua, a Chinese modernist writer; Ahmed Ali was one of the first Muslim authors to be published in English; Nancy Cunard was an anti-racism campaigner wrote the poem, Parallex (1925)

17 [Quote from selected diaries]

18 Woolf, The Waves, pg.149. See Carroll, Berenice A. “‘To Crush Him in Our Own Country’: The Political Thought of Virginia Woolf.” Feminist Studies 4, no. 1 (1978): 99–132.