This poem was written in 1919 by Alfonsina Storni in Argentina. The poem reflects on the weight of tradition and the expectations placed on women, particularly in regards to gender roles and family responsibilities. The speaker in the poem feels the burden of this "ancestral weight" and yearns for freedom and independence. The poem is considered a feminist statement, as it challenges the patriarchal norms of society and advocates for women's empowerment.
The title of this poem translates to "ancestral burden"—this is meant to symbolize how such ideas have been passed down for generations before they reached the author. In this poem, the author laments how widespread ideas about toxic masculinity have prevented the men in her family from ever being open about how they truly felt (“Tu me dijiste: no lloró mi padre / Tu me dijiste: no lloró mi abuelo”).
In turn, the burdens of the family are passed on to the woman, who carry the sadness of the whole family. When the author tastes her mother’s tears and gets an idea of what all her ancestors have been through, she says that she cannot bear it and wants out of the system (“¡Oh, el alma mía soportar no puede / Todo su peso!”).
Throughout history, many conservative societies—including the Argentine one that Storni grew up in—had very rigid ideas about gender roles, and people weren’t very forgiving to people who didn’t fit within these ideals. Just like women were expected to confine themselves to the home and not pursue a career, etc., men were also expected to be strong and differentiate themselves from women who they viewed as “too emotional”. As a result, this often meant that men could not ever express how they really felt or seek help for the problems they faced, let alone cry.
Modernists criticized these ideas heavily and campaigned for the abandoning of these archaic ways of life in favor of one that was more egalitarian.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the feminist movement began to grow in Argentina as women grew tired of the discrimination and inequality they faced. This is reflected in the poem, as the poetic voice is also tired of bearing these expectations.
Alfonsina Storni was an Argentine writer and poet who was born in 1892. She was a key figure in the el Modernismo. She was known for her feminist themes and the unconventional forms she used in her writing, breaking away from traditional poetic conventions of the time. Storni wrote many poems centered around the ideas of love and gender equality during a time when these ideas were still new to society.
The poem is written in the first person, as Storni is directly addressing archaic ideas and generational trauma that has been passed down through her family until they have reached her. The author addresses her mom to symbolize speaking to all the generations before her that have enabled this toxic way of thinking.
The poem is written in 12 verses separated into 3 stanzas, with the last lines of every stanza ending in -o.
This poem is quite short, but it is important to recognize some literary devices used:
Repeticion: In the first two lines, Storni repeats “Tu me dijiste” at the start—by repeating “you told me” as she addresses her mother, she shows how she was told something previously that is in reality, not the case. Storni was always told about how the men in her family were like steel in how they handled any of life’s problems, but she now realizes that it’s not that they didn’t suffer, they just couldn’t show it as easily because of the stigma surrounding male vulnerability.
Metáfora: In the first stanza, Storni says “No han llorado los hombres de miraza / Eran de acero”. By comparing the men in her family to steel, Storni emphasizes how they were never seen in a state of emotional vulnerability, due to the societal pressures to be strong for the people around them.
This poem critiques archaic views of masculinity by showing the effects that such beliefs have had on the author’s father and grandfather. The author also addresses the mother throughout the poem, as if to separate herself from those family members that came before her in how she views such practices. The last line of the poem emphasizes the author’s hopes for a different world going forward: one where both men and women can be open about their problems in a way that allows people to help each other through them.
The poem addresses the constraints and expectations placed on women in society and advocates for their freedom and independence. The "ancestral weight" referred to in the title is a metaphor for the societal norms and traditions that the speaker feels suffocated by. The speaker yearns to escape the constraints of society, and live a life free from the expectations placed on her—in this way, the speaker also aims to set themselves apart from their ancestors before them.
Feminism was a dominant theme of Argentine 20th-century literature and is further reflected in this poem with the author portraying her frustration at the oppressive social structures that have victimized both men and women throughout history. It reflects the principles that governed the Modernist/Postmodern era, as people questioned the key tenets of modern society and pushed boundaries.