Saturday, October 18, 2014

White dawn. Stillness             When the rippling began
     I took it for sea-wind, coming to our valley with rumors
     of salt, of treeless horizons. But the white fog
didn't stir; the leaves of my brothers remained outstretched,

--from Denise Levertov, "A Tree Telling of Orpheus"


A fellow poet inquired, in a general Facebook way, about why many women find the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice anti-feminist. He was puzzled but genuinely interested. The answer, in a general Facebook way, was that Orpheus was objectionable because he was forcing his dead wife to do what he wanted, which she herself may not have wanted to do: that is, return from the underworld and live with him again.

Reading their responses, I wondered what I'd been overlooking in this myth, which I have read and reread since childhood, and which has always seemed so intensely sad. And I realized, of course, that I have always identified with Orpheus rather than the shadowy Eurydice. It is the love and the loss that pulls me, and to me this seems to have nothing to do with gender roles, only with the intensity of the myth's delineation of character. Eurydice is not an interesting person in that story. She is a cipher, a symbol, a mist. I felt as if the women who responded to the Facebook question believed that the myth should have been a different myth.

What do you think?


David said...

Doesn't seem surprising that a poet-by-nature would identify more with Orpheus than Eurydice. Ars forte est, and transcends gender sympathies. Thanks for the continuing Levertov, and descriptions of the world there. They are all very fine.

Sheila said...

I agree with you completely Dawn. I am a feminist and see the world through a feminist lens, but I try not to be too ridgid or dogmatic. It's limiting. Your post made me refresh my knowledge of the story -- I never had any sense that Eurydice wanted to stay dead, and I still don't. But I am not a classics scholar by a long shot. Still, if I just allowed myself to intellectually and emotionally connect with art that is completely "politically correct" and non-patriarchal, my life would be infinitely poorer.

Dawn Potter said...

David, I agree that many (though of course not all) myths do transcend gender. Artemis and Athena tell the stories of powerful women; Demeter tells the stories of a grieving woman; Aphrodite tells the stories of a seductive woman; and these are all facets of human character . . . but not only female character. Sheila, like you, I identify myself as a feminist; but as a writer, much of my feminist action involves working to meet the great canonical male writers and myth makers as my colleagues in a shared endeavor. Shakespeare and Ovid are not my enemies or my oppressors or my competitors. They are my peers--which sounds horribly hubristic . . . and let me tell you: there is nothing scarier than to write down such words in a public forum. That is my feminist action. No, I am not as great a writer as Shakespeare. But I take myself as seriously as a writer. We share a vocation and a fervor. We ARE peers, though every time I write such words, I feel as if someone is shooting arrows into me.

David said...

"But I take myself as seriously as a writer"--Bravo, Dawn. I'd be willing to bet that many (maybe most?) writers, if they were honest, would say they felt that way, at least at some level, and maybe have to, to get anything worthwhile down on the page at all. Kudos to your candor and honesty and courage, and the inspiration they offer others.

David said...

p.s. Ooops. I meant the quote to include, of course, the Shakespeare reference.