Friday, October 02, 2009

Recurring Subjects in Poetry - Penelope

Is it inevitable that a poet should write about Penelope? Over the years, I have seen so many that I wonder if there's an anthology somewhere on the subject... I don't think I will ever write one about her. But I will write about gardens and insects. Flowers and fairy tales. More subjects that have probably been done to death by poets.

The challenge is to "make it new", whatever subject you choose. It's been done before. Here's Dorothy Parker's "Penelope":

Penelope

In the pathway of the sun,
In the footsteps of the breeze,
Where the world and sky are one,
He shall ride the silver seas,
He shall cut the glittering wave.
I shall sit at home, and rock;
Rise, to heed a neighbor's knock;
Brew my tea, and snip my thread;
Bleach the linen for my bed.
They will call him brave.

For me, what makes this poem "new" is the last line that colors everything that came before it. All but the last line are things we already know about Odysseus and Penelope from the story. In fact, we know they will call him brave, too. But it is Parker's ordering that gives us the edgy perspective of a Penelope that may not be wholly convinced of the last fact (They will call him brave). Or, who feels she is the brave one for waiting all that time.

What do you think is the best poem on the subject of Penelope and Odysseus? Is there a poem that you think really takes the story and turns it upside-down and inside-out?

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