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Myth -- Muriel Rukeyser

Guest poem sent in by Rachel Granfield
(Poem #651) Myth
 Long afterward, Oedipus, old and blinded, walked the
 roads.  He smelled a familiar smell.  It was
 the Sphinx.  Oedipus said, "I want to ask one question.
 Why didn't I recognize my mother?"  "You gave the
 wrong answer," said the Sphinx.  "But that was what
 made everything possible," said Oedipus.  "No," she said.
 "When I asked, What walks on four legs in the morning,
 two at noon, and three in the evening, you answered,
 Man.  You didn't say anything about woman."
 "When you say Man," said Oedipus, "you include women
 too.  Everyone knows that."  She said, "That's what
 you think."
-- Muriel Rukeyser
The tone of this poem is interesting--the diction is simple and the
sentences short; it reads almost like a children's story (only with
apparently random line breaks).  I like this poem most of all for its
startling final sentence, which leaves the reader with a new look at the
Oedipus stories.

Muriel Rukeyser was born on 15 December 1913 in New York City. She attended
the Fieldston Schools and matriculated at Vassar College (Poughkeepsie, NY).
From 1930-1932, she attended Columbia University in New York. Rukeyser's
first book of poems, Theory of Flight, was chosen by Stephen Vincent Benet
for publication in the Yale Younger Poets Series in 1935, and this book
began a literary career spanning the rest of Rukeysers life and much of the
rest of the twentieth century.

As central and continual a part of Rukeyser's life as poetry was her deep
political commitment. Beginning in the late 1920s, Rukeyser was heavily
involved in political activism on a set of issues ranging from the
Scottsboro Case to the Spanish Civil War to feminism and the American
aggression in Viet Nam. Indeed, Rukeyser spent much of the 1930s in
political action. She traveled to Alabama to cover the Scottsboro case
(catching typhoid fever in a sheriff's station there) and worked for the
Internation Labor Defense, which handled the Scottsboro defendants appeals.
She wrote for the Daily Worker, went to Spain to cover the People's
Olympiad, an international anti-fascist games set up as an alternative to
the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. While Rukeyser was in Spain, the Spanish Civil
War broke out and she was evacuated. Her experience formed the basis for
_Mediterranean_, first published as a pamphlet by (and for) New York Writers
and Artists Committee, Medical Bureau to Aid Spanish Democracy in 1937.
Rukeyser also, and perhaps most famously, traveled to Gauley Bridge, West
Virginia, to investigate for herself a rash of silicosis cases among miners
there (the cases, and the Congressional Investigation into them, had
received a good deal of coverage in the American media). The research she
conducted there was fashioned into _The Book of the Dead_, Rukeyser's
astonishingly powerful poem sequence (published in 1938, in her volume, U.S.
1).

Though often attacked by critics on the political Left and Right alike,
Rukeyser continued to write and publish poetry throughout her life. Among
her best, and most important, books are: _A Turning Wind_ (1939), Beast in
View (1944), _The Green Wave_ (1948), Elegies (1949), Body of Waking (1958),
_The Speed of Darkness_ (1968), Breaking Open (1973), and The Gates (1976).
She also published biographies of Willard Gibbs, Wendell Wilkie, and Thomas
Hariot; fiction; plays and film screenplays; translations of work by Octavio
Paz and Gunnar Ekelff; and, in 1949, The Life of Poetry.

Similarly, politics continued to inform Rukeyser's life and work. It was, in
fact, Rukeyser's feminism and her vocal opposition to the War in Viet Nam
that drew the attention of a new generation to her poetry in the 1960s. She
served as President of PEN's American Center to fight for the human rights
of writers around the world.  The centrality of political work, and the
connection between that work and Rukeyser's literary career, is perhaps best
illustrated by the fact that a thwarted attempt to visit Korean poet Kim Chi
Ha on death row in South Korea forms the basis for her last book's title
poem, "The Gates." Rukeyser died on 12 February 1980.

(biography pasted shamelessly from
http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/m_r/rukeyser/bio.htm)

-Rachel

115 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Yvette R Sangiorgio said...

I would also appreciate if the date when the poem was written was added.
Since the poet's (or poetess's) active life was long, the date would give
further depth to understanding the poem. Without that knowledge, one can
surmise any time or date, and the full CULTURAL significance of the poem is
totally lost, IMHO.

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Very nice poem, I think there are good sentences and this poem isn't bad enough but you should add more information about the main point. There are many different endings to the legend of Oedipus due to its oral tradition. Significant variations on the legend of Oedipus are mentioned in fragments by several ancient Greek poets including Homer, Hesiod and Pindar. 2j3j

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This poem was written in 1973

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