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Unlearning submission : Margaret Atwood's revisionary poems

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Unlearning submission : Margaret Atwood's revisionary poems
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Lake, Lindsay
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Denver, Colo.
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Metropolitan State University of Denver
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Unlearning Submission: Margaret Atwood's Revisionary Poems
by Lindsay Lake
An undergraduate thesis submitted in partial completion of the Metropolitan State University of Denver Honors Program
December 2015
Sandra Doe
Dr. Craig Svonkin Dr. Megan Hughes-Zarzo
Primary Advisor
Second Reader
Honors Program Director


Unlearning Submission: Margaret Atwoods
Revisionary Poems
Lindsay Lake Honors Thesis January 2, 2016
With all the thanks in the world to: Dr. Sandra M. Doe, Thesis Advisor
Dr. Craig Svonkin, Thesis Second Reader Dr. Cindy Sutton, Associate Honors Director


Abstract
Classical myths often portray women negatively, treating them as either static characters, signposts to aid the hero on his journey, or ignoring them altogether. When reading mythology, many women tend to feel isolated and marginalized. Modern and contemporary poets have begun to reclaim mythology through remythologizing, or adapting the myth, by viewing the story from an inverted perspective not originally seen in the myth itself. Margaret Atwood expounds on the idea of a siren in Siren Song, where she takes the mythological figure of a siren and transforms the readers expectations and image of this mythological figure through the Sirens point of view. Atwoods Circe/Mud Poems revives Circe in the Odyssey by retelling the story of when Odysseus arrives on her island from Circes perspective. Through revising and retelling these myths from new points of view, poets are breathing life into women who have been forgotten, marginalized and isolated, and they are also reclaiming their own history by freeing themselves from the historical grasp that the patriarchy holds on mythology.
This thesis examines the role of remythologizing or adapting traditional myths to insert feminine perspective where there oftentimes were none. Classical mythology is traditionally focused on the male perspectives, leaving women isolated and subjected to harsh stereotypes. This thesis seeks to present how poet Margaret Atwood has re-written traditional myths to give female mythological figures a voice, which, in turn, exposes the dominating gender roles and stereotypes into which men and women are both forced.
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Patriarchal Myths and the Rise of Feminist Counter Myths
Myth is a literary and storytelling tool used to confront lifes mysteries while searching for a greater understanding of the world. Mythology has fascinated humans ever since they first learned to communicate with one another. A cultures history, values, structure and purpose emerge from myth, and although they are often tangled with religious beliefs and rituals, myths teach about culture in a way that no other medium can. Joseph Campbell, American mythologist, critic and author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, stated in an interview with Bill Moyers that myths have to do with the themes that have supported human life, built civilizations, and informed religions over the millennia, have to do with deep inner problems, inner mysteries, inner thresholds of passage (3). For Campbell, myths are clues into the experience of human life and into the natural phenomenon that exists beyond it (5). Myth, at its core, is a construct that has been used by humans for centuries to better understand themselves and the world beyond.
Myth confronts human limitations by allowing people to extend themselves outside of their physical and emotional states. Campbell believes that myths are the worlds dreams. They are archetypal dreams that deal with great human problems (10). Oftentimes, the problems of human limitation and flaw are illuminated through myths portrayal of conflict and sorrow, and the resolution or revelation and the relation of these elements with reflection on human concerns (Feder 11). In this way, myths are able to allow humans to control their own anxiety about those features of [their] physiological and psychological make-up and [their] external environment which [they] cannot comprehend, accept, or master (Feder 11). Because of the
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elements of control and understanding embedded within myth, humans are able to further explore their innermost thoughts while discovering information about the society they live in.
In order to define a culture, myths must first be identified as myths. One of the primary qualities that cements a storys mythic status is collective cultural validation. In the words of Estella Lauter, literary critic and author of Women as Mythmakers, myth is a collective agreement about some aspect of the unknown (6). Because we have Homers Odyssey, we know that the Greeks collectively valued cleverness and wit. Odysseus, The Odyssey's protagonist, is constantly able to cleverly outmaneuver and challenge his opponents while overcoming various obstacles due to his impeccable wit. Because of the Epic of Gilgamesh, we know that ancient Mesopotamian culture personalized their gods by giving them relatable flaws and human emotions, rather than idealizing them. Myths teach about cultures both explicitly and implicitly.
Although women are often mentioned in myth, a vast majority of myths seen throughout history are focused on male heroes who undertake epic journeys and adventures, while their wives are left at home. Although it is doubtful that every man will undertake a journey like Odysseus and Gilgamesh, it is more likely every man can readily identify with him as he undergoes danger and accomplishes heroic exploits... .We identify with the hero of myth not only because he acts out our unconscious wishes and fears but also because in doing so he performs a continual rite of service for the rest of mankind (Feder 11). The heroic man provides the service of questioning his external and internal environments and having those questions answered. The men have their heroes, but what about the women these heroes have left behind? What about the heroines of myth?
Most myth isolates women by focusing primarily on the males perspective, the males journey, and the males best interests. Yet, since myth is essential to both understanding the
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culture it comes from and essential in understanding humanity itself, both genders need a voice. Left at home, mythic women typically suffer while their husbands and lovers adventure through the vast world beyond them. Alternatively, women act as guideposts to comfort heroes throughout their journey. By largely isolating female perspectives from myth, cultures alienate women from the discussion of the unknown, the collective, and everything the world offers. This separation completely denies the validity of female voices and denies the validity of their experiences. In response, modem female poets have engaged and adapted popular ancient myths to allow all women to further advance and explore their own points of view. Feminist remythologizing, or revising, takes the hushed voices of women throughout history and myth and restores their perspectives by giving them a more active role or voice in their stories.
Revisionary mythology did not originate out of thin air, but was rather the product of a shift in female thinking. The 1960s womens movement progressed the goals of womens participation on a public, political level, and, on a more radical level, the movement sought to completely overthrow the patriarchy that [feminists] believed was oppressing every facet of women's lives (The 1960s-1970s American). The 1960s was a time of radical social change, both for women and for other marginalized populations, and the 1960s propelled the aim for human equality forward. According to Peter Barry, the womens movement has always stressed the importance of how women are depicted throughout literature. These images throughout literature and culture condition society to view individual women the way literature illustrates them. According to Barry, the 1960s was the first time women publicly and collectively analyzed the significance of the [problematic] images of women promulgated by literature, and saw [them] as vital to combat [these images] and question their authority and their coherence (121). Literature provides an avenue for socialization for all populations, in that it provides role models
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for how people are supposed to act; thus female characters in literature indicated to women, and men, what constituted acceptable versions of the feminine while also conveying perceptions of legitimate feminine goals and aspirations (Barry 122). In the 1960s, female critics and authors began to recognize the ideologies embedded throughout the depictions of women in literature. The 1970s evolved this process by exposing the cultural mind-set in men and women which perpetuated sexual inequality (Barry 122). By the 1980s, women had begun to shift the focus of feminism from attacking male perspectives of the world to exploring the nature of the female world and outlook, and reconstructing the lost or suppressed records of female experience (Barry 122). Equal importance was given to recognizing the female stereotypes seen throughout literature and constructing a new canon of womens writing by rewriting the history of the novel and of poetry in such a way that neglected women writers were given new prominence (Barry 122-123). The womens movement that began in the 1960s birthed the feminist literary criticism and feminist creative writing of today, including revisionary mythology.
While the womens movement of the 1960s was crucial in developing a new canon of female literature, the poetic works of one of the earliest female revisionary writers and poets, Hilda Doolittle, more commonly known as H.D., made tremendous strides towards inserting a female perspective in classical Greek mythological poems starting in 1913. Although she is not as widely known and appreciated as some other Modernist male poets of the same era, H.D. is often appreciated because of her stunning work within the Imagist movement. She is also recognized for her groundbreaking work a revisionist poet. Because of her vision, H.D. encouraged other female poets to dive deep into ancient myths and then rework, revise and recreate them from previously muted female mythological experiences. Through her revisionary
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works, H.D., in the words of Norman Holland in Tribute to Freud and the H.D. Myth, closes up the gap between inner and outer, spiritual and physical, male and female (23). H.D.s poems revise ancient myths to create a cohesion between separate binary elements, male and female, that society has constructed for itself. Eurydice is one of many H.D. poems that illuminates a female mythological viewpoint where there otherwise would not be one.
Eurydice tackles the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice from the point of view of Eurydice herself, thereby transforming a male-focused mythic poem into a piece told instead from a female point of view.1 H.D.s Eurydice resents what Orpheus has done to her, but she evolves into a woman who is empowered through her own being. In the ancient myth from Ovids Metamorphoses, Eurydice has died from snake bite and is sent to Hades. Orpheus, her husband, had one chance to save her: all he had to do was walk out of Hades without turning back to look at Eurydice on his way out. If he were to do this successfully, Eurydice would have been able to join him on Earth again; however, Orpheus does turn back to look at her, and, thus, she is forever condemned to Hades. Eurydice, the speaker, begins with justified resentment and frustration towards Orpheus, who is full of arrogance and ruthlessness. He has stolen the beautiful crocuses she envisions throughout the poem as well as her life from her because of this one careless and arrogant act.
While she is frustrated, Eurydice does not let her anger dominate her perspective; my hell is no worse than yours / though you pass among the flowers and speak / with the spirits above earth. Although she is trapped in hell, she unearths empowerment and beauty in the flowers of her soul, instead of the physical flowers of Earth. The last section of the poem begins At least I have the flowers of myself, / and my thoughts, no god / can take that; /1 have the
1 I will be working with the version of Eurydice published in Collected Poems 1912-1944 and then reprinted on the Poetry Foundation website.
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fervour of myself for a presence / and my own spirit for light. HDs Eurydice heals from her loss of the physical beauty and solace of her beloved flowers on Earth by finding even more stunning flowers within herself. Eurydices power is something genuine and eternal, in comparison to the power that Orpheus finds outside of himself. In Eurydices reflection and in the earthly crocuses, Orpheus is someone who has not yet needed to look inward for light: you who have your own light, / who are to yourself a presence, / who need no presence, because he has the light of the physical, earthly world to guide him. In all of the blackness of hell, Eurydice is forced to find a source of light, of power, of hope within her own being, ignoring all of the earthly splendours, and thus against the blackness / and the stark grey /1 have more light. Because of her entrapment in hell, she has found power and beauty within her own being that is stronger, more bright and genuine than what she was able to find when she was not trapped in hell. H.D. foreshadows the entrapment that is central throughout many revisionary mythological poems. How women deal with their entrapment becomes just as important thematically as the entrapment itself.
After H.D., the revisionary movement saw many other pioneers of this new canon and mindset. Adrienne Rich, progressive poet, feminist and critic, views literature as a quintessential aspect of everyday life and an important foundation to the framework that humans inherit from the culture their society is built on. She argues, furthermore, that the ideologies underlying literature and myth can, at times, prevent humans from understanding themselves on a deeper level: Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves (18). Rich believes that, for women and men both, self-knowledge is more than merely accepting their culturally-approved role within society. Too often, women are constructed as luxuries for men and have served as the painters model and the poets muse, but also as
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comforter, nurse, cook, bearer of his seed, secretarial assistant and copyist of manuscripts (Rich 15). Whereas these literary and societal roles entrap, isolate and prevent women from having a voice in society, revisionary myth encourages mythological women to be heard in spite of their roles in society. Knowing ones self involves the refusal of the self-destructiveness of male-dominated society, meaning, the refusal of the roles that patriarchal society enforces upon individual women and men (18). Revisionary female poets tear through the core of male-dominated society by revising and reworking the myths the patriarchy is built upon.
Rich advocates rewriting and revising of myths so that women and men alike have an opportunity to start fresh without any underlying bias from the longstanding patriarchal power structure. While traditional myths reinforce this patriarchy, revisionary myths force audiences to question the way literature and society are structured. By reconstructing myths, the patriarchys hold on history, and the future for that matter, will break. Poets have the unique ability to rework myths by revising history through inserting rejuvenated perspectives into their poems. By creating something new from the old, instead of passing on oppressive traditions, revisionary poets have the power to begin reconstructing male-dominated society.
Revisionary myth critiques traditional myth in itself. According to Rich, revisionary works take the work first of all as a clue to how we live, how we have been living, how we have been led to imagine ourselves, how our language has trapped as well as liberated us; and how we can begin to seeand therefore liveafresh (18). By delving into traditions in this manner, poets are able to understand the myths differently than humans have ever known them with the aim of not passing on a tradition but to break its hold over us (19). Traditional myths exclude women from conversations of heroism, the unknown, and the collective aspects of a culture, whereas these new revisionary myths aim to not only include women, but also to change the
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ideologies underlying myths themselves. Although revisionary myths are oftentimes constructed on the corpse of the same patriarchal myth, they illuminate the entrapment of women within gender roles and allow mythological women to critique the roles that they are stuck inside of. Through this reexamination, women have the opportunity to discover and celebrate the fervor of their own spirit, just as HDs Eurydice has.
One of the ways poets are able to insert female voices into myth is through Rachel Blau DuPlessiss theories of delegitimation and displacement. DuPlessis recognizes the same pattern that other sources have noted: When a woman writer chooses myth as her subject, she is faced with material that is indifferent, or, more often, actively hostile (106). As a way to make amends with this history and to make it livable, the female poet begins creating her own myth by using what DuPlessis calls either displacement or delegitimation. Narrative delegitimation occurs when the entire story of the myth is entirely disrupted by putting the last first and the first last, which ruptures conventional morality, politics, and narrative (DuPlessis 108). It is a process that completely scrambles and undermines the myth itself. Narrative displacement, however, tackles a well-known story or myth and retells it from the other side of things, from some noncanonical perspective (DuPlessis 109). While narrative delegitimation subverts the myth itself, narrative displacement shifts the point of view that the myth is told from. By revealing the emotions of females through narrative displacement, the same myth is given different causes and different responses.. .in precisely the same plot (DuPlessis 110). Displacement unearths perspectives of the other side of everything,the hidden side of the story; the feminine side (DuPlessis 108). Therefore, both narrative displacement and delegitimation are characterized by DuPlessis as overt identification with otherness, which is anything other than the mainstream, anything that articulates ideas or concepts not noticed
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before, or, if noticed... guiltily suppressed (108). The voices of many female mythological figures have been forgotten, but by claiming archetypes and figures that are traditionally used in myth, female poets are able to reveal contemporary experiences and frustrations with society that might have otherwise been forgotten, just as the voices of many female mythological figures have been forgotten. DuPlessis argues that even the desire to produce a critical mythopoesis is a project fraught with some irony, since one of the social functions of mythic narrative is precisely the solidification, consolidation and affirmation of a hegemony (107). Poets establish their paradoxically anti-hegemonic solidification by appealing to primarily female audiences with fresh ideas and perspectives that have long been neglected and which their intended audience will find truth in. This approach has begun to construct a new mythic culture for the female community that has been largely neglected from the patriarchys mythic culture.
Author of Stealing the Language, Alicia Ostriker believes that revisionary mythology, the broader umbrella under which DuPlessiss narrative displacement falls, legitimizes women by inserting them into a power role in a realm where they have been treated as inconsequential: [T]he revised heroine is not woman-as-object at all, is not seen from the outside, but is instead a quintessential woman-as-subject, engaged in a quest for wholeness at once spiritual, psychological, and social (224). Although I agree with Ostriker that women try to seek spiritual, psychological and social wholeness through revised myths, I believe that the mythological heroines themselves will never be able to grasp this wholeness. Instead, it is the contemporary women reading these revised mythological poems that can seek spiritual, psychological and social wholeness by experiencing the harshness and ruthlessness of classical patriarchal myths from a female perspective. Ostriker views remythologizing as a way to steal the language back from an oppressive patriarchal society that has unrightfully claimed it. Reclaiming the language
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is then followed by re-evaluation of the cultural values previously enshrined there, and representation of the stolen elements in experimental forms to emphasize the poets argument with tradition (11). Through revisionary myths, modern female poets stress the importance of having a feminine voice present throughout history and culture. By arguing with the tradition of an oppressive patriarchy, female poets are beginning to adjust and influence the ideologies of contemporary society. This new quest empowers women by creating a new mythic culture where women should feel free to explore, contribute to and contemplate on the complexities of society, life and the human experience.
Poet Margaret Atwood explores isolated mythic perspectives through remythologized poems that encapsulate the entrapment of both mythic women and contemporary women in gender roles, while emphasizing the importance of the females attitudes towards these isolating and marginalizing structures of society. This study examines the poems Siren Song and Circe/Mud Poems by Margaret Atwood to further the importance of revisionary mythology in reclaiming contemporary society and literature.
Narrative Displacement and Margaret Atwoods Poetry
Deeply delving into the marginalization and isolation of women, Margaret Atwoods revisionary poetry largely focuses on remythologizing women throughout classical Greek mythology. In her poetry, Atwood remythologizes and displaces myths found in The Odyssey 2 Atwoods poems Siren Song3 and Circe/Mud Poems4 illuminate how women are forced to fit within the mold of patriarchal society and myth without a voice in the matter. Through her poems, Atwood suggests that women must reclaim empowerment outside of myths, instead of
2 I will be using the version of The Odyssey translated by Robert Fagles.
3 Originally published in Selected Poems 1965-1975 and reprinted on the Poetry Foundation website.
4 I will be using the version published in Atwoods collection You Are Happy.
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letting themselves be trapped within them. Atwood gives the women of Siren Song and Circe/Mud Poems a voice where they otherwise would not have one, but the original mythic roles still dominate and oppress the female protagonists.
In Siren Song and Circe/Mud Poems, Atwood unearths patriarchal ideologies and politics embedded within the original myths by viewing myths from a displaced female perspective instead of the male. By giving these mythological women a voice, Atwood reinvents aspects of Homers Odyssey, which simultaneously creates a new angle with which to view the old myths themselves. According to Sharon Rose Wilsons book Margaret Atwoods Fairy-Tale Sexual Politics, Atwoods purpose in constructing a new perspective illuminates her charactersand readersentrapment in pre-existing patterns, while commenting on the patterns that have arisen, and releasing her characters from these externally imposed patterns, offering the possibility of transformation for the novels characters, for the country they partly represent, and for all human beings (34). Siren Song and Circe/Mud Poems convey the entrapment of their respective female characters as well as mans dominance and control of all females confined to the constraints of inflexible gender roles and human limitation. One of the dominant roles women are expected to fulfill, especially in myth, is the idea that women exist solely to benefit, satisfy and comfort men through sexual and domestic acts. Because of the revisionary and confrontational nature of the female characters in her poems, Atwood combats the patriarchal politics within myths and proposes reevaluation, transformation, and reconstruction of the myths to empower women instead of, or in addition to, men. Atwood fundamentally explores the entrapment of women in mythological tales and gender roles and emphasizes the significance of female perspective towards the isolating nature of these roles.
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Siren Song and Circe/Mud Poems confronts the lack of female perspective in Greek mythology and begins to construct a new literary canon for women. One of the cornerstones of modem societys understanding of ancient Greek myth comes from The Odyssey, a classic work that is referenced throughout several Atwood poems. David Buchbinder argues that Odysseus stands for a male addressee of the relevant poems and is the male Other who helps to define the female roles in the poems (124). If Odysseus is symbolic of the male Other in this collection of Atwoods poems, then he must also be a representative of the patriarchal structures of Homeric times. The women illustrated throughout Atwoods poems can also be representative of women who are oppressed by these patriarchal structures. In this way, we can view these roles as ones that are conventional to the times they were constructed in.
Throughout The Odyssey, there are women who are ancillary helping characters to Odysseus, the protagonist. Some of these women are remarkably powerful; Athena, for instance, the Greek goddess of wisdom and war strategy, is one of the primary reasons that Odysseus is successful in his journey home. Without her guidance and protective powers, Odysseus might have died long before he left his house. Although these powerful women are present throughout the story, their influence, potential and perspective is largely ignored or forgotten by mythological authors and the society that they live in. Buchbinder argues that while there may be relics of an older, powerful matriarchal social order in The Odyssey (as illustrated through the hint of strong female characters), the text is largely dominated by the newer Homeric patriarchal culture, which then transcends into the more contemporary cultures that read those myths (124). The women of myth are often neglected in favor of powerful men (or men in general) and of special significance to Atwood is the suggestive ambiguity in the Homeric model of female figures who are simultaneously subordinate to male ones, yet powerful (Buchbinder 124).
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Although there are several women throughout The Odyssey who were just as powerful, if not more powerful, than Odysseus himself, Homer mutes their stature in favor of Odysseuss dominance. Siren Song and Circe/Mud Poems are both poems where Atwood assumes the voice of powerful women whose perspectives were neglected in their original myths. Through Atwoods displacement, she cements the importance of recognizing and overcoming societys entrapment of mythological and contemporary women in gender roles.
Siren Song
Siren Song assumes the voice of one deadly Siren, who, according to ancient Greek myth, often lured sailors to death by enchanting them with her captivating song and voice. In Greek mythology, sailors were blind and impervious to the treacherous rocky shores that the sirens inhabited. Depicted as half woman and half bird, sirens are a mans imagined portrayal of physical beauty (as a woman) and a beautiful voice (as a bird). Distracted by the alluring siren songs, sailors rammed their ships into their dangerous shores and drowned. Atwoods Siren Song takes on the perspective of a siren who appears to be trapped on an island resenting her role in life. The Siren implores the sailor she is addressing in this poem to rescue her from her boring life, and in exchange for his help, the Siren will sing him her coveted Siren Song. By the end of the poem, readers discover that the Siren has been singing her song all along. Her song is a cry for help, that results in the sailors death. The sailor is just another victim of the Sirens, and although it is a boring song, it works every time. Atwoods Siren is not only isolated on her island, but is also marginalized by the gender roles forced upon her by the patriarchal society she is living in.
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The Siren begins by saying This is the one song everyone / would like to learn: the song / that is irresistible. Her song is one that enchants and lures sailors. If learned, her song teaches how to make men think you are irresistible. A song that causes men to leap overboard in squadrons / even though they see the beached skulls, her song allows men to deny their faculties of reason and venture towards the Sirens island anyway. The song is one that possesses a heavily desired and coveted skill: the skill of inescapable attraction and desire. The Siren is teaching her audience how to seduce sailors, which is a skill so powerful that it causes sailors to die because of their lust. Thus, nobody knows this song, because anyone who has heard it / is dead, and the others cant remember. The power of the Sirens song is beyond that of lust and desire, her song is one that kills. The Sirens song is not only one of attraction, but is also a song of life and death. Atwoods Siren is defined by this song and, in turn, defined by her killing of sailors. According to Ostriker, what Atwood implies, as do other women who examine the blackness that has represented femaleness so often in our culture, is that the female power to do evil is a direct function of her powerlessness to do anything else (222). In this way, she is another powerful woman who is not defined by her power or powerlessness itself, but defined by how her power affects men she interacts with.
The Siren expresses her longing for freedom from her routine while making the sailor believe that he is profoundly unique. She offers to tell the sailor the secret to her song and her allure, if only he helps her get out of this bird suit she is trapped inside of within her mythology. Here, the Siren implies that she is a woman trapped, but wanting to be free. In using dramatic irony throughout Siren Song, Atwood allows the audience to see the sailor die through the seduction of unique. This is the part of the song that the sailor cannot avoid, as he loves to think of himself as the one that the Siren needs and depends on; the only one who can
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save her. The Siren complains that she is tired of looking picturesque and mythical; she is tired of the situation she cannot escape, and this is the key to the sailors desire for her. Atwoods Siren is a play on the Damsel in Distress archetypea woman who is helpless and needs a man to rescue her from her terrible circumstances. According to Karen Stein in Margaret Atwood Revisited, her song is the traditional womans song of dependence, a cry for help and our poor siren is just as much a victim of her song as the feckless sailors she lures to their destruction (38). Although I do not agree with Stein that she is a victim of her own song, I do believe that Atwoods Siren is a victim of the patriarchal gender role ensnaring her. At the beginning of this piece, she pretends to be within the role of a female who is relying on men to rescue her. By the end of the poem, readers understand that she is stuck within the role of a type of malicious femme fatale: where she lures men in with her song and then subsequently murders them, time and again. The Siren uses these archetypes and gender roles to her advantage, but is completely bored with them. She finds power within the roles she plays, but this is still a power that is entirely dependent on the definitions that patriarchal society imposes on her, instead of definitions that she imposes on herself. It is only through Atwoods contemporary poem that the Siren is allowed a perspective at all, but the Siren still waits to be rescued, instead of rescuing herself. Despite her boredom, Atwoods Siren is forced to continue to live inside of her gender roles, as her myth and the society she is living within will not allow her to escape.
Although she is still being dominated and isolated by the myth that she lives inside of, Atwoods Siren Song still respects the innate power of the Siren. In this way, Atwood inverts and displaces the perspectives of ancient myth. Instead of having the audience view the story from the heroic males point of view, the audience experiences the poem from the Sirens female perspective. Through this structure, Atwood is demonstrating her respect for the fatal power of
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the Siren and placing her in a power role instead of one that is passive. It is only through Atwoods Siren Song that this Siren is able to show her other side of everything, and this dramatic irony allows the audience to see that the Sirens power is still dependent on her relationship to men. Although the Siren seems to be empowered in this poem, she is empowered only because she is recognizing and playing into the gender role that patriarchal myth has forced onto her. Arguably, this is only a false sense of power that, instead of giving power to the Siren, enhances the power of the patriarchy itself.
Through the Sirens entrapment inside gender roles, Atwood demonstrates that society forces women, inextricably, into isolating gender roles. During Homers time, it was out of the question for women to deviate from the roles their husbands, fathers, brothers or society forced them into. Therefore, it was unquestionable for the Siren to deviate from her role throughout literature. Although she appears to be bored with her place in society, there was no conceivable way to transcend that role while still living. This is what Atwood illustrates through Siren Song, and although this poem is often held up by critics to be an assertion of female power and dominance over men, the female remains trapped forever in the gender role(s) she was bom into, with no escape in sight. The mythological Siren is doomed to isolation on her island, but contemporary women have power to remove themselves from the isolation and marginalization that the ancient Siren is doomed to. Atwoods Siren Song is a glimpse into the pastinto the roles that women have historically been forced to embody through literature and other societal constructs. In this way, the Siren is a symbolic figure created to demonstrate how contemporary women have been isolated on an island to fulfill roles that define them only in relation to how their actions and thoughts impact men. Although we cannot blame the Siren for the role that has been pushed on her by patriarchal society and literature, contemporary women now have the
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power to make a choice for themselves: to stay trapped on the island or to step out of their birdsuits.
Circe/Mud Poems
Another female whose power is muted in classic Greek mythology is Circe, known for her role in The Odyssey. Odysseus stops briefly for a visit on Circes island before he returns home to his wife Penelope. Circe is a priestess, goddess, and enchantress in Greek mythology and was renowned for her ability to transform men into animals. In fact, upon their arrival to her island, she provided some of Odysseuss crew with potions disguised as wine that turned them into pigs. Thanks to a warning from one of the men who survived, Odysseus was able to dodge this sorcery and decided to remain on Circes island for a year enjoying himself as her lover. Atwoods Circe/Mud Poems allows its audience to see Circes side of the story, whereas The Odyssey neglects her viewpoint. Atwoods displaced Circe/Mud Poems emphasizes the importance of Circes point of view. According to Lauter, Atwood even divides her poem into 24 parts, as if to assert her right to equal consideration with the great text (15). The Odyssey is itself broken into 24 different books, and through the very structure of Circe/Mud Poems, Atwood steals the language back from the patriarchy, word by word, syllable by syllable. Atwoods new Circe is not only an extremely powerful woman who knows of the power she possesses, but she turns into a unique storyteller and poet figure, wanting to revise the myth herself by breaking out of the prescribed plot deconstructively envisioning a new Circe and Odysseus (Stein 159). From Circes new perspective, the audience finds that Odysseus remembered his stop on Circes island in a biased and slanted manner, without addressing how she must have felt during the year he imposed himself on her and her island. Through Atwoods
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Circe/Mud Poems, we find that both Circe and Odysseus are stuck reenacting the roles that Greek myth and society has defined for them: Circe is meant to give Odysseus everything he desires, while Odysseus is meant to take everything he can from Circe through force and demand.
Circe/Mud Poems begins with Odysseuss arrival on Circes island. Odysseus begins by finding what there is, and Circe muses about finding a man who interests her: someone who sets himself apart from the other eagle-headed heroes she has seen before. She is searching instead for the others, / the ones left over, / the ones who have escaped from these / mythologies with barely their lives (202). Here, the audience gets a first clue into Circes revisionary storytelling nature which signifies that she is not interested in the traditional myths she and everyone else has been told, but is instead interested in what is buried underneath. She mines for the extraordinary, instead of concerning herself with the ordinary heroes that myth usually includes. Circe/Mud Poems is about a cycle, a routine of myth and storytelling that has permeated through classic Greek culture as well as contemporary culture today: a man finds solace on an island inhabited by a woman, he takes everything on the island for granted, including her, and then he leaves and returns home. Circe is fully aware of this cycle, and the beginning of this poem is the audiences first clue into her knowledge and wisdom of this harsh routine that she has lived in. Circes knowledge foreshadows her entrapment in this role, and further tightens the idea that although she detests the roles she is stuck in, Circe is unable to break out of them because of the patriarchal literary structure that she was born into. Circe is more resentful towards this cycle than Atwoods Siren, but both are isolated on their respective islands full of routine gender roles that they must fulfill because of the patriarchal literary canon and society that they are trapped inside of.
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Like the Siren in Siren Song, Circe is stuck on a gendered island to fulfill her role and routine. Circe made no choice to be on her island and turn men into pigs; rather she decided nothing. She did not ask for Odysseus to show up, but he did so regardless. Circe repeatedly pleads, It was not my fault that so many people who have visited her turned into beasts, but she also acknowledges her passivity in the situation: I did not say anything, I sat / and watched, they happened / because I did not say anything (203). She seems to have had no choice but to be passive in this situation, to sit and watch as these things happened; her role in the myth was acting itself out on its own accord, without her approval or disapproval. Like Circe, Odysseus is also stuck in the routine of the myth they are trapped in. Circe asks Dont you get tired of killing, Dont you get tired of wanting / to live forever? and Dont you get tired of saying Onward? to Odysseus. She might as well be asking if he gets tired of the destructive heros journey routine that entraps him. Through her questioning, the audience learns that Odysseus is also a product of fate and is stuck in the roles that society has built for him. He is the oppressor, she is the oppressed, and they appear to be trapped in the inequalities of this myth forever. As long as they are trapped on the island within the myth itself, these mythological figures are doomed to repeat the same patriarchy-driven, stereotype-fueled routine.
Odysseus made his presence on her island known and said he wanted nothing, but Circe knows that those who say they want nothing / want everything. Odysseus was greedy and believed he had the privilege to take as he pleased. Circe gave him everything he asked for, and further gave him a place to eat, rest and clear his mind from his journey, but Atwoods Circe points out that vacant is not innocent. Just because he thinks it is okay to take as he pleases and rewrite history to suit his needs, this does not mean he is innocent of his wrongdoings.
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All storytelling is typically slanted in a positive light towards the storyteller, and often pays little regard to the isolation and oppression of roles imposed on characters. When Circe begins to describe her island, she notes that there are travel brochures that can illustrate the island better than she can. These brochures only show the beauty of her island, leaving out the insects and / the castaway bottles but she concedes that all advertise-/ments are slanted, including this one. Circe is bored with how they depict her island. She is again interested in what the myth leaves out, such as the less favorable aspects of her island, or the less favorable qualities of the eagle-headed heroes she previously mentioned. Storytelling and myth perceive things in a positive light intentionally to suit their purposes, and leave out anything that might distort this positivity, despite its authenticity. Atwoods Circe seems to resonate with the castaway bottles, insects, and other aspects of the island excised from the travel brochures, as she, too, has been isolated from being depicted in a wholly authentic and truthful manner. Circes wholeness and completeness of power is excluded by the constrained, male-dominated depiction of the travel brochure myth she lives within.
Whereas the beginning of Circe/Mud Poems introduces us and reflects on the myth of Circe and Odysseus, the next section of the poem moves into the story itself. Odysseus arrives bright as an icon, cloaked in his finest armor and is hardened by the joy he is experiencing, as well as the expectation that gleams in your hands like axes. Axes are symbols of destruction. With Odysseuss expectation, he will destroy Circe, just as axes cut down living trees. Odysseuss joy and expectation ties directly into the privilege he feels about taking whatever he wants from Circes island and from Circe herself. Circe asks If I allow you what you say / you want, even the day after / this, will you hurt me? Again, Circe knows the routine she has been forced into. She knows that Odysseus will hurt her, and asks this question
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rhetorically. Perhaps this question is symbolic of Circe wanting the routine to be different; she asks the question, not because she wants the answer, but perhaps because she wants Odysseus to question the role he has been forced inside of as well. Circe wishes the roles to be different throughout Circe/Mud Poems, whereas Odysseus blindly follows the routine he has been assigned. There is no in-between and no outside feelings for either Odysseus or Circe; to be feared, to be despised, / these are your choices. In this myth, the gender roles have already been reified and thus, there must be no deviation in the characters actions, or how the characters feel about these actions. The characters must instead follow the prescribed roles set up for them by the myths that society has constructed. Both Circe and Odysseus seem to possess choices here, but these choices are only an illusion. Their behavior has already been decided for them, and they must fulfill the roles that this myth has constructed for them, despite their own wishes.
There is no room here for unearthing and celebrating the fervor of their own spirits or genuine self.
So, Circe continues to give Odysseus everything he asks for, and he continues to take everything he desires. He claims what he wants without noticing it. He takes and takes and takes from Circe without ever appreciating what he has taken. Odysseus rapes Circe because he believes that she is only another object ripe for his taking: holding my arms down / holding my head down by the hair / mouth gouging my face / and neck, fingers groping into my flesh. Through this act, Odysseus steals Circes words from her: he forces her body to confess / too fast and / incompletely, its words / tongueless and broken. Not only does he take her body, but Odysseus rips the words out of her very soul. He violates her physically and mentally and then rips this priestesss most powerful form of expressionher wordsstraight from her.
Odysseuss rape of Circe sets the tone for the rest of Odysseuss stay on Circes island; she exists
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only to serve him while he is there (and perhaps beyond his departure), and all of her previous, empowering roles, as priestess, goddess and prophetess, must be abandoned in service of Odysseus.
What follows is the aftermath of Odysseuss robbery. After the rape, Circe can see no faces except Odysseuss. She is haunted and forced to comply with his desires. Her face is forced to stretch over his face of steel like rubber so that he is able to see his reflection in Circes own face: look at me and see your reflection. Circe, once goddess, priestess, enchantress and woman, has been reduced to a mirror, an object, whose only purpose is to reflect the image of her oppressor. The hard and forceful imagery that dominates Odysseuss reflection contrasts with the fist, withered and strung / on a chain around Circes neck. This fist is what allows her to transform men into beasts according to Atwood, but in The Odyssey, Odysseus is protected against Circes magic because of a charm given to him by Hermes. Circe is trapped not only by Odysseus, but has also been previously trapped by the role that her magical fist has imposed on her. This is the fist that forced her to turn men into beasts even though she decided nothing; even though she made no choice to do so. Here, the fist fails, and she is instead trapped in her relationship with Odysseus: You unbuckle the fingers of the fist, / you order me to trust you. Odysseus orders trust because he feels entitled to have it, but genuine trust cannot be demanded or defined in relation to an enforced and oppressive role. The role that the fist has forced her into is replaced with the new role that Odysseus and Homer have defined for her. One role is not necessarily better or worse than the other role, as both roles oppress her and deny her freedom in their respective ways. Circe opens like a hand cut off at the wrist / (It is the / arm feels pain /
But the severed hand / the hand clutches at freedom). Her hand which clutches at freedom is symbolic of Circes desires and needs outside of the patriarchal myth. A hand without a body
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attached to it is powerless, but while the arm feels pain, the disembodied hand is the only part able to clutch at the freedom Circe desires. Circe wants freedom from the fist and from Odysseus, but unfortunately, this is something she will never be able to obtain as long as she is stuck within her body, within the pages of Homers myth.
Circes defined, imposed role becomes clear as Circe recounts a story told to her by a traveler about a mud woman. This mud woman is a passive and accepting object figure, incapable of touch and feeling. When the traveler was young, he and one of his friends constructed a woman / out of mud. She began at the neck and ended at the knees / and elbows: they stuck to the essentials. The idea of men creating a woman out of mud is itself derogatory, as it is implying that men have the power to create and shape women only in their fantasy image. This itself invalidates a womans perspective and very being. It reduces her to nothing more than an object and denies any substance to the woman herself. These men only keep the essential parts of this mud woman; the parts that men stereotypically favor: her breasts, butt and vagina. These men would then make love to her, sinking with ecstasy into her soft moist belly. After they had taken their turns with their mud woman, these men would repair her, making her hips / more spacious, enlarging her breasts with their shining stone / nipples. They reworked her over and over again to suit their fantasies. Their mud woman became whoever they wanted her to be; they molded her to fulfill every desire and every image they had of women. This mud woman has become a heap of voiceless mush that the men bend and shape to suit their every wish. Because of this, the travelers love for her was perfect, he could say anything to her, into / her he spilled his entire life. Because she could say nothing, he could say everything. He had complete dominance and could make her into whatever he wanted, and this is what mattered most to him. The traveler said no woman since then has equaled her. No woman since then has
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been so passive, and as voiceless as this mud woman that he crafted and shaped himself. No woman has since been able to fit herself so perfectly into the mold that man has desired. Circe asks Is this what you would like me to be, this mud woman? Is / this what I would like to be? It would be so simple. For Circe and all women, it seems easy to fall into the roles male-dominated society has prescribed. These roles have everything already laid out: how women must think, how women must act, how they must talk, and most importantly, how they must interact with men. If women fall into this role, then life is easier; they are merely fulfilling a simple stereotype instead of creating complex, individual lives for themselves.
Atwood equates Circe with the mud woman through the title of this poem itself. The forward slash in Circe/Mud Poems means that Circe is synonymous with this mud woman. In the Odyssey and in this poem too perhaps, Circe is meant to be the mud woman herself. She has been crafted by Homer and the other men she interacts with to fulfill an image and a specific gender role and stereotype. The difference between Circe and the mud woman, however, is that Circe is that although Circe is being forced to be passive throughout this myth, her story is being told through Atwoods poem itself. Circe cannot change or rewrite the history of the myth, but she can revise her side of the story and illuminate truths about the patriarchal myth and society that she, and contemporary women, are trapped inside of. She continually questions the roles she and Odysseus are embodying throughout the myth and this makes her different from the mud woman who is unable to think or question anything.
Following the mud woman sequence, Atwood crafts a series of violent images of death and suicide. These images further convey Circes tone towards her love with Odysseus.
Instead of illustrating these love scenes in a positive manner, they find birds with razor-blue / feathers, their beaks like stabs, their eyes / red as the food of the dead. These birds are
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associated with this forced relationship between Odysseus and Circe and the extreme negativity here demonstrates what the hate and fear at the core of their love yields. Odysseus instructs Circe to Ignore them. Lie on the ground / like this. He controls her words, her actions, her position, and everything about her, just as the travelers controlled and shaped their mud woman. The birds wish for them to die: Die, they whisper, Die. While Odysseus and Circe are having sex, the bluebirds wish for their death. Throughout The Odyssey, birds are used to represent omens and, in turn, foreshadow the future by singing of events of come, as in the Sirens bird suit song from Siren Song. Being a prophet, in any other circumstance, Circe would be expected to interpret their words and signs to help predict the future. Her role is being forsaken here to instead fulfill the role that Odysseus has designed for her. He wants Circe for sex, and she must ignore her other roles while he uses her for this. Perhaps the suicidal birds seen here are representative of the sacrifices Circe has to make within herself to satisfy her role as an oppressed female. Odysseus is still the dominating oppressor that myth has designed him to be, and Circe remains to be an object designed specifically for Odysseuss use and privilege.
Yet, Circe has transcended merely fearing Odysseus. She realizes that he is not her true oppressor. Instead, it is that other / who can walk through flesh, / queen of the two dimensions. In fact, it is Athena, the Grecian warrior goddess, who she fears; the one who wants it to be like this. Athena is the one who led Odysseus in his journey, and thus, is the one who led him to Circes island. It is she whom Circe blames, and it is not coincidental that Athena is the representation of wisdom, war and was considered to be the patron goddess of the city of Athens., and was the protector of civilized life in classic Greek myth (Athena, Goddess of Wisdom). Circe views Athena as the catalyst for her relationship with Odysseus and this is representative of the patriarchal ideologies within Atwoods interpretation of ancient Greek
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society. The patron goddess of arguably the most important city in ancient Greece is the one enforcing and desiring these unequal gender roles and stereotypes through Circes eyes. Athena, and the civilization she protects, demands that Circe accept, accept, accept whatever the patriarchy enforces upon her. Circe retorts by saying I dont have to take / anything you throw into me. Circe here realizes how passive she is forced and fantasized to be, like the mud woman, and is refusing to accept that role, even though she knows she will still be stuck inside of it. She describes herself as a wound which listens / to nothing but its own pain; this wound needs her to escape, to Get out of here. / Get out of here. Odysseus needs to leave Circes island, and while Circe does not want to fit inside the passive woman role that she is being forced into, Odysseus has already stolen her body and her words away from her, and, thus, she is forced to do nothing but accept, accept, accept the role she has been given.
Meanwhile, Odysseus has made himself right at home, cataloguing his stories and continuing to take advantage of Circe, her island, and her hospitality. He has ruined nearly everything he has touched, including a medium-sized brick building, which is / ancient though not sacred any more, the building in which he chooses to remember his travels and begin writing his travel book, writing the adventures of his journey home, or writing, perhaps, the beginning of the Odyssey. Here, Odysseus is the storyteller. He has the freedom to write as he chooses, to fill in the blank spaces and add details he sees fit. He writes and writes as Circe serves him delicacies food mostly, an ear, a finger on trays to keep him satisfied. She is not allowed to be the storyteller or poet here, instead, her story is replaced by Odysseuss hero journey. Odysseus is helpless trying to construct the perfect version of himself and his story on paper. His arrogance and self-absorption prevent him from seeing anything else; he is obsessed and prideful of the reflection he sees of himself on Circes island. Circe tries to warn him of the
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monsters ahead, as this is her duty as one of Odysseuss guideposts, though I know / you will not listen. Although Circe has a voice in this moment, it is a voice that is not heard, and is instead muted in favor of Odysseuss needs and his story.
More time passes, and Circe and Odysseus continue to live their lives as oppressed and oppressor on the island. Odysseus is not content with what he has on Circes island though; he is continually desiring to steal more. This time, he goes for Circes prophecy: you want more, / you want me to tell you / the future. Although she possesses the power to see into the future, and Odysseus does not, Circes power is still ripe for Odysseuss taking. Circe tells him the future, of his return to his waiting and devoted wife Penelope, and the suitors he must slay once he gets home. Soon, winter hits and Odysseus is no longer satisfied. Winter went against his expectations, even though this is what you requested. Circe again recognizes her role for Odysseus, in the myth, and in society: I am the place where / all desires are fulfilled, /1 mean: all desires. She knows that Odysseus has taken full advantage of her island and of her; taken everything that he could from her. Here, her role as a passive mud woman has climaxed and she has fulfilled Odysseuss and ultimately Homers every desire.
Circe recognizes the story herself in the next section of this poem. She recognizes the routine she has been doomed to repeat; No use telling me this isnt a story, / or not the same story. She knows better than this. Circe knows that she is and will always be trapped within the same patriarchal myth. What she worries about though, is what happens outside of the myth; what happens to her island when Odysseus leaves? She asks, [W]hen you leave will you give me back the words? That is, the words, Circes very source of power, that Odysseus stole from her in the very beginning. When the myth and Odysseus leave, will Circe finally be able to talk? She knows that the story is ruthless, but what about what happens outside of the story? Circe is
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still questioning her surroundings and the myth she is trapped inside of, but the audience gets an even bigger sense of her revisionary nature in the final sequence of Circe/Mud Poems.
It is in this last sequence that Circe dreams there are two islands. The first island is the one she is stuck on forever; the island found in the travel brochures and in the mythologies. On this island, the events run themselves through / almost without us. Then, it continues to go on and on and on like this, forever. This island repeats the same cycle and Circe knows her myth so well that she could recite it backwards. This island of myth is ruthless; it is an island where Circe is a desert island or a woman of mud made for sexual exploitation, and her encounters with Odysseus are war games of rape, indifference, and betrayal (Ostriker 222).
The second island, however, is one of fantasy. This second island is a mystery that Circe knows nothing about / because it has never happened; / this land is not finished, / this body is not reversible like the mud womans body is. This island is gentler than the first. According to Lauter, The birds are birds [on her new island], not omens from the dead whispering everything dies; the gentle, sensuous caress between two people is enough; and mud is mud, not a symbolic woman to be fucked by man (65). This island lacks stereotypes and is a safe haven where Circe and Odysseus are free to make their own stories, instead of relying on the gender roles that the myth, society, and the first island have constructed for them. This second island is a peaceful and pure fantasy for Circe. On this island, Circe and Odysseus walk through November fields together, casually noticing grass changing from autumn to winter. The astonishing orange apples are still on the trees, even as snow begins to lightly fall. Neither Circe nor Odysseus minds the winter on this idyllic island; the lovers lick the melted snow / from each others mouths in a gesture of peaceful affection, not one of forceful sexual desire.
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The mud holds natural, peaceful deer tracks that have grazed the snow, instead of holding the image of a woman.
Although it is a lovely dream, unfortunately, this is an island that she will never be able to inhabit, only one that she can fantasize about as she is forced through the motions of the patriarchal myths routine. This poem ends tom between two worlds: the one that Circe would love to be a part of, and the one that she is forced to live within. Buchbinder states that Circe/Mud Poems thus concludes by facing simultaneously in two directions: towards an intertext that determines events and gender relations in the present text, and towards a desired ideal text that would permit redefinition of situation and gender relations (132). Circe begins to redefine her situation and the gender routine she and Odysseus are required to enact, but Circe is once again constrained by the patriarchal literary canon and society she has been written to serve. Although she will never inhabit this paradisal island, according to Sharon Rose Wilson in Margaret Atwoods Fairy-Tale Sexual Politics, Circe speaks to her readers freedom to create their own possibilities (161). This island sequence ends without a period at the end, which is suggestive of the idea that this revisionary work is not yet completed. Perhaps Atwood is suggesting that Circe is unable to further revise her myth because of her literary limitations, but it is instead up to contemporary women and writers to finish revising and creating their own myths5. It is here that Circe and Atwood empowers contemporary humans to create their own identities instead of allowing themselves to be entrapped and isolated on islands that patriarchal society constructs for them.
Conclusion
5 See Appendix for suggestions on how to begin revising and reworking mythologies.
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Language has often been a patriarchal tool used to oppress females, and other marginalized populations. Adrienne Rich states that language found in literature is encoded in male privilege and is thus an oppressors language that is unable, at its core, to fully illustrate or discuss a woman's experience in life. In fact, it transforms women into passive, silent, practically invisible creatures whose only purpose is to serve men sexually and domestically. According to Ostriker, we must also have it in our power to seize speech and make it say what we mean (69). Mythological women can rebel from myths, not through their actions as those are already set in stone, but they can instead rebel through their words and their voices. Men, too, are forced into gender roles by myth. Although they oftentimes have much more agency and control than women do, men are still required to fulfill the gender roles and routine of patriarchal society that has been assigned to them. Often given the illusion of power, mythological male figures are still serving the patriarchys wishes instead of fulfilling their own personal identities and desires. Through revisionary, displaced myth, men and women both can find empowerment in stepping outside of the roles that ancient mythological narratives have defined for humans. Margaret Atwood takes the language back through narrative displacement by amplifying and stretching the classical gender roles and stereotypes that ancient myths represent. Through this more visceral representation of myth viewed from a feminist point of view, Atwood teaches her audiences to unlearn the submission that ancient myths impose on them.
Atwood recreates and displaces the mythological figures images of Siren and Circe by speaking for them through her poems. Perhaps Atwood is not speaking on behalf of them, but for women in contemporary society instead. That is, Atwood suggests that women in general must recognize that they have more power than the mythological women who are trapped in the pages they were constructed on. Real women can do what the Siren and Circe cannot; they can break
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out of the gender roles that society has forced upon them. By refocusing and revising our perspectives about myth through these poems, Atwood reveals a more essential power in mythological women than previously recognized. According to Lauter, because Atwood shows how Circe exercises her capacity for insight, we are able to penetrate the masks and armor of the hero with a thousand faces, and understand with her how the myth of the quest has become a disease in whose clutches the hero is helpless (62). Through the Sirens and Circes eyes, contemporary readers are able to reconstruct the myths for themselves, and, in this way, are not constricted to the same patriarchal literary canon and patriarchal myths that the Siren and Circe are. Readers have power to define themselves outside of the gender roles that they have been forced into in society.
Classic myths, especially those seen in Homers Odyssey, put humans, especially women, in passive roles, and Atwood comments on those passive roles from a woman's standpoint through Siren Song and Circe/Mud Poems. Although these women are still passive in action, they are active in the way that they present their stories through Atwoods pieces. Atwood aims not to disturb our belief about myth, but rather she wants to restructure it (Lauter 66). Because Siren Song and Circe/Mud Poems contain female characters that are doomed to isolation, entrapment and marginalization, they find power in urging contemporary women not to fall within the same isolating boundaries that they have been forced into. Their myths do not allow them to verbally or physically plead with women not to fall within this trap, but their negative circumstances, as seen through Atwoods revisionary works, speak for themselves. According to Ostriker, with women poets we look at or into, but not up at, sacred things; we unlearn submission (236). Male-dominated society oppresses primarily women with the stereotypes found in literature. These stereotypes and gender roles are representative of the society that the
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literature speaks to, and just because we find these gender roles in literature and myth does not mean that the gender roles are constrained within the literature itself. Myth simultaneously extends itself into society and depicts the society it originates from. Lauter states that myth lives in a realm where there is no opposition between myth and truth. In this realm, myth is one kind of trutha kind that retains its powers long after philosophers and historians have revealed its impossibility, a kind that continues to glide through our dreams, fantasies, and even our gestures (73-74).With Margaret Atwood and other revisionary poets, contemporary humans are able to unlearn the roles previously taught to them through patriarchal literature and society. Because we are able to see how oppressive and damaging these isolating roles are, we learn how to overcome and unlearn them while simultaneously contemplating on the fervor of ones individual self through poetic works.
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Appendix: The Basics of Revisionary Mythology
A Process of Displacement:
1. Find a myth that you are interested in; it can be any myth or story. Try to venture outside of Greek and Roman myths, if you dare. Dive into Celtic, Indian, Native American, Mayan, Icelandic or Russian myths*. Give yourself a chance to explore new cultures or reacquaint yourself with ancient stories you already know.
2. Find a character within the story whose perspective is largely unheard.
3. Freewrite for 10 minutes and retell the story using this characters perspective. How do they feel about what happened to them or what is happening? How does the story change by viewing it through their eyes?
4. Read other revisionary poems or stories as inspiration. See below for a few suggestions.
5. Transform this freewrite into a poem or a piece of fiction, retaining this characters voice throughout.
*If you are stuck, here are some possible mythological figures to investigate:
Greek: Ariadne, Calypso, Charybdis, Electra, Medea, Polyphemus, Scylla Native American: Lodge Boy and Thrown Away, Red-Woman, Swamp Woman Japanese: Amaterasu, Izanagi, Izanami, Kagutsuchi, Susanoo, Tsukuyomi
A Few Other Stories to Explore:
Canongate Myth SeriesA series of short novels that focus on revising, rewriting and reimagining myths. Includes The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood.
H.D.Calypso, Eurydice, Helen in Troy
Louise GliickAmazons, Aphrodite, Circes Power, Penelopes Song, Persephone the Wanderer, The Triumph of Achilles, to name only a few.
Adrienne RichDiving into the Wreck
Muriel RukeyserMyth, The Poem as Mask
Anne SextonAny poems from Transformations'. Briar Rose, Cinderella, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and 14 others.
Edna St. Vincent MillayAn Ancient Gesture
Phyllis WheatleyNiobe in Distress for Her Children Slain by Apollo
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Works Cited
"Athena, Goddess of Wisdom." Perseus Project. Tufts University, 205. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.
Atwood, Margaret. "Circe/Mud Poems." You Are Happy. New York: Harper & Row, 1974. 201-223. Print.
Barry, Peter. "Feminist Criticism." Beginning Theory. New York: Manchester UP, 1995. 121-138. Print.
Buchbinder, David. "Weaving Her Vision: the Homeric Model and Gender Politics in Selected Poems." Margaret Atwood: Vision and Forms. Ed. Kathryn VanSpanckeren and Jan G Castro. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988. 89-100. Print.
Campbell, Joseph. "Myth and the Modern World." The Power of Myth. Ed. Betty S Flowers. New York: Anchor Books, 1991. 1-43. Print.
D, H. "Eurydice." Collected Poems 1912-1944. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1982. Poetry Foundation. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.
DuPlessis, Rachel B. Writing Beyond the Ending: Narrative Strategies of Twentieth-Century Women Writers. Indiana: Bloomington, 1985. Print.
Feder, Lillian. "A Definition of Myth." Ancient Myth in Modern Poetry. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1971. 3-33. Print
Holland, Norman. "Tribute to Freud and the H.D. Myth." H.D. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989. 11-26. Print.
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Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fagles. London: Penguin Classics, 1996. Print.
Lauter, Estella. Women as Mythmakers: Poetry and Visual Art by Twentieth-century Women. Indiana: Bloomington, 1984. Print.
Ostriker, Alicia S. Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women's Poetry in America. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986. Print.
Ovid. "The Story of Orpheus and Eurydice." Metamorphoses. Trans. Sir Samuel Garth and John
Dryden. Cambridge: 2009.The Internet Classics Archive. Web. 19 Nov. 2015.
Stein, Karen F. Margaret Atwood Revisited. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1999. Print.
"The 1960S-70S American Feminist Movement: Breaking Down Barriers for
Women." Tavaana. E-Collaborative for Civic Education, 2015. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.
Rich, Adrienne. "When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision."College English 34.1 (1972):
18-30. National Council of Teachers Of English. Web. 6 July. 2015.
Wilson, Sharon R. Margaret Atwoods Fairy-Tale Sexual Politics. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1993. Print.
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Full Text

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Unlearning Submission: Margaret Atwood's Revisionary Poems by Lindsay Lake An undergraduate thesis submitted in partial completion of the M etropolitan State University of D enver Honors Program December 2015 Sandra Doe Dr. Craig Svonkin Dr. Megan Hughes Zarzo Primary Advisor Second Reader Honors Program Director

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! Unlearning Submission: Margaret Atwood's Revisionary Poems Lindsay Lake Honors Thesis January 2, 2016 With all the thanks in the world to: Dr. Sandra M. Doe, Thesis Advisor Dr. Craig Svonkin, Thesis Second Reader Dr. Cindy Sutton, Associate Honors Director

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Lake 2 Abstract Classical myths of ten portray women negatively, treating them as either static characters, signposts to aid the hero on his journey, or ignoring them altogether. When reading mythology, many women tend to feel isolated and marginalized. Modern and contemporary poets have begun to reclaim mythology through remythologizing, or adapting the myth by viewing the story from a n inverted perspective not originally seen in the myth itself. Margaret Atwood expounds on the idea of a siren in "Siren Song," where she takes the mythological figu re of a siren and transforms the reader's expectations and image of this mythological figure through the Siren's point of view. Atwood's "Circe/Mud Poems" revives Circe in the Odyssey by retelling the story of when Odysseus arrives on her island from Circe's perspective. Through revising and retelling these myths from new points of view, poets are breathi ng life into women who have been forgotten, marginalized and isolated, and they are also reclaiming their own history by freeing themselves from the historical grasp that the patriarchy holds on mythology. This thesis examines the role of remythologizing or adapting traditional myths to insert feminine perspective where there oftentimes were none. Classical mythology is traditionally focused on the male perspectives, leaving women isolated and subjected to harsh stereotypes. This thesis seeks to present ho w poet Margaret Atwood has re written traditional myths to give female mythological figures a voice, which, in turn, exposes the dominating gender roles and stereotypes into which me n and women are both forced

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Lake 3 Patriarchal Myths and the Rise of Femini st Counter Myths Myth is a literary and storytelling tool used to confront life's mysteries while searching for a greater understanding of the world. Mythology has fascinated humans ever since they first learned to communicate with one another. A culture's history, values, structure and purpose emerge from myth and although they are often tangled with religious beliefs and rituals, myths teach about culture in a way that no other medium can. Joseph Campbell, American mythologist, critic and auth or of The Hero with a Thousand Faces stated in an interview with Bill Moyers that myths "have to do with the themes that have supported human life, built civilizations, and informed religions over the millennia, have to do with deep inner problems, inner mysteries, inner thresholds of passage" (3). For Campbell, myths are clues into the experience of human life and into the natural phenomenon that exists beyond it (5). Myth, at its core, is a construct that has been used by humans for centuries to better understand themselves and the world beyond. Myth confronts human limitations by allowing people to extend themselves outside of their physical a nd emotional states Campbell believes that myths "are the world's dreams. They are archetypal dreams that deal with great human problems" (10 ). Oftentimes, the problems of human limitation and flaw are illuminated through myth's "portrayal of conflict and sorrow, and the resolution or revelation" and the relation of these elements with reflection on human concerns (Feder 11). In this way, myths are able to allow humans to control their "own anxiety about those features of [their] physiological and psychological make up and [their] external environment which [they] cannot comprehend, accept, or master" (Feder 11). B ecause of the

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Lake 4 elements of control and understanding embedded within myth, humans are able to further explore their innermost thoughts while discovering information about the society they live in. In order to define a culture, myths must first be identifie d as "myths." One of the primary qualities that cements a story's mythic status is collective cultural validation In the words of Estella Lauter, literary critic and author of Women as Mythmakers "myth is a collective agreement about some aspect of the u nknown" (6). Because we have Homer's Odyssey we know that the Greeks collectively valued cleverness and wit. Odysseus, T he Odyssey 's protagonist, is constantly able to cleverly outmaneuver and challenge his opponents while overcoming various obstacles due to his impeccable wit. Because of the Epic of Gilgamesh we know that ancient Mesopotamian culture personalized their gods by giving them relatable f laws and human emotions, rather than idealizing them. Myths teach about cultures both explicitly and implicitly. Although women are often mentioned in myth, a vast majority of myths seen throughout history are focused on male heroes who undertake epic journeys and adventures, while their wi ves are left at home. Although it is doubtful that every man will undertake a journ ey like Odysseus and Gilgamesh, it is more likely "every man can readily identify with him as he undergoes danger and accomplishes heroic exploits.We identify with the hero of myth not only because he acts out our unconscious wishes and fears but also because in doing so he performs a continual rite of service for the rest of mankind" (Feder 11). The heroic man provides the service of questioning his external and internal e nvironments and having those questions answered. The men have their heroes, but what about the women these heroes have left behind? What about the heroines of myth? Most myth isolates women by focusing primarily on the male's perspective, the male's journe y, and the male's best interests. Yet, since myth is essential to both understanding the

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Lake 5 culture it comes from and essential in understanding humanity itself, both genders ne ed a v oice. Left at home, mythic women typically suffer while their husbands and l overs adventure through t he vast world beyond them Alternatively, women act as guideposts to comfort heroes throughout their journey. By largely isolating female perspectives from myth, cultures alienate women from the discussion of the unknown, the coll ective and everything the world offers. This separation complet ely denies the validity of female voices and denies the validity of their experience s. In response, m odern female poets have engaged and adapted popular ancient myths to allow all women to further advance and explore their own points of view. Feminist remythologizing, or revising, takes the hushed voices of women throughout history and myth and restores t heir perspectives by giving them a more active role or voice in their stories. Revisionary mythology did not originate out of thin air, but was rather the product of a shift in female thinking. The 1960s women's movement progressed the goals of "women's p articipation on a public, political level," and on a more radical level, the movement sought to "completely ov erthrow the patriarchy that [feminists] believed was oppressing every facet of women's lives" ( The 1960s 1970s American"). The 1960s was a time of radical social change, both for women and for oth er marginalized populations, and the 1960s propelled the aim for human equality forward. According to Peter Barry, the women's movement has always stressed the importance of how women are depicted throughout literature. T hese images throughout literature and culture condition socie ty to view individual women the way literature illustrates them. According to Barry, the 1960s was the first time women pub licly and collectively analyzed the significan ce of the [problematic] images of women promulgated by literature, and saw [them] as vital to combat [these images] and question their authority and their coherence" (121). Literature provides an avenue for socialization for all populations, in that it pro vides role models

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Lake 6 for how people are supposed to act; thus female characters in literature "indicated to women, and men, what constituted acceptable versions of the feminine'" while also conveying perceptions of "legitimate feminine goals and aspirations" (Barry 122). In t he 1960s female critics and authors began to recognize the ideologies embedded throughout the depictions of women in literature T he 1970s evolved this process by exposing "the cultural mind set' in men and women which perpetuated sexua l inequality" (Barry 122). By the 1980s, women had begun to shift the focus of feminism from attacking male perspectives of the world to "exploring the nature of the female world and outlook, and reconstructing the lost or suppressed records of female expe rience" (Barry 122). Equal importance was given to recognizing the female stereotype s seen throughout literature and constructing "a new canon of women's writing by rewriting the history of the novel and of poetry in such a way that neglected women writers were given new prominence" (Barry 122 123). The women's movement that began in the 1960's birthed the feminist literary criticism and feminist creative writing of today, including revisionary mythology. While the women's movement of the 1960s was crucial in developing a new canon of female literature, the poetic works of one of the earliest female revisionary writers and poets, Hilda Doolittle, more commonly known as H.D., made tremendous strides towards inserting a female perspective in classical Greek my thological poems starting in 1913 Although she is not as widely known and appreciated as some other Modernist male poets of the same era, H.D. is often appreciated because of her stunning work within the Imagist movement. She is al so recognized for her gr oundbre aking work a revisionist poet Because of her vision H.D. encouraged other female poets to dive deep into ancient myths and then rework, revise and recreate them from previously muted female mythological experiences Through her revisionary

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Lake 7 works, H.D., in the words of Norman Holland in "Tribute to Freud and the H.D. Myth," closes "up the gap between inner and outer, spiritual and physical, male and female" (23). H.D.'s poems revise ancient myths to create a cohesion between separate binary elements male and female, that society has constructed for itself. "Eurydice" is one of many H.D. poems that illuminates a female mythological viewpoint where there otherwise would not be one. "Eurydice" tackles the myth of Orpheus and Eury dice from the point of view of Eurydice herself thereby transforming a male focused mythic poem into a piece told instead from a female point of view. 1 H.D. 's Eurydice resents what Orpheus has done to her, but she evolves into a woman who is empowered through her own b eing. I n the ancient myth from Ovid's Metamorphoses Eurydice has died from snake bite and is sent to Hades. Orpheus, her husband, had one chance to save her: all he had to do was walk out of Hades without turning back to look at Eurydice on his way out. If he were to do this successfully, Eurydice would h ave been able to join him on Earth again; however, Orpheus does turn back to look at her, and, thus, she is forever condemned to Hades. Eurydice the speaker, begins with justified resentment and frustration towards Orpheus, who is full of "arrogance" and "ruthlessness." He has stolen the beautiful crocuses she envisions throughout the poem as well as her life from her because of this one careless and arrogant act. While she is frustrated, Eurydice does not let her anger dominate her perspective; "my hell is no worse than yours / though you pass among the flowers and speak / with the spirits above earth." Although she is trapped in hell, she unearths empowerment and beauty in the flowers of her soul, instead of the physical flowers of Earth. The last sectio n of the poem begins "At least I have the flowers of myself, / and my thoughts, no god / can take that; / I have the !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!! 1 I will be working with the version of "Eurydice" published in Collected Poems 1912 1944 and then reprinted on the Poetry Foundation website.

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Lake 8 fervour of myself for a presenc e / and my own spirit for light." H.D.'s Eurydice heals from her loss of the physical beauty and solace of h er beloved flowers on Earth by finding even more stunning flowers within herself. Eurydi ce's power is something genuine and eternal, in comparison to the power that Or pheus finds outside of himself. I n Eurydice's reflection and in the earthly crocuses Orp he u s is someone who has not yet needed to look inward for light: "you who have your own light, / who are to yourself a presence, / who need no presence because he has the light of the physical, earthly world to guide him. In all of the blackness of hell, Eurydice is forced to find a sou rce of light, of power, of hope within her own being, ignoring all of the earthly "splendours," and thus "against the blackness / and the stark grey / I have more light." Because of her entrapment in hell she has found pow er and beauty within her own being that is stronger, more bright and genuine than what she was able to find when she was not trapped in hell. H.D. foreshadows the entrapment that is central throughout many revisionary mythological poe ms. How women deal with their entrapment becomes just as important thematically as the entrapment itself After H.D., the revisionary movement saw many other pioneers of this new canon and mindset. Adrienne Rich, progressive poet, feminist and critic, views literature as a quintessential aspect of everyday life and an important foundation to the framework that humans inherit from the culture their society is built on. She argues furthermore that the ideologies underlying literature and myth can a t times prevent humans fr om understanding themselves on a deeper level: "Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves" (18). Rich believes that, for women and men both self knowledge is more than merely accepting their culturally appr oved role within society. Too often, w omen are constructed as luxuries for men and have served as the painter's model and the poet's muse, but also as

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Lake 9 comforter, nurse, cook, bearer of his seed, secretarial assistant and copyist of manuscripts" (Rich 15). Whereas these literary and societal roles entrap, isolate and prevent women from having a voice in society, revisionary myth encourages mythological women to be heard in spite of their roles in society. Knowing one's self involves the "refusal of the self destructiveness of male dominated society ," meaning, the refusal of the roles that patriarchal society enforces upon individual women and men (18). Revisionary female poets tear through the core of male dominated society by revising and reworking the myths the patriarch y is built upon. Rich advocates rewriting and revising of myths so that women and men alike have an opportunity to start fresh without any underlying bias from the longstanding patriarchal power structure. While traditional myths reinf orce this patriarchy, revisionary myths force audiences to question the way literature and society are structured. By reconstructing myths, the patriarchy's hold on history, and the future for that matter, will break. Poets have the unique ability to rewor k myths by revising history through inserting rejuvenated perspectives into their poems B y creating something new from the old, instead of p assing on oppressive traditions, revisionary poets have the power to begin reconstructing male dominated society. R evisionary myth critiques traditional myth in itself. According to Rich, revisionary works "take the work first of all as a clue to how we live, how we have been living, how we have been led to imagine ourselves, how our language has trapped as well as lib erated us; and how we can begin to see and therefore live afresh" (18). By delving into traditions in this manner, poets are able to understand the myths differently than humans have ever known them with the aim of not passing "on a tradition but to break its hold over us" (19). Traditional myths exclude women from conversations of heroism, the unknown, and the collective aspects of a culture, whereas these new revisionary myths aim to not only include women, but also to change the

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Lake 10 ideologies underlying myt hs themselves. Although revisionary myths a re oftentimes constructed on the corpse of the same patriarchal myth, they illuminate the entrapment of women wit hin gender roles and allow mythological women to critique the roles that they are stuck inside of. Through this reexamination, women have the opportunity to discover and celebrate the fervor of their own spirit, just as H.D.'s Eurydice has. One of the ways poets are able to insert female voices into myth is through Rachel Blau DuPlessis's theories of d elegitimation and displacement. DuPlessis recognizes the same pattern that other sources have noted: "When a woman writer chooses myth as her subject, she is faced with material that is indifferent, or, more often, actively hostile" (106). As a way t o make amends with this history and to make it livable, the female poet begins creating her own myth by using what DuPless is calls either "displacement" or "delegitimation." Narrative delegitimation occurs when the entire story of the myth is entirely disrupted by putting "the last first and the first last which ruptures "conventional morality, politics, and narrative" (DuPlessis 108). It is a process that completely scrambles and undermines the myth itself. Narrative displacement, however, tackles a well known story or myth and retells it from the other side of things, from "some noncanonical perspective" (DuPlessis 109). While narrative delegitimation subverts the myth itself, narrative displacement shifts the point of view that the myth is told from. By revea ling the em otions of females through narrative displacement the same myth is given "different causes and different responsesin precisely the same plot" (DuPlessis 110). "Displacement" unearths perspectives of th e "other side of everything," the hidden si de of the story; the feminine side (DuPlessis 108). Therefore, both narrative displacement and delegitimation are characterized by DuPlessis as overt identification with "otherness," which is anything other than the mainstream, anything that articulates id eas or concepts not "noticed

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Lake 11 before, or, if noticedguiltily suppressed" (108). The voices of many female mythological figures have been forgotten, but b y claiming archetypes and figures that are traditionally used in myth, female poets are able to reveal contemporary experience s and frustrations with society that might have otherwise been forgotten, just as the voices of many female mythological figures have been forgotten. DuPlessis argues that "even the desire to produce a critical mythopoesis is a proje ct fraught with some irony, since one of the social functions of mythic narrative is precisely the solidification, consolidation and affirmation of a hegemony" (107). Poets establish their paradoxically anti hegemonic solidification by appealing to primari ly female audiences with fresh ideas and perspectives that have long been neglected and which their intended audience will find truth in. T his approach has begun to construct a new mythic culture for the female community that has been largely neglected fro m the patriarchy's mythic culture. Author of Stealing the Language, Alicia Ostriker b elieves that revisionary mythology, the broader umbrella under which DuPlessis's narrative displacement falls legitimizes women by inserting them into a power role in a realm where they have bee n treated as inconsequential: "[T] he revised heroine is not woman as object at all, is not seen from the outside, but is instead a quintessential woman as subject, engaged in a quest for wholeness at once spiritual, psychological, and social" (224). Although I agree with Ostriker that women try to seek spiritual, psychological an d social wholeness through revised myths, I believe that the mythological heroines themselves will never be able to grasp this wholeness. Instead, it is the contemporary women reading these revised mythological poems that can seek spiritual, psychological and social wholeness by experiencing the harshness and ruthlessness of classical patriarchal myths from a female perspective. Ostriker views remythologizing as a way to steal the language back from an oppressive patriarchal society that has unrightfully claimed it. Reclaiming the language

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Lake 12 is then "followed by re evaluation of the cultural values previously enshrined there, and re presentation of the stolen el ements in experimental forms to emphasize the poet's argument with tradition" (11). Through revisionary myths, modern female poets stress the importance of having a feminine voice present throughout history and culture. By arguing with the tradition of an oppressive patriarchy, female poets are beginning to adjust and influence the ideologies of contemporary society. This new quest empowers women by creating a new mythic culture where women should feel free to explore, contribute to and contemplate on the complexities of society, life and the human experience. Poet Margaret Atwood explores isolated mythic perspectives through remythologized poems that encapsulate the entrapment of both mythic women and contemporary women in gender roles, while emphasizing the importance of the females' attitudes towards these isolating and marginalizing structures of society. This study examines the poems "Siren Song" and "Circe/Mud Poems" by Margaret Atwood to further the importance of revisionary mythology in reclaiming c ontemporary society and literature. Narrative Displacement and Margaret Atwood's Poetry Deeply delving into the marginalization and isolation of women, Margaret Atwood's revisionary poetry largely focuses on remythologizing women throughout classical Greek mythology. In her poetry, Atwood remythologize s and displaces myths found in T he Odyssey 2 Atwood's poems "Siren Song" 3 and "Circe/Mud Poems" 4 illuminate how women are forced to fit within the mold of patriarchal society and myth without a voi ce in t he matter. Through her poems, Atwood suggests that women must reclaim empowerment outside of myths, instead of !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!! 2 I will be using the version of T he Odyssey translated by Robert Fagles. 3 Originally published in Selected Poems 1965 1975 and reprinted on the Poetry Foundation website. 4 I will be using the version published in Atwood's collection You Are Happy

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Lake 13 letting themselves be trapped within them. Atwood gives the women of "Siren Song" and "Circe/Mud Poems" a voice where they otherwise would not ha ve one, but the original mythic roles still dominate and oppress the female protagonists. In "Siren Song" and "Circe/Mud Poems," Atwood unearths patriarchal ideologies and politics embedded within the original myths by viewing myths from a displaced female perspective instead of the male. By giving these mythological women a voice, Atwood reinvents aspects of Homer's Odyssey which simultaneously creates a new angle with which to view the old myths themselves. According to Sharon Rose Wilson's book Margaret Atwood's Fairy Tale Sexual Politics Atwood's purpose in constructing a new perspective illuminates "her characters' and readers entrapment in pre existing patterns," while commenting on the patterns that hav e arisen, and releasing her characters from these "externally imposed patterns, offering the possibility of transformation for the novel's characters, for the country they partly represent, and for all human beings" (34). "Siren Song" and "Circe/Mud Poems convey the entrapment of their respective female characters as well as man's dominance and control of all females confined to the constraints of inflexible gender roles and human limitation. One of the dominant roles women are expected to fulfill, especi ally in myth, is the idea that women exist solely to benefit, satisfy and comfort men through sexual and domestic acts. Because of the revisionary and confrontational nature of the female characters in her poems, Atwood combats the patriarchal politics wit hin myths and proposes reevaluation, transformation, and reco nstruction of the myths to empower women instead of, or in addition to, men. Atwood fundamentally explores the entrapment of women in mythological tales and gender roles and emphasizes the signif icance of female perspective towards the isolating nature of these roles.

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Lake 14 "Siren Song" and "Circe/Mud Poems" confronts the lack of female perspective in Greek mythology and begins to construct a new literary canon for women. One of the cornerston es of modern society's understanding of ancient Greek myth comes from The Odyssey a classic work that is referenced throughout several Atwood poems. David Buchbinder argues that Odysseus "stands for a male addressee of the relevant poems and is the male O ther who helps to define the female roles in the poems" (124). If Odysseus is symbolic of the male Other in this collection of Atwood's poems, then he must also be a representative of the patriarchal structures of Homeric times. The women illustrated throu ghout Atwood's poems can also be representative of women who are oppressed by these patriarchal structures. In this way, we can view these roles as ones that are conventional to the times they were constructed in. Throughout The Odyssey there are women w ho are ancillary helping characters to Odysseus, the protagonist. Some of these women are remarkably powerful; Athena, for instance, the Greek goddess of wisdom and war strategy, is one of the primary reasons that Odysseus is successful in his journey home Without her guidance and protective powers, Odysseus might have died long before he left his house. Although these powerful women are present throughout the story, their influence, potential and perspective is largely ignored or forgotten by mythological authors and the society that they live in. Buchbinder argues that while there may be relics of an older, powerful matriarchal social order in The Odyssey (as illustrated through the hint of strong female characters), the text is largely dominated by the n ewer Homeric patriarchal culture, which then transcends into the more contemporary cultures that read those myths (124). The women of myth are often neglected in favor of powerful men (or men in general) and "of special significance to Atwood is the sugge stive ambiguity in the Homeric model of female figures who are simultaneously subordinate to male ones, yet powerful" (Buchbinder 124).

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Lake 15 Although there are several women throughout The Odyssey who were just as powerful, if not more powerful, than Odysseus h imself, Homer mutes their stature in favor of Odysseus's dominance. "Siren Song" and "Circe /Mud Poems" are both poems where Atwood assumes the voice of powerful women whose perspectives were neglected in their original myths Through Atwood's displacement, she cement s th e importance of recognizing and overcoming society's entrapment of mythological and con temporary women in gender roles. "Siren Song" "Siren Song" assumes the voice of one deadly Siren, who, according to ancient Greek myth, often lured sailors to death by enchanting them with her captivating song and voice. In Greek mythology, sailors were blind and impervious to the treacherous rocky sh ores that the sirens i n habited. Depicted as half woman and half bird, sirens are a man's imagined portrayal of physical beauty (as a woman) and a beautiful voice (as a bird). Distracted by the alluring siren songs, sailors rammed their ships into their dan gerous shores and drowned. Atwood's "Siren Song" takes on the perspective of a siren who appears to be trapped on an island resenting her role in life. The Siren implores the sailor she is addressing in this poem to rescue her from her boring life, and in exchange for his help, the Siren will sing him her coveted Siren Song. By the end of the poem, readers discover that the Siren has been singing her song all along. Her song "is a cry for help," that results in the sailor's death. The sailor is just another victim of the Siren's, and although "it is a boring song," it "works every time." Atwood's Siren is not only isolated on her island, but is also marginalized by the gender roles forced upon her by the patri archal society she is living in.

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Lake 16 The Siren begins by saying "This is the one song everyone / would like to learn: the song / that is irresistible." Her song is one that enchants and lures sailors. If learned, her song teaches how to make men think you are irresistible. A song that causes men "to leap ove rboard in squadrons / even though they see the beached skulls," her song allows men to deny their faculties of reason and venture towards the Siren's island anyway. The song is one that possesses a heavily desired and coveted skill: the skill of inescapabl e attraction and desire. The Siren is teaching her audience how to seduce sailors, which is a skill so powerful that it causes sailors to die because of their lust. Thus, nobody knows this song, because "anyone who has heard it / is dead, and the others ca n't remember." The power of the Siren's song is beyond that of lust and desire, her song is one that kills. The Siren's song is not only one of attraction, but is also a song of life and death. Atwood's Siren is defined by this song and, in turn, defined b y her killing of sailors. According to Ostriker, "what Atwood implies, as do other women who examine the blackness that has represented femaleness so often in our culture, is that the female power to do evil is a direct function of her powerlessness to do anything else" (222). In this way, she is another powerful woman who is not defined by her power or powerlessness itself, but defined by how her power affects men she interacts with. The Siren expresses her longing for freedom from her routine while making the sailor believe that he is profoundly unique. She of fers to tell the sailor "the secret" to her song and her al lure, if only he helps her get "out of this bird suit" she is trapped inside of within her mythology Here, the Siren implies that she is a w oman trapped, but wanting to be free. In using dramatic irony throughout "Siren Song," Atwood allows the audience to see the sailor die through the seduction of "unique." This is the part of the song that the sailor cannot avoid, as he loves to think of hi mself as the one that the Siren needs and depends on; the only one who can

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Lake 17 save her. The Siren complains that she is tired of "looking picturesque and mythical"; she is tired of the situation she cannot escape, and this is the key to the sailor's desire fo r her. Atwood's Siren is a play on the "Damsel in Distress" archetype a woman who is helpless and needs a man to rescue her from her terrible circumstances. According to Karen Stein in Margaret Atwood Revisited "her song is the traditional woman's song o f dependence, a cry for help'" and our poor siren "is just as much a victim of her song as the feckless sailors she lures to their destruction" (38). Although I do not agree with Stein that she is a victim of her own song, I do believe that Atwood's Siren is a victim of the patriarchal gender role ensnaring her. At the beginning of this piece, she pretends to be within the role of a female who is relying on men to rescue her. By the end of the poem, readers understand that she is stuck within the role of a type of malicious femme fatale: where she lures men in with her song and then subsequently murders them, time and again. The Siren uses these archetypes and gender roles to her advantage, but is completely bored with them. She finds power within the roles she plays, but this is still a power that is entirely dependent on the definitions that patriarchal society imposes on her, instead of definitions that she imposes on herself. It is only through Atwood's contemporary poem that the Siren is allowed a persp ective at all, but the Siren still waits to be rescued, instead of rescuing herself. Despite her boredom, Atwood's Siren is forced to continue to live inside of her gender roles, as her myth and the society she is living within will not allow her to escape Although she is still being dominated and isolated by the myth that she lives inside of, Atwood's "Siren Song" still respects the innate power of the Siren. In this way, Atwood inverts and displaces the perspectives of ancient myth. Instead of having the audience view the story from the heroic male's point of view, the audience experiences the poem from the Siren's female perspective. Through this structure, Atwood is demonstrating her respect for the fat al power of

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Lake 18 the Siren and placing her in a power role instead of one that is passive. It is only through Atwood's "Siren Song" that this Siren is able to show her "other side of everythin g," and this dramatic irony allows the audience to see that the Siren 's power is still dependent on her relationship to men. Although the Siren seems to be empowered in this poem, s he is empowered only because she is recognizing and playing into the gender role that patriarchal myth has forced onto her. Arguably, this is on ly a false sense of power that, instead of giving power to the Siren, enhances the power of the patriarchy itself. Through the Siren's entrapment inside gender roles, Atwood demonstrates that society forces women, inextricably, into isolating gender roles. During Homer's time, it was out of the question for women to deviate from the roles their husbands, fathers, brothers or society forced them into. Therefore, it was unquestionable for the Siren to deviate from her role throughout literature. Although she appears to be bored with her place in society, there was no conceivable way to transcend that role while still living. This is what Atwood illustrates through "Siren Song," and although this poem is often held up by critics to be an assertion of female pow er and dominance over men, the female remains trapped forever in the gender role(s) she was born into, with no escape in sight. The mythological Siren is doomed to isolation on her island, but contemporary women have power to remove themselves from the iso lation and marginalization that the ancient Siren is doomed to. Atwood's "Siren So ng" is a glimpse into the past into the roles that women have historically been forced to embody through literature and other societal constructs. In this way, the Siren is a symbolic figure created to demonstrate how contemporary women have been isolated on an island to fulfill roles that define them only in relation to how their actions and thoughts impact men. Although we cannot blame the Siren for the role that has been pu shed on her by patriarchal society and literature, contemporary women now have the

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Lake 19 power to make a choice for themselves: to stay trapped on the island or to step out of their birdsuits. "Circe/Mud Poems" Another female whose power is muted in classic Gre ek mythology is Circe, known for her role in The Odyssey Odysseus stops briefly for a visit on Circe's island before he returns home to his wife Penelope. Circe is a priestess, goddess, and enchantress in Greek mythology and was renowned for her ability to transform men into animals. In fact, upon their arrival to her island, she provided some of Odysseus's crew with potions disguised as wine that turned them into pigs. Thanks to a warning from one of the men who survived, Odysseus was able to dodge this sorcery and decided to remain on Circe's island for a year enjoying himself as her lover. Atwood's "Circe/Mud Poems" allows its audience to see Circe's side of the story, whereas The Odyssey neglects her viewpoint. Atwood's displaced "Circe/Mud Poems" emp hasizes the importance of Circe's point of view. According to Lauter, Atwood "even divides her poem into 24 parts, as if to assert her right to equal consideration with the great text" (15). The Odyssey is itself broken into 24 different books, and through the very structure of "Circe/Mud Poems," Atwood steals the language back from the patriarchy, word by word, syllable by syllable. Atwood's new Circe is not only an extremely powerful woman who knows of the power she possesses, but she turns into a unique storyteller and poet figure, wanting to revise the myth herself by breaking out "of the prescribed plot deconstructively envisioning a new Circe and Odysseus" (Stein 159). From Circe's new perspective, the audience finds that Odysseus remembered his stop o n Circe's island in a biased and slanted manner, without addressing how she must have felt during the year he imposed himself on her and her island. Through Atwood's

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Lake 20 "Circe/Mud Poems we find that both Circ e and Odysseus are stuck reenacting the roles tha t Greek myth and society has defined for them: Circe is meant to give Odysseus everything he desires, while Odysseus is meant to take everything he can from Circe through force and demand. "Circe/Mud Poems" begins with Odysseus's arrival on Circe' s island. Odysseus begins by "finding what there is," and Circe muses about finding a man who interests her: someone who sets himself apart from the other eagle headed heroes she has seen before. She is searching "instead for the others, / the ones left ov er, / the ones who have escaped from these / mythologies with barely their lives" (202). Here, the audience gets a first clue into Circe's revisionary storytelling nature which signifies that she is not interested in the traditional myths she and everyone else has been told, but is instead interested in what is buried underneath. She mines for the extraordinary, instead of concerning herself with the ordinary heroes that myth usually includes "Circe/Mud Poems" is about a cycle, a routine of myth and storyt elling that has permeated through classic Greek culture as well as contemporary culture today: a man finds solace on an island inhabited by a woman, he takes everything on the island for granted, including her, and then he leaves and returns home. Circe is fully aware of this cycle, and the beginning of this poem is the audience's first clue into her knowledge and wisdom of this harsh routine that she has lived in. Circe's knowledge foreshadows her entrapment i n this role, and further tightens the idea that although she detests the roles she is stuck in, Circe is unable to break out of them because of the patriarchal literary structure that she was born into Circe is more resentful towards this cycle than Atwood's Siren, but both are isolated on their respective islands full of routine gender roles that they must fulfill because of the patriarchal literary canon and society that they are trapped inside of.

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Lake 21 Like the Siren in "Siren Song," Circe is stuck on a gendered island to fulfill her role and routine. Circe "made no choice" to be on her island and turn men into pigs; rather she "decided nothing." She did not ask for Odysseus to show up, but he did so reg ardless. Circe repeatedly pleads, "It was not my fault" that so many people who have visited her turned into beasts, but she also acknowledges her passivity in the situation: "I did not say anything, I sat / and watched, they happened / because I did not s ay anything" (203). She seems to have had no choice but to be passive in this situation, to sit and watch as these things happened; her role in the myth was acting itself out on its own accord, without her approval or disapproval. Like Circe, Odysseus is a lso stuck in the routine of the myth they are trapped in. Circe asks "Don't you get tired of killing," "Don't you get tired of wanting / to live forever?" and "Don't you get tired of saying Onward?" to Odysseus. She might as well be asking if he gets tired of the destructive hero's journey routine that entraps him. Through her questioning, the audience learns that Odysseus is also a product of fate and is stuck in the roles that society has built for him. He is the oppressor, she is the oppressed, and they appear to be trapped in the inequalities of this myth forever. As long as they are trapped on the island within the myth itself, these mythological figures are doomed to repeat the same patriarchy driven, stereotype fueled routine. Odysseus made his presence on her island known and said he wanted nothing, but Circe knows that "those who say they want nothing / want everything." Odysseus was greedy and believed he had the privilege to take as he pleased. Circe gave him everything he asked for, and further gave him a place to eat, rest and clear his mind from his journey, but Atwood's Circe points out that "vacant is not innocent." Just because he thinks it is okay to take as he pleases and rewrite history to suit his needs, this does not mean he is innocent of his wrongdoings.

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Lake 22 All storytelling is typically slanted in a positive light towards the storyteller, and often pays little regard to the isolation and oppression of roles imposed on characters. When Circe begins to describe her island, she notes that "there are travel brochures" that can illustrate the island better than she can. These brochures only show the beauty of her island, leaving out "the insects and / the castaway bottles" but she concedes that "all advertise /ments are slante d, including this one." Circe is bored with how they depict her island. She is again interested in what the myth leaves out, such as the less favorable aspects of her island, or the less favorable qualities of the "eagle headed heroes" she previously menti oned. Storytelling and myth perceive things in a positive light intentionally to suit their purposes, and leave out anything that might distort this positivity, despite its authenticity. Atwood's Circe seems to resonate with the "castaway bottles", "insect s", and other aspects of the island excised from the travel brochures, as she, too, has been isolated from being depicted in a wholly authentic and truthful manner. Circe's wholeness and completeness of power is excluded by the constrained, male dominated depiction of the travel brochure myth she lives within. Whereas the beginning of "Circe/Mud Poems" introduces us and reflects on the myth of Circe and Odysseus, the next section of the poem moves into the story itself. Odysseus arrives "bright a s an icon," cloaked in his finest armor and is hardened by the "joy" he is experiencing, as well as the "expectation" that "gleams in your hands like axes ." Axes are symbols of destruction. With Odysseus's "expectation," he will destroy Circe, just as axes cut down living trees. Odysseus's joy and expectation ties directly in to the privilege he feels about taking whatever he wants from Circe's island and from Circe herself. Circe asks "If I allow you what you say / you want, even the day after / this, will you hurt me?" Again, Circe knows the routine she has been forced into. She knows that Odysseus will hurt her, and asks this question

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Lake 23 rhetorically. Perhaps this question is symbolic of Circe wanting the routine to be different; she asks the question, not be cause she wants the answer, but perhaps because she wants Odysseus to question the role he has been forced inside of as well. Circe wishes the roles to be different throughout "Circe/Mud Poems," whereas Odysseus blindly follows the routine he has been assi gned. There is no in between and no outside feelings for either Odysseus or Circe; "to be feared, to be despised, / these are your choices." In this myth, the gender roles have already been reified and thus, there must be no deviation in the characters' ac tions, or how the characters feel about these actions. The characters must instead follow the prescribed roles set up for them by the myths that society has constructed. Both Circe and Odysseus seem to possess choices here, but these choices are only an illusion. Their behavior has already been decided for them, and they must fulfill the roles that this myth has constructed for them, despite their own wishes. There is no room here for unearthing and celebrating the fervor of their own spirits or genuin e self. So, Circe continues to give Odysseus everything he asks for, and he continues to take everything he desires. He claims what he wants "without noticing it." He takes and takes and takes from Circe without ever appreciating what he has take n. Odysseus rapes Circe because he believes that she is only another object ripe for his taking: "holding my arms down / holding my head down by the hair / mouth gouging my face / and neck, fingers groping into my flesh." Through this act, Odysseus steals Circe's words from her: he forces her "body to confess / too fast and / incompletely, its words / tongueless and broken." Not only does he take her body, but Odysseus rips the words out of her very soul. He violates her physically and mentally and then rip s this priestess's most powerful form of expression her words straight from her. Odysseus's rape of Circe sets the tone for the rest of Odysseus's stay on Circe's island; she exists

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Lake 24 only to serve him while he is there (and perhaps beyond his departure), an d all of her previous, empowering roles, as priestess, goddess and prophetess, must be abandoned in service of Odysseus. What follows is the aftermath of Odysseus's robbery. After the rape, Circe can see no faces except Odysseus's. She is haunted and forced to comply with his desires. Her face is forced to stretch over his "face of steel" like rubber so that he is able to see his reflection in Circe's own face: "look at me and see your reflection." Circe, once goddess, priestess enchantress and w oman, has been reduced to a mirror, an object, whose only purpose is to reflect the image of her oppressor. The hard and forceful imagery that dominates Odysseus's reflection contrasts with "the fist, withered and strung / on a chain" around Circe's neck. This fist is what allows her to transform men into beasts according to Atwood, but in The Odyssey Odysseus is protected against Circe's magic because of a charm given to him by Hermes. Circe is trapped not only by Odysseus, but has also been previously tr apped by the role that her magical fist has imposed on her. This is the fist that forced her to turn men into beasts even though she "decided nothing"; even though she made no choice to do so. Here, the fist fails, and she is instead trapped in her relatio nship with Odysseus: "You unbuckle the fingers of the fist, / you order me to trust you." Odysseus ord ers trust because he feels entitled to have it but genuine trust cannot be demanded or defined in relation to an enforced and oppressive role. The role that the fist has forced her into is replaced with the new role that Odysseus and Homer have defined for her. One role is not necessarily better or worse than the other role, as both roles oppress her and deny her freedom in their respective ways Circe op ens "like a hand cut off at the wrist / (It is the / arm feels pain / But the severed hand / the hand clutches at freedom)". Her hand which "clutches at freedom" is symbolic of Circe's desires and needs outside of the patriarchal myth. A hand without a bod y

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Lake 25 attached to it is powerless, but while the arm feels pain, the disembodied hand is the only part able to clutch at the "freedom" Circe desires. Circe wants freedom from the fist and from Odysseus, but unfortunately, this is something she will never be ab le to obtain as long as she is stuck within her body, within the pages of Homer's myth. Circe's defined, imposed role becomes clear as Circe recounts a story told to her by a traveler about a mud woman. This mud woman is a passive and accepting object fig ure, incapable of touch and feeling. When the traveler was young, he and one of his friends "constructed a woman / out of mud. She began at the neck and ended at the knees / and elbows: they stuck to the essentials." The idea of men creating a woman out of mud is itself derogatory, as it is implying that men have the power to create and shape women only in their fantasy image. This itself invalidates a woman's perspective and very being. It reduces her to nothing more than an object and denies any substance to the woman herself. These men only keep the "essential" parts of this mud woman; the parts that men stereotypically favor: her breasts, butt and vagina. These men would then "make love to her, sinking with ecstasy into her soft moist belly." After they had taken their turns with their mud woman, these men "would repair her, making her hips / more spacious, enlarging her breasts with their shining stone / nipples." They reworked her over and over again to suit their fantasies. Their mud woman became whoev er they wanted her to be; they molded her to fulfill every desire and every image they had of women. This mud woman has become a heap of voiceless mush that the men bend and shape to suit their every wish. Because of this, the traveler's love "for her was perfect, he could say anything to her, into / her he spilled his entire life." Because she could say nothing, he could say everything. He had complete dominance and could make her into whatever he wanted, and this is what mattered most to him. The traveler "said no woman since then has equaled her." No woman since then has

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Lake 26 been so passive, and as voiceless as this mu d woman that he crafted and shaped himself. No woman has since been able to fit herself so perfectly into the mold that man has desired. Circe asks "Is this what you would like me to be, this mud woman? Is / this what I would like to be? It would be so sim ple." For Circe and all women, it seems easy to fall into the roles male dominated society has prescribed. These roles have everything already laid out: how women must think, how women must act, how they must talk, and most importantly, how they must inter act with men. If women fall into this role, then life is easier; they are merely fulfilling a simple stereotype instead of creating complex, individual lives for themselves. Atwood equates Circe with the mud woman through the title of this poem itself. Th e forward slash in "Circe/Mud Poems" means that Circe is synonymous with this mud woman. In the Odyssey and in this poem too perhaps, Circe is meant to be the mud woman herself. She has been crafted by Homer and the other men she interacts with to fulfill an image and a specific gender role and stereotype. The difference between Circe and the mud woman, ho wever, is that Circe is that although Circe is being forced to be passive throughout this myth, her story is being told through Atwood's poem itself. Cir ce cannot change or rewrite the history of the myth, but she can revise her side of the story and illuminate truths about the patriarchal myth and society that she, and contemporary women, are trapped inside of. She continually questions the roles she and Odysseus are embodying throughout the myth and this makes her different from the mud woman who is unable to think or question anything. Following the mud woman sequence, Atwood crafts a series of violent images of death and suicide. These images further c onvey Circe's tone towards her "love" with Odysseus. Instead of illustrating these love scenes in a positive manner, they find birds with "razor blue / feathers, their beaks like stabs, their eyes / red as the food of the dead." These birds are

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Lake 27 associated with this forced relationship between Odysseus and Circe and the extreme negativity here demonstrates what the hate and fear at the core of their "love" yields. Odysseus instructs Circe to "Ignore them. Lie on the ground / like this." He controls her words her actions, her position, and everything about her just as the travelers controlled and shaped their mud woman The birds wish for them to die: "Die, they whisper, Die While Odysseus and Circe are having sex, the bluebirds wish for their death. Throughout The Odyssey birds are used to represent omens and in turn, foreshadow the future by singing of events of come, as in the Siren's bird suit song from "Siren Song." Be ing a prophet, in any other circumstance, Circe would be expected to interpret their words and signs to help predict the future. Her role is being forsaken here to instead fulfill the role that Odysseus has designed for her. He wants Circe for sex, and she must ignore her other roles while he uses her for this. Perhaps the suicidal birds seen here are representative of the sacrifices Circe has to make within herself to satisfy her role as an oppressed female. Odysseus is still the dominating oppressor that myth has designed him to be, and Circe remains to be an object designed specifically for Odysseus's use and privilege. Yet, C irce has transcended merely fearing Odysseus. She realizes that he is not her true oppressor. Instead, it is "that other / who can walk through flesh, / queen of the two dimensions." In fact, it is Athena, the Grecian warrior goddess, who she fears; the one who "wants it to be like this ." Athena is the one who led Odysseus in his journey, and thus, is the one who led him to Circe's is land. It is she whom Circe blames, and it is not coincidental that Athena is the representation of wisdom, war and was considered to be the patron goddess of the city of Athens. and was the protector of civilized life in classic Greek myth ( "Athena, Godde ss of Wisdom" ). Circe views Athena as the catalyst for her relationship with Odysseus and this is representative of the patriarchal ideologies within Atwood's interpretation of ancient Greek

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Lake 28 society. The patron goddess of arguably the most important city i n ancient Greece is the one enforcing and desiring these unequal gender roles and stereotypes through Circe's eyes Athena, and the civilization she protects, demands that Circe "accept, accept, accept" whatever the patriarchy enforces upon her. Circe reto rts by saying "I don't have to take / anything you throw into me." Circe here realizes how passive she is forced and fantasized to be, like the mud woman, and is refusing to accept that role, even though she knows she will still be stuck inside of it. She describes herself as a wound which listens / to nothing but its own pain"; this wound need s her to escape to "Get out of here. / Get out of here." Odysseus needs to leave Circe's island, and while Circe does not want to fit inside the passive woman role that she is being forced into, Odysseus has already stolen her body and her words away from her, and, thus, she is forced to do nothing but "accept, accept, accept" the role she has been given. Meanwhile, Odysseus has made himself right at home, catalogui ng his stories and continuing to take advantage of Circe, her island, and her hospitality. He has ruined nearly everything he has touched, including a "medium sized brick building, which is / ancient though not sacred any more the building in which he ch ooses to remember his travels and begin writing his "travel book," writing the adventures of his journey home, or writing, perhaps, the beginning of the Odyssey Here, Odysseus is the storyteller. He has the freedom to write as he chooses, to fill in the b lank spaces and "add details" he sees fit. He writes and writes as Circe serves him delicacies "food mostly, an ear, a finger" on trays to keep him satisfied. She is not allowed to be the storyteller or poet here, instead, her story is replaced by Odysseus 's hero journey. Odysseus is "helpless" trying to construct the perfect version of himself and his story on paper. His arrogance and self absorption prevent him from seeing anything else; he is obsessed and prideful of the reflection he sees of himself on Circe's island. Circe tries to warn him of the

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Lake 29 monsters ahead, as this is her duty as one of Odysseus's guideposts, "though I know / you will not listen." Although Circe has a voice in this moment, it is a voice that is not heard, and is instead mut ed in f avor of Odysseus's needs and his story. More time passes, and Circe and Odysseus continue to live their lives as oppressed and oppressor on the island. Odysseus is not content with what he has on Circe's island though; he is continually desiring to steal more. This time, he goes for Circe's prophecy: "you want more, / you want me to tell you / the future." Although she possesses the power to see into the future, and Odysseus does not, Circe's power is still ripe for Odysseus's taking. Circe tells him the f uture, of his return to his waiting and devoted wife Penelope, an d the suitors he must slay once he gets home. Soon, winter hits and Odysseus is no longer satisfied. Winter went against his expectations, even though "this is what you requested ." Circe agai n recognizes her role for Odysseus, in the myth, and in society: "I am the place where / all desires are fulfilled, / I mean: all desires." She knows that Odysseus has taken full advantage of her island and of her; taken everything that he could from her. Here, her role as a passive mud woman has climaxed and she has fulfilled Odysseus's and ultimately Homer's every desire. Circe recognizes the story herself in the next section of this poem. She recognizes the routine she has been doomed to repeat; "No use telling me this isn't a story, / or not the same story." She knows better than this. Circe knows that she is and wil l always be trapped within the same patriarchal myth. What she worries about though, is what happens outside of the myth; what happens to h er island wh en Odysseus leaves? She asks, "[W] hen you leave will you give me back the words?" That is, the words Circe's very source of power, that Odysseus stole from her in the very beginning When the myth and Odysseus leave, will Circe finally be able to talk? She knows that "the story is ruthless," but what about what happens outside of the story? Circe is

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Lake 30 still questioning her surroundings and the myth she is trapped inside of, but the audience gets an even bigger sense of her revisionary nature in t he final sequence of "Circe/Mud Poems." It is in this last sequence that Circe dreams there are two islands. The first island is the one she is stuck on forever; the island found in the travel brochures and in the mythologies. On this island, "the events run themselves through / almost without us." Then, it continues to go on and on and on like this, forever. This island repeats the same cycle and Circe knows her myth so well that she "could recite it backwards." This island of myth is ruthless; it is an island where "Circe is a desert island' or a woman of mud' made for sexual exploitation, and her encounters with Odysseus are war games of rape, indifference, and betrayal" (Ostriker 222). The second island, however, is one of fantasy. This second islan d is a mystery that Circe knows "nothing about / because it has never happened; / this land is not finished, / this body is not reversible" like the mud woman's body is. This island is gentler than the first. According to Lauter, "The birds are birds [on her new island], not omens from the dead whispering "everything dies"; the gentle, sensuous caress between two people is enough; and mud is mud, not a symbolic woman to be fucked by man" (65) This island lacks stereotypes and is a safe haven where Circe a nd Odysseus are free to make their own stories, instead of relying on the gender roles that the myth, society, and the first island have constructed for them. This second is land is a peaceful and pure fantasy for Circe. On this island, Circe and Odysseus w alk through November fields together, casually noticing grass changing from autumn to winter. The "astonishing" orange apples "are still on the trees," even as snow begins to lightly fall. Neither Circe nor Odysseus minds the winter on this idyllic island; t he lovers "lick the melted snow / from each other's mouths" in a gesture of peaceful affection, not one of forceful sexual desire.

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Lake 31 The mud holds natural peaceful deer tracks that have grazed the snow, instead of holding the image of a woman. Although i t is a lovely dream, unfortunately, this is an island that she will never be able to inhabit, only one that she can fantasize about as she is forced through the motions of the patriarchal myth's routine. This poem ends torn between two worlds: the one that Circe would love to be a part of, and the one that she is forced to live within. Buchbinder states that "'Circe/Mud Poems' thus concludes by facing simultaneously in two directions: towards an intertext that determines events and gender relations in the p resent text, and towards a desired ideal text that would permit redefinition of situation and gender relations" (132). Circe begins to redefine her situation and the gender routine she and Odysseus are required to enact, but Circe is once again constrained by the patriarchal literary canon and society she has been written to serve. Although she will never inhabit this paradisal island, according to Sharon Rose Wilson in Margaret Atwood's Fairy Tale Sexual Politics "Circe speaks to her readers' freedom to create their own possibilities" (161). This island sequence ends without a period at the end, which is suggestive of the idea that this revisionary work is not yet completed. Perhaps Atwood is suggesting that Circe is unable to further revise her myth bec ause of her literary limitations, but it is instead up to contemporary women and writers to finish revising and creating their own myths 5 It is here that Circe and Atwood empowers contemporary humans to create their own identities instead of allowing them selves to be entrapped and isolated on islands that patriarchal society constructs for them. Conclusion !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! !!!!!!! 5 See Appendix for suggestions on how to begin revising and reworking mythologies.

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Lake 32 Language has often been a patriarchal tool used to oppress females, and other marginalized populations. Adrienne Rich states that language found in literature is "encoded in male privilege" and is thus an "oppressor's language" that is unable, at its core, to fully illustrate or discuss a woman's experience in life. In fact, it transforms women into passive, silent, practically invisible creatures who se only purpose is to serve men sexually and domestically. According to Ostriker, "we must also have it in our power to seize speech' a nd make it say what we mean" ( 69). Mythological women can rebel from myth s, not through their actions as those a re alrea dy set in stone, but they can instead rebel through t he ir words and thei r voice s Men, too, are forced into gender roles by myth. Although they oftentimes have much more agency and control than women do, men are still required to fulfill the gender roles a nd routine of patriarchal society that has been assigned to them. Often given the illusion of power, mythological male figures are still serving the patriarchy's wishes instead of fulfilling their own personal identities and desires. Through revisionary d isplaced myth, men and women both can find empowerment in stepping outside of the roles that ancient mythological narratives have defined for humans. Margaret Atwood takes the language back through narrative displacement by amplifying and stretching the cl assical gender roles and stereotypes that ancient myths represent. Through this more visceral representation of myth viewed from a feminist point of view, Atwood teaches her audiences to unlearn the submission that ancient myths impose on them. Atwood rec reates and displaces the mythological figures images of Siren and Circe by speaking for them through her poems. Perhaps Atwood is not speaking on behalf of them, but for women in contemporary society instead. That is, Atwood suggests that women in general must recognize that they have more power than the mythological women who are trapped in the pages they were constructed on. Real women can do what the Siren and Circe cannot; they can break

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Lake 33 out of the gender roles that society has for ced upon them. By refocusing and revising our perspectives about myth through these poems, Atwood reveals a more essential power in mythological women than previously recognized. According to Lauter, "because Atwood shows how Circe exercises her capacity f or insight, we are able to penetrate the masks and armor of the hero with a thousand faces,' and understand with her how the myth of the quest has become a disease in whose clutches the hero is helpless" (62). Through the Siren's and Circe's eyes, contemp orary readers are able to reconstruct the myths for themselves, and, in this way, are not constricted to the same patriarchal literary canon and patriarchal myths that the Siren and Circe are. Readers have power to define themselves outside of the gender r oles that they have been forced into in society. Classic myths, especially those seen in Homer's Odyssey put humans, especially women, in passive roles, and Atwood comments on those passive roles from a woman's standpoint through "Siren Song" and "Circe/M ud Poems." Although these women are still passive in action, they are active in the way that they present their stories through Atwood's pieces. Atwood aims not to disturb our belief about myth, but rather "she wants to restructure it" (Lauter 66). Because "Siren Song" and "Circe/Mud Poems" contain female characters that are doomed to isolation, entrapment and marginalization, t hey find power in urging contemporary women not to fall within the same isolating boundaries that they have been forced into. Their myths do not allow them to verbally or physically plead with women not to fall within this trap, but their negative circumstances, as seen through Atwood's revisionary works, speak for themselves. According to Ostriker, "with women poets we look at or int o, but not up at, sacred things; we unlearn submission" (236). Male dominated society oppresses primarily women with the stereotypes found in literature. These stereotypes and gender roles are representative of the society that the

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Lake 34 literature speaks to, an d just because we find these gender roles in literature and myth does not mean that the gender roles are constrained within the literature itself. Myth simultaneously extends itself into society and depicts the society it originates from. Lauter states tha t myth lives in a realm "where there is no opposition between myth and truth. In this realm, myth is one kind of truth a kind that retains its powers long after philosophers and historians have revealed its impossibility, a kind that continues to glide thr ough our dreams, fantasies, and even our gestures" (73 74). With Margaret Atwood and other revisionary poets, contemporary humans are able to unlearn the roles previously taught to them through patriarchal literature and society. Beca use we are able to see how oppressive and damaging these isolating roles are, we learn how to overcome and unlearn them while simultaneously contemplating on the fervor of one's individual self through poetic works.

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Lake 35 Appendix : The Basics of Revisionary Mythology A Process of Displacement: 1. Find a myth that you are interested in; it can be any myth or story. Try to venture outside of Greek and Roman myths, if you dare. Dive into Celtic, Indian, Native American, Mayan, Icelandic or Russian myths*. Give yourself a chance to explore new cultures or reacquaint yourself with ancient stories you already know. 2. Find a character within the story whose perspective is largely unheard. 3. Freewrite for 10 minutes and retell the story using t his character's perspective. How do they feel about what happened to them or what is happening? How does the story change by viewing it through their eyes? 4. Read other revisionary poems or stories as inspiration. See below for a few suggestions. 5. Transform t his freewrite into a poem or a piece of fiction, retaining this character's voice throughout. *If you are stuck, here are some possible mythological figures to investigate: Greek : Ariadne, Calypso, Charybdis, Electra, Medea, Polyphemus, Scylla Native Amer ican : Lodge Boy and Thrown Away, Red Woman, Swamp Woman Japanese : Amaterasu Izanagi, Izanami Kagutsuchi Susanoo Tsukuyomi A Few Other Stories to Explore: Canongate Myth Series A series of short novels that focus on revising, rewriting and reimagining myths. Includes The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood. H.D "Calypso," "Eurydice," "Helen in Troy" Louise Gl Ÿ ck "Amazons," "Aphrodite," "Circe's Power," "Penelope's Song," "Persephone the Wanderer," "The Triumph of Achilles," to name only a few. Adrienne Ri ch "Diving into the Wreck" Muriel Rukeyser "Myth," "The Poem as Mask" Anne Sexton Any poems from Transformations : "Briar Rose," "Cinderella," "The Twelve Dancing Princesses," and 14 others. Edna St. Vincent Millay "An Ancient Gesture" Phyllis Wheatley "Niobe in Distress for Her Children Slain by Apollo"

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Lake 36 Works Cited "Athena, Goddess of Wisdom." Perseus Project Tufts University, 205. Web. 19 Nov. 2015. Atwood, Margaret. "Circe/Mud Poems." You Are Happy. New York: Harper & Row, 1974. 201 223. Print. Barry, Peter. "Feminist Criticism." Beginning Theory New York: Manchester UP, 1995. 121 138. Print. Buchbinder, David. "Weaving Her Vision: the Homeric Model and Gender Politics in Selected Poems." Margaret Atwood: Vision and Forms. Ed. Kathryn VanSpanckeren and Jan G Castro. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988. 89 100. Print. Campbell, Joseph. "Myth and the Modern World." The Power of Myth. Ed. Betty S Flowers. New York: Anchor Books, 1991. 1 43. Print. D, H. "Eurydice." Colle cted Poems 1912 1944. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1982. Poetry Foundation Web. 19 Nov. 2015. DuPlessis, Rachel B. Writing Beyond the Ending: Narrative Strategies of Twentieth Century Women Writers. Indiana: Bloomington, 1985. Print. Feder, Lillian. "A Definition of Myth." Ancient Myth in Modern Poetry. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1971. 3 33. Print Holland, Norman. "Tribute to Freud and the H.D. Myth." H.D. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989. 11 2 6 Print.

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Lake 37 Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fagles. London: Penguin Classics, 1996. Print. Lauter, Estella. Women as Mythmakers: Poetry and Visual Art by Twentieth century Women. Indiana: Bloomington, 1984. Print. Ostriker, Alicia S. Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women's Poetry in America. Boston: Beacon Press, 1986. Print. Ovid. "The Story of Orpheus and Eurydice." Metamorphoses. Trans. Sir Samuel Garth and John Dryden. Cambridge: 2009. The Internet Classics Archive Web. 19 Nov. 2015. Stein, Karen F. Margaret Atwood Revisited. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1999. Print. "The 1960S 70S American Feminist Movement: Breaking Down Barriers for Women." Tavaana E Collaborative for Civic Education, 2015. Web. 23 Sept. 2015. Rich, Adrienne. "When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re Vision." College English 34.1 (1972): 18 30. National Council of Teachers Of English Web. 6 July. 2015. Wilson, Sharon R. Margaret Atwood's Fairy Tale Sexual Politics. Jackson: University Press o f Mississippi, 1993. Print.