Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Goddess-- Painful Liberation

The Goddess
Denise Levertov

She in whose lipservice
I passed my time,
whose name I knew, but not her face,
came upon me where I lay in Lie Castle!

Flung me across the room, and
room after room (hitting the wall, re-
bounding—to the last
sticky wall—wrenching away from it
pulled hair out!)
till I lay
outside the outer walls!

There in cold air
lying still where her hand had thrown me,
I tasted the mud that splattered my lips:
the seeds of a forest were in it,
asleep and growing! I tasted
her power!

The silence was answering my silence,
a forest was pushing itself
out of sleep between my submerged fingers.
I bit on a seed and it spoke on my tongue
of day that shone already among the stars
in the water-mirror of low ground,

and a wind rising ruffled the lights:
she passed near me in returning from the encounter,
she who plucked me from the close rooms,

without whom nothing
flowers, fruits, sleeps in season,
without whom nothing
speaks in its own tongue, but returns
lie for lie!


"The Goddess," by Denise Levertov, is a vigorous narrative poem rich with sensory descriptions. The religious overtones suggest a symbolic meaning for the poem. The goddess in the poem who violently removes the protagonist from "Lie castle" seems to be a figure for some sort of liberating idea or even epiphany. The "lipservice" mentioned, and the fact that the protagonist "passed my time" in "Lie Castle" paints a picture of a complacent, blind life. She is then brought into the light of reality and seeming independence by the "goddess."

The second stanza, however, suggests a process, a struggle to accept this removal, as the goddess "flung me across the room (hitting the wall, re-/bounding- to the last/ sticky wall- wrenching away from it/ pulled hair out!)/ till I lay / outside the outer walls." This physical battle reminds me of the push and pull of Edna Pontellier's often painful growth into an individual throughout "The Awakening." The process of liberation for Edna, as for the woman in this poem, was not simple, quick, and pleasant, as we typically envision an awakening. Nor does the protagonist in either awaken to a world that is uniformly bright and happy. Instead, there is pain in the act itself of becoming awake, and once the woman is awake, the reality she beholds is not necessarily all cheery. She finds herself "There in the cold air/ lying still where her hand had thrown me," and she tastes "the mud which splattered my lips." Reality for this enlightened woman is gritty and unpleasant, but it is genuine and tangible.

There seems to be hope, however, in this new reality, evidenced by the seed that "spoke on my tongue." A forest sprouts from the seed, out from "sleep", and it speaks of a "day that shone already among the stars." It seems that this one woman's experience has the potential to inspire something similar on a larger scale, perhaps a liberation for women in general. The wind that "ruffles the lights" in the second to last stanza re-enforces the feeling that some sort of grand change is imminent.

1 comment: