Rachel Blau DuPlessis: On "The Poem as Mask"

Explicitly antimythological, ["The Poem as Mask"] is also an act of self-criticism, written in direct opposition to an earlier "Orpheus." The older poem, constructed like a court masque of the English tradition, uses the power of music as organizing symbol, centers on a static drama of transformation, and ends with a song of unity. The figure of Orpheus -- the poet reborn as a god, the fragments of the human reunited as the divine, a transcendent experience that gives power to the self -- is a motif of great resonance for Rukeyser. Yet, in "The Poem as Mask," she brings her earlier poem into question by deliberate acts of self-criticism, showing that the myth she had so lovingly chosen and carefully shaped is an impediment to her quest. "The Poem as Mask" states that she had censored her feelings, writing him, god, myth, when she meant me, human, my life. As a woman, she had been unable to affirm her "torn life" -- the loss of love, a dangerous birth, the rescue of self and newborn child. Her former use of the myth blunted her sense of personal reality; it was a "mask" of covering, not a "masque" of unity and joy. So she makes a vow at the end of the poem: "No more masks! No more mythologies!" But while this vow is understandably antimythological, a cry against alien patterns imposed on women’s lives, the poem’s final lines present a renewed myth based on concrete feelings of peace, blessing, and wholeness. The new myth comes from within the self, as the orphic experiences in the historical life of the poet that offer inspiration and rebirth.


Criticism Overview
Title Rachel Blau DuPlessis: On "The Poem as Mask" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Rachel Blau DuPlessis Criticism Target Muriel Rukeyser
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 22 May 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Writing Beyond the Ending: Narrative Strategies of Twentieth-Century Women Writers
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