Mary DeShazer: On "Cassandra"

A solitary silence is implicit in the fate and voice of Cassandra, the female prophet of Greek mythology punished by Zeus for insubordination by being awarded a gift of prophecy to which no one would listen. In "Cassandra" Bogan treats the plight of this female figure as a metaphor for that of woman poet. . . .

Cassandra's stance as a female prophet dissociated from other women and from other prophets parallels Bogan's view of herself as a woman poet, alienated from other women and their "silly tasks" as well as from male poets. Like Cassandra, doomed by her own plaintive cry, the poet is isolated by her poetic gift, at once a debilitating and an empowering force. Neither the poet nor Cassandra chooses her gift of isolation, and both are ambivalent toward this power imposed by forces beyond their control. Cassandra's song literally attacks her, tearing through her breast and side; its source, madness, overwhelms its unwilling victim again and again. Ironically, then, both strength and weakness lie at the root of Cassandra's gift of prophecy. She is chosen for divinity yet not saved from suffering, empowered with song but ignored by all. Yet from this same song she derives her power.

Cassandra's mad, screaming voice provides a significant contrast to the deliberate predictions of other prophets from mythology--the blind Tiresias, for example, or Isaiah. Instead, her warnings might be likened to those of the oracle of Delphi, whose riddled prophecies often went unheeded because their complexity defied mortal interpretation. Cassandra's plight and its attendant powers recall the conflict which Bogan describes in "The Daemon," as the poet is forced to recount repeatedly "the word ... the flesh, the blow" to "the lot who little bore." Clearly Bogan perceives herself as a modern version of Cassandra, plagued and yet empowered by an insistent muse to speak not in a bardic voice, but in an oracular one. In "Cassandra," Bogan shrieks her seer's truths through the potent voice of a woman twice disenfranchised: by the madness which "chooses out my voice again, / Again," and by the alienating yet restorative silence which receives her unheeded cries, turning them back upon themselves.

From "’My Scourge, My Sister’: Louise Bogan’s Muse." In Coming to Light: American Women Poets in the Twentieth Century. Ed. Diane Wood Middlebrook and Marilyn Yalom. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press., 1985. Copyright © 1985 by the University of Michigan.


Title Mary DeShazer: On "Cassandra" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Mary DeShazer Criticism Target Louise Bogan
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 31 May 2015
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Coming to Light: American Women Poets in the Twentieth Century
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