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In "Cassandra," first published in the Nation in December 1924, Bogan explicitly writes of the lyric cry as violent. In an eight-line stanza of alternate rhymes she makes Cassandra, like the "fury" of her third book, an inciting presence whose madness is a kind of knowledge inseparable from her isolation. Like Daphne, Cassandra is also Apollo's victim, her prophecies cursed by Apollo to be disbelieved. Yet it is not the disaster she foretells so much as the very act of speech that preoccupies this speaker, not the content of her speech so much as recognition of the disruptive power projected by her own voice as a dismissed prophet, a position of particular significance for the woman poet. Adopting an opposite position to Daphne, Cassandra is "shrieking" rather than dumb. In this mythological figure Bogan makes manifest the essential violence of her poetic. Language performs oppositionally; it is itself a violence (a "wing" that "tears"). Indeed, the "wing" that "tears" will be echoed decades later in Bogan's late poem "The Daemon," in which a woman is compelled to speak of the origin of her inspiration: "The bruise in the side." In "Cassandra," the poet must herself, at the moment that she perceives violence, recognize a culture's "tricks of lust and pride."

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Cassandra denigrates a hierarchy of traditional authority and, like Leda and Danaë, disrupts allegiance to a male divine. Through Cassandra, Bogan projects a furious alter ego who reverses the traditional dyad uniting women and earth, men and sky, and creates her own apotheosis as "the shrieking heaven." Cassandra purveys the voice of urgent life rather than an earth of "dumb" graves. Her role is to create the poem as prophecy: "I am the chosen no hand saves."

Bogan meets cultural violence, whether such violence denigrates its Cassandras or paralyzes its female poets, with violence of feeling and an enactment of revolt. In discussing "Cassandra," Elizabeth Frank notes that "from its hidden source poetry creates speech which is profoundly other and opposed to the received notions of men." If the myth of Daphne and Apollo serves as Bogan's voicing of crisis in the face of power, the power of patriarchal presence embodied in Apollo as law, Bogan further dramatizes the inadequacy of capitulation to cultural consensus in "Cassandra." Her reputation as a poet of austerity and reserve may obscure the innate turbulence of her vision. Yet in the oppositional sphere of her poetry, she chooses a role similar to Cassandra's, for whom "song, like a wing, tears"; through the intensity of her language Bogan would assume an aesthetics of violence and difference.


From Obsession and Release: Rereading the Poetry of Louise Bogan. Copyright © 1996 by Associated University Presses