Friday, August 06, 2021

The quotation and transformation of Rilke and Sappho in Joyelle McSweeney's "Arachne" sequence

In Joyelle McSweeney's heart-wrenching sequence "Arachne" (in her 2020 Nightboat Books collection "Toxicon and Arachne"), written for her youngest daughter, who died at thirteen days old, there are (at least) two quotations of well-known lines of poetry that are transformed in their new context. The poem "Weight Loss" quotes the opening lines sentence of Rilke's first Duino Elegy: "But if I cried out, who would hear me among the angelic company?" Rilke's general statement becomes McSweeney's particular lament for her daughter. And the poem "The Return of Summer" quotes Sappho: "I count that one equal to a god / who sits next to you goddess". Sappho's erotic lament becomes McSweeney's elegy. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 August 2021)


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