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This Medusa is known and recognized; she has been seen before. The speaker violates some unknown taboo by entering this site of freedom and movement, and in punishment is turned to stone. Afterward, like the voice of Emily Dickinson's "Because I could not stop for Death," she speaks from the "dead scene" which had once been alive with "Sun and reflection." Recounting the experience and thereby reenacting it, the speaker is no longer a living body, but "like a shadow," arrested in the equally deadened landscape. This is the dreadful equilibrium of stasis:

[. . . .]

Bogan was so little given to invention that we do no violence to the poem to regard it as a transcribed dream. Theodore Roethke called it "a breakthrough to great poetry, the whole piece welling up from the unconscious, dictated as it were." Interpreting it in psychoanalytic (chiefly Jungian) terms, he saw it as a struggle with the Anima, according to which the house in the cave is a "womb within a womb," and the Medusa the "man-in-the-womb, mother--her mother, possibly." Certainly it makes sense to see this terrifying figure as a much-transformed memory of the desired and destructive mother. From this central meaning flows yet another, in which the poem can be read as an allegory of the fate of the imagination when it goes forward to meet itself unprotected. Art requires the shield of form, of the mature personality's defenses, of experience. The speaker transformed into a statue or thing, imprisoned in memory, closes the poem, as Roethke points out, on "the self-revelation, the terrible finality of the ultimate traumatic experience." She is locked inside her own speech.


From Louise Bogan. Copyright © 1985 by Elizabeth Frank