This essay examines Muriel Rukeyser’s changing sense of the political life of poetry within a changing context of political crisis from 1936 to the end of the Second World War. The essay describes Rukeyser’s changing appropriation of modernist myth as occasioned by different stages of crisis before and during the Second World War. Proceeding from her great Spanish Civil War poem, ‘Mediterranean’, to the Second World War ‘civilian’ war poetry of The Beast in View, I chart Rukeyser’s move from a revision of individual myths, as exhibited famously in The Book of the Dead, toward a reflexive concern with the mythopoeic itself. In this, the essay makes two claims for Rukeyser’s expression of the war. On the one hand, the war’s totality forces poetry to adhere to the present (the poem no more proposes utopias of beyond or speaks as an outside observer). On the other, the forces of human agency and historical progress are shown to inhere in the totality, through the immanent survival of the mythopoeic, newly conceived as the permanence of human restlessness for historical change, as the inhering of the vanguard in the mythical. Rather than looking at political crisis through myth, that is, Rukeyser’s Second World War poetry intervenes in the poetics underlying the political.
""Atlantis Buried Outside": Muriel Rukeyser, Myth and the Crises of War,"
Criticism: Vol. 57:
4, Article 7.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/criticism/vol57/iss4/7