Comments on: Mediterranean by Muriel Rukeyser

“And order making, committees taking charge, foreigners / command out by boat.”

The final two lines of the second stanza of I are so strikingly interesting because they suggest order is manufactured (or made) thing. Ruckeyser is referring to order, as she refers to similar processes in The Book of the Dead, as a process that can be manufactured.

At the end of fifth stanza in the second section (II), the poem asks the question, “but where’s its place now; where is poetry?” I think perhaps the sixth stanza at least attempts to answer this question with the lines, “Exterminating wish; they forced the door, / lifted the rifle, broke the garden window, / removed only the drawings: cross and wrath. / Whenever we think of these, the poem is, / that week, the beginning, exile / remembered in continual poetry.”  The seventh stanza tries to further answer this question with, “The poem is the fact.”

 I picked up on two major themes through Mediterranean. One theme is the use of the “image” or the reflected image. The other being the ways in which Rukeyser positions herself (more specifically creates distance) within the poem. In the first section (I) we get Rukeyser’s description of the city, “I saw the city, sunwhite flew on glass / trucewhite from window.” Here Rukeyser is taking a step back in the way in which she is describing the city. She is positioning herself as outside, looking in. Perhaps she is positioning herself as witness.  In this first section we also see Rukeyser referencing “the image” in the line, “I see this man, dock, war, a latent image.” Moving into the second section (II), in the sixth stanza we get the lines, “They smashed only the image / madness and persecution.” Here, I sense the image is being presented as something separate from reality. In this section we also again see Rukeyser creating a sense of distance as she positions herself within the poem. Turning to the seventh stanza, “There, pointed a Belgian, I heard a pulse of war, / sharp guns while I ate grapes in the Pyrenees.”  The second to last section of the poem (V) returns to the line, “I see this man, dock, war, a latent image.” Later in the same section, we see the line “Once the fanatic image shown, / enemy to enemy, / past and historic peace wear thin.” This section is interesting for the tense shift that occurs at the beginning between present and past tense. The “I see” of the non italicized section is complimented four lines down with, “I saw Europe break apart.” Perhaps this is another tactic Rukeyser uses to position herself in strategic ways within the poem. 

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2 responses to “Comments on: Mediterranean by Muriel Rukeyser

  1. Is she reflecting on the power of images to shape our sense of who we are and of the world? I’d like to know what Image, precisely, the soldiers, and I imagine she is referring to the republican soldiers, destroyed; the reference to “only the drawings: cross and wrath,” makes me think that the images were religious ones, the cross of Christ, the wrath of God? And elated to the Spanish Catholic Church, its hierarchic credo and collaboration with the Nationalists?
    Images, she implies, can start a war.
    On the other hand, the “latent image” of Otto Boch, “who kept his life straight as a single issue–,” informs Rukeyser’s life-long struggle for freedom and against fascism.

    Images are both given to us and made by us; they are not neutral, but always “interested” as anything that is made or “manufactured.” They are made for a purpose.

  2. Kellie

    “Images, she implies, can start a war.” <– is a beautifully profound sentence. An intriguing idea, certainly, that hadn't entered my train of thoughts surrounding "Mediterranean" or, for that matter, my thoughts surrounding this use of images within poetry. Super fantastically interesting. Definitely something I will continue to mull over as we forge ahead with our studies of Rukeyser this semester.

    I like the question you've posed: Is she reflecting on the power of images to shape our sense of who we are and of the world?

    In response, I would say sure. I think certainly images are manufactured, and like the "fact" or (and I'm reaching deeper into documentary poetics in general) the "document," the image is a made thing. Perhaps Rukeyser's writing in "Mediterranean" can be seen as drawing a connection between images, facts, and documents. I say the writing can be seen this way, because I don't feel as though it would careful to assert that Rukeyser intentionally draws this connection in this piece. Though, reading between the lines, so to speak, I think it's valid to say that Rukeyser's description of the image is similar to the way documentary poetics describes the document. Within documentary poetics, the only fact IS the document. That's a very important aspect of the genre in general. The importance of this similarity is certainly debatable, though I would say this similarity hits the nail on the head in terms of (my favorite) answer to the question, "why poetical activity?" Being, that poetical activity makes the un-relatable perceptible by skirting codified forms of knowledge. So, perhaps, Rukeyser is using "images" in a way that is an attempt to make something she feels is un-relatable (perhaps for example the position of witness to a war) perceptible.

    As far as your comments on the religious images go, I feel I need to lay my cards on the table. Though my father was raised Jewish and my mother Presbyterian, I was raised without religion. I never went to church or temple. Sometimes around age 13 I came home and asked my parents, "who is this Jesus everyone keeps talking about?" So, religion, and specifically, religious references, are (for the most part) all but lost on me.

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