Waterlily Fire by Muriel Rukeyser

Waterlily Fire is quite different from the other poems of Muriel Rukeyser we’ve read this semester. Especially so, syntactically. After our class, where we had an engaging discussion about the associations with the words “waterlily” and “fire,” I began thinking about the juxtaposition of these associations. There seems to be a sense of transformation within the poem and perhaps within the juxtaposition of “waterlily” and “fire.”


Take a look at the poem’s first line (in THE BURNING):


Girl grown woman


Here, in three words, Rukeyser has succeeded in creating a sense of natural transformation. There is the implied sense of a span of time as well. This first stanza points to time in a grand sense as well as in a specific sense. The entire stanza reads:


Girl grown woman      fire      mother of fire

I go to the stone street turning to fire.      Voices

Go screaming       Fire       to the green glass wall.

And there where my youth flies blazing into fire

The      dance      of sane and insane images, noon

Of seasons and days.       Noontime of my one hour.


Here, we can see Rukeyser pointing attention to the units of time that include seasons, days, and hours. I have to think there is significance in Rukeyser establishing a sense of time that is both vast and specific in the very first stanza of the poem.


Even the titles of the sections of Waterlily Fire indicate transformation, of some kind. We move from BURNING to THE ISLAND to JOURNEY CHANGES to FRAGILE to THE LONG BODY. I’m starting to read aspects of this poem as resonating (a bit) with the phoenix rising from the ash situation. We begin with fire, we move to isolation, then a journey that changes, then to fragility (possibly infanthood?), and finally to a long body. Just another bit to think on from this ultimately lovely poem.


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