The poets (and scholars based on my research) who I will discuss in this essay have chosen to re-examine and transform the traditionthe scholars by studying the texts again in their original languages and contexts, and the creative writers by re-imagining the lives of women in the Bibleto discover the "creative power, dignity, and goodness" of women in their texts. Their work on the character of Eve, the archetypal woman in Western thought, as she appears in the Genesis accounts of creation and in the varied interpretations of her, illustrates the many dimensions of this feminist re-envisioning of women's place in the Bible and in women's understanding of their place before God and the rest of humanity. Perhaps the best way to begin this study of Eve is to look at some of the "canonized mythology" of Eve. Scripture scholar Phyllis Trible explains the difficulty that Genesis passages about Eve pose for modern women: "Throughout the ages people have used this text to legitimate patriarchy as the will of God. (Dr. Bullon was telling us this too in our Arthurian Romance) They maintained that it subordinates woman to man in creation, depicts her as his seducer, curses her, and authorizes man to rule over her." The poetry of Eve presents a similar picture. A poem by Ralph Hodgson, published in 1924, gives us a little taste: As the serpent begins his assault on Eve "to get even and / Humble proud heaven"Hodgson asks the reader to Picture that orchard sprite, "Eve, with her body white. Supple and smooth to her Slim finger tips. Wondering, listening. Listening, wondering. Eve with a berry half-way to her lips." When she succumbs to the serpent's wiles, the poet cries out: "Oh, had our simple Eve / Seen through the make-believe!" In Hodgson's poem "Eve" is presented as not merely naive but actually stupid; the Fall is for her no more than a loss of "sweet berries and plums." Emily Dickinson's poem, "A Narrow Fellow In The Grass": One answer for Melville might be, potentially, the work of poetry. It too, like a bullet, might have the capacity to enter into us, penetrating to the quick, compact and forceful, painful, too, but carrying with it a revelatory disenchantment. These are a critic's reflections, no doubt, and not properly a historian's, but they suggest material for a historical investigation. The penetrating powers of a work of poetry would not be a matter of religious transcendence, of truth in any moralizing or spiritualizing sense. Melville's bullet does its work "around the church of Shiloh, / The church so lone, the log-built one," and though that church echoes to the prayers of the dying, the bullet's powers of revelation are of a different order. As a statement about the incisive power of a cold realization, as that dark epiphany can be found in the work of art, Melville's line reminds me of Emily Dickinson's "Zero at the Bone," another phrase of the Mumler era. (Dickinson, 459). There is some of this bullet-like indeception in Looking Askance, though I wish there were more. Leja's most affecting chapter concerns Helen Abbott, the brilliant young scientist who so profoundly misread Claude Monet's paintings at the first American exhibition of French Impressionism. Arguing that Monet's pictures represent the delusiveness of life's pleasures and the finality of cold extinction, with all life tending toward the gray inanimate zones of Monet's distances, Abbott is another denizen of Leja's world of deceptions. She refused to take Impressionism at face value and saw beneath the surface, or what she imagined was beneath the surface, making her a kindred spirit, whatever her differences, to all the other disbelievers that populate Leja's pages. Leja treats Abbott's case with marvelous and sensitive specificity, allowing the idiosyncrasy of her project its due. Yet perhaps the structure of Looking Askance, with its scrupulously democratic allotment of chapters to high and low figures alike, establishes too much of an...
Cited: Emily Dickinson, poem no. 986, "A narrow Fellow in the Grass," in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas H. Johnson (Boston: Little, Brown, 1960), 459-60.
Hodgson, Ralph, "Eve," Robert Atwan and Laurance Weider, eds. Chapters into Verse: A Selection of Poetry in English Inspired by the Bible: Genesis through Revelation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) 21-22.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Spring and Fall". in The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed. W. H. Gardner and N.H. MacKenzie (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1970), poem 37.
Bosman, Leonard. The Meaning and Philosophy of Numbers. London: Rider, 1932.
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