‘Medusa‘ by Louise Bogan is a five stanza poem that is made up almost entirely of sets of four lines, or quatrains. The only stanza that strays from this pattern is the second, which is expanded to five lines. Without regard to the change in line numbers, the rhyming pattern of the poem does remain consistent throughout. The second and last lines of each stanza rhyme while the others do not.
The poem begins with the speaking coming upon a house in the woods. Everything around her seems to be on the verge of changing, it is as if a bell is waiting to ring, or rain is preparing to fall. The whole world is moving. This is soon to cease though.
In the second stanza, she looks up into the doorway and sees the many eyes of Medusa, and the slithering bodies of the snakes that make up her hair. This is an integral moment in the speaker’s life. Any plans she had for her own future improvement are permanently frozen.
She continues on to say that after seeing Medusa the entire world freezes. The raindrops remain suspended in the air and the bell hangs ready to ring, but can’t. She too is subject to this new state. Her eyes are forever cast down to the ground, in one last futile attempt to look away, and her body stands outside the house, in the dust.
You can read the full poem here.
Analysis of Medusa
I had come to the house, in a cave of trees,(…)Sun and reflection wheeled by.
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by describing her discovery of a house deep in the woods, in what she describes as “a cave of trees.” Immediately the reader is given the impression that this place is extremely secluded and hard to find. One might wonder how she came upon this clearing. She continues describing the scene by stating that the sky above the house is “sheer” and that the area has a feeling of constant movement.
Consistently, it is as if something is just about to happen, like a “bell” that hangs “ready to strike.” Time passes as she stands there and the “Sun…wheeled by.”
When the bare eyes were before me(…)Formed in the air.
Suddenly it is as if the speaker is brought back to the reality of the situation and realizes that she is being watched. There, through the window of the house, she sees “bare eyes” watching her. They were “before [her]” along with “the hissing hair.” It is clear from these lines, along with the title of the piece, that the speaker is viewing the head of Medusa. The sound of “hissing” comes from the snakes that make up her hair.
The eyes are “bare” and “bald” and raw to the speaker. They are striking and integral to the rest of the story. According to myth if one looks straight at the eyes of Medusa, one will be frozen, or turned to stone. This is what occurs in the third stanza.
This is a dead scene forever now.(…)Nor the rain blur.
For the remainder of the poem, the speaker describes what her life is going to be like for the rest of time. The scene she is now eternally a part of is “dead” and will remain that way “forever.” Nothing in the environment will “ever stir” or “brighten” any more than it is currently. Even the rain is frozen as it is, and will not “blur” as it falls to the ground.
The water will always fall, and will not fall,(…)Deep on the ground.
The water that is in the sky, the rain, will continue to fall and “will not fall.” It is stuck in a state between the clouds and the ground. The frozen expanse of the scene extends farther, to the bell that was mentioned in the first stanza. It will stay “tipped,” as if it is just about to ring, but it never will.
The entire plain is frozen in time.
And I shall stand here like a shadow(…)And does not drift away.
In the final stanza, the speaker describes her own personal state of being. She, too, is stuck in this place, “like a shadow.” She is nothing more than another unmoving element, all control is taken away from her. The poem alludes to the fact that something important was on the verge of occurring, but now it never will. The speaker will never enter the house, or get where she was going.
While she might be stuck where she is, the day is still “balanced,” and will remain so. She will “stand…[her] eyes on the yellow dust” of the ground for the rest of time. The speaker has attempted to look away from the eyes of Medusa, but did not get far. Her eyes will never “drift away” from the dust on the ground. She will never be able to improve her situation or pass the spot she made it to in front of the house.
About Louise Bogan
Louise Bogan was born in Livermore Falls, Maine in August of 1897. She grew up in a small mill town and attended a convent school and a Latin school for girls, where she received her education. She went to university in Boston but left school after only a year to marry. Her husband was a soldier and died in Panama during the end of World War I. She would marry again in 1925, but that marriage ended in divorce in the 1930s.
Bogan’s first poems were published in The New Republic and her first volume, Body of This Death appeared in 1923. She was a regular contributor to The Nation, The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, and more, while also publishing a number of other volumes of poetry including, Poems and New Poems in 1941. She is considered to be one of the major American poets of her time and is known for her personal, lyrical, and intellectual style.
She died in New York, New York in February of 1970.