‘Circe’s Power’ was written in 1996 and included in her volume Meadowlands. It is based around the myth of Circe, the sorceress who features in Homer’s Odyssey. In the epic poem, she falls in love with Odysseus after he visits her island, Aeaea, and transforms his men into pigs. He convinces her to return them to their original shape and then agrees to stay with her for a year before returning to his journey home. This poem is told from Circe’s perspective, a clever and thought-provoking way of exploring the story further.
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Summary of Circe’s Power
In the first lines of this poem, it is immediately revealed that Circe, the sorceress, is addressing Odysseys who is about to leave her. She speaks about her power and does what she can to prove to him, as well as to the reader, that her skills are impressively advanced. She loves him, but it doesn’t seem like anything she’s doing is able to convince him to stay with her. (It is also possible that he has already left and the reader is hearing her mourning his departure.)
Circe expresses her displeasure at the “real” world and declares that she powerful enough to keep him with her forever.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure of Circe’s Power
‘Circe’s Power’ by Louise Glück is an eight stanza poem that is separated into uneven sets of lines. The majority of the stanzas contain three lines, but stanzas two, four, and eight are different. Glück does not use a specific rhyme scheme or metrical patterns in ‘Circe’s Power’. This is a style of writing known as free verse.
Literary Devices in Circe’s Power
Glück makes use of several literary devices in ‘Circe’s Power’. These include but are not limited to enjambment, epistrophe, and caesura. The first of these, enjambment, is seen in the transition between lines. For example, readers can look to how Glück connects lines two and three of the first stanza as well as lines one, two, and three of the third stanza.
Caesura is another interesting technique at work in the poem. It is often benefited by the use of enjambment. There are good examples in line two of the first stanza as well as line two of the fourth stanza. Epistrophe refers to the repetition of words at the end of lines. For instance, “pigs” in stanzas one and two.
Analysis of Circe’s Power
I never turned anyone into a pig.
Some people are pigs; I make them
In the first stanza of the poem, Circe, the sorceress of Aeaea addresses Odysseus. She explains to him, (although at this point he may already have departed), that she never turned anyone into a pig who wasn’t already one. She is referring to his men, those he’s been traveling back to Ithaca with. For a period of time, she’d used her powers to turn them into “swine,” something that Odysseus has to convince her to undo. She says that she only makes pigs look like pigs, a fact which she believes makes her innocent of any wrongdoing.
I’m sick of your world
Did that to them. As pigs,
Circe addresses Odysseys and his life. She expresses her anger and frustration with his world and its ways. It’s undisciplined and out of control. She feels anger at the way those from the “real” world are able to disguise themselves as something they aren’t. She blames the ways of the world for how his men were acting. The world made them into pigs they “weren’t bad men” to begin with. The last line of this stanza is a great example of caesura.
Stanzas Three and Four
Under the care of
Me and my ladies, they
As well as my power. I saw
The third stanza returns to three lines and in it, she explains that under her care, the men her transformed in a positive way. She and her maids fed them and made sure that they were taken care of. They “Sweetened right up”. Their treatment provided the men with the discipline that they needed. Note the use of enjambment between lines one, two, and three of this stanza.
The fourth stanza of ‘Circe’s Power’ is only two lines long. In it, she tries to remind Odysseus that she did right by him and his men. She made them back into men, reversing her spell. This was a demonstration of her goodness and kindness. She’s not an evil sorceress, she’s trying to say. The second line is very much enjambed. A reader has to move to the next stanza to find out what she “saw”. This could be a reference to her ability to look into the future.
Stanzas Five and Six
We could be happy here,
I foresaw your departure,
The crying and pounding sea. You think
Circe saw, or believed, or even just hoped, that she and Odysseus could be happy on her island together. As a couple, they could fulfill their simple needs. But, she knows that isn’t going to happen for she also saw his “departure”. It is inevitable. She knows that she’ll help his men cross the sea and avoid its many deadly dangers. This refers to other aspects of the Odyssey.
Stanzas Seven and Eight
A few tears upset me? My friend,
Every sorceress is
I could hold you prisoner.
The seventh stanza is four lines long, making it a quatrain. In these lines, the speaker asks a rhetorical question. She wants to prove to Odysseus that she isn’t weak. That a “few tears” do not upset her. It’s hard to decide in this line whose tears she’s talking about, her own, Odysseus’s or his men’s (perhaps all of them).
She follows this up with a strong statement, reminding him that she is a sorceress and is powerful in a way he’ll never be. She is also a “pragmatist”. She takes things as they are. There is no reason, she thinks, to really cry over losing him. She can’t change it so she won’t weep. The last two lines of the stanza reiterate this, adding that once you see things as they are, you accept that you can’t always get what you want. Limitations are always going to be there.
The last two lines of the poem are connected through enjambment even though they are in separate stanzas. She says that if she wanted to “hold him” she could “hold” him “prisoner”. But, that’s not what she wants. She would like him to stay willingly. She’d like a partner in life, not a prisoner she can “hold” when she needs to.