Charles G. Dennison
Kristin A. Dennison Comments
The following brief analysis is based on a conversation I had with my late uncle, Charles Dennison, in June 1996 concerning his poetry.
The "Eumenides" is a commentary on the journey of the modern woman seeking liberated equality. In strong and harsh imagery, the speaker reveals the feminist movement for what it truly is. No longer is the modern woman the "glory circumscribed [and] pleasure" of the previous poem "Image" (see Kerux 17/2 [Sept. 2002]: 22-23). Instead, she is a bitter, angry rebel reacting against her "help meet" responsibilities and vying for an equality that leaves her empty and untouchable.
The title of the poem places us firmly in a pagan world. The Eumenides are born in The Oresteia of Aeschylus. Originally, they were the Erinyes or the Furies. These female goddesses were the enforcers of retaliatory justice, unceasingly pursuing their guilty victims until they could paralyze them with fear and drink their blood. After being replaced by the establishment of the Athenian court in the final play of the The Oresteia trilogy, the Furies are transformed into the Eumenides or the Benignant Ones. Now, instead of existing as revengeful vigilantes, these divinities are granted a home in Athens and rule there as a fearful and threatening deterrent to crime (cf. The Norton Book of Classical Literature, pp. 321, 334).
In the poem, the transformation of these goddesses is set up to parallel the progression of the modern feminist movement. From the frenetic, bra-burning radical of the 1960's to the respectable, "capped, gowned" liberal of the 1980's, this modern day "Fury" has been tempered into a "Benignant One." Under this façade of restraint though, she "wildly, ravenously" plays with her sexual liberty, seeking to gratify her physical desires. However, there is no satisfaction in this freedom, for she is still "grabbed by causes." It is not the relationship that is prioritized; instead her sexuality has become a pawn to play in the power game. Because of "her hatred for that beastly strength," there can be no true intimacy, no enjoyment of any male/female relationship. No longer motivated by the cause of equality, nothing less than "unman[ing] the man" and dominating him will satisfy her.
Yes, she is "civilized now." The modern feminist is no longer tied down by homebound responsibilities; "wombless" she has successfully exchanged the "shaded sanctuaries" of traditional femininity for the "arenas and temples" of the urban world. Ironically though, in her bid for equality, she succumbs to the very things that she hated in men, "cajoling powers, culling wealth." The modern feminist is unapproachable, a deity to whom equality means everything and from whom humble submission is impossible. No longer the "suitable helper" ordained by God but an end to herself alone, the feminist destroys the love, romance, and intimacy proffered by the willing heart.
Sadly, in seeking affirmation, the modern feminist revels in what the pagan world offers, turning her back on the One who is her true validation and the true source of equality and satisfaction. "Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband in the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be subject to their husbands in everything" (Eph. 5:22,24). In the assertion of her primacy, she denies the primacy of his Lordship. In her bid for power, she refuses to be identified with him who became powerlessness for our sake. In her self-deification, she denies the True God, the light of this dark world, the Savior whose side was pierced in the ultimate sacrifice of gracious love. What glories and joys does the feminist lose in her attempts to dominate the world! what fearful barrenness awaits the woman whose chief end is to glorify herself!