After centuries of serving as background noise to her husband Ulysses’ odes of sea storms, sirens, and celebrity, the mythological Penelope finally steps into the light in Miriam Waddington’s poem “Ulysses Embroidered.” Functioning as a revisionary text to both the Alfred, Lord Tennyson work “Ulysses” and the tradition of The Odyssey itself, “Ulysses Embroidered” quickly strikes its readers as a fiercely feminist re-envisioning of Penelope and her tale. Waddington’s work allows for an age-old legend to be told in a new way with a bold, feminine speaker, but to what end do her changes remark on Tennyson’s original work? By engaging in two separate modes of revision by both reading against the grain and “constantly [engaging] in dialogue” to work in tandem with the original poem, Waddington reshapes a work in order to destabilize society's perception of Penelope, and in turn, Ulysses (Widdowson 502).
Despite the Waddington revision’s much briefer and tighter structure, the Ulysses forged in the Tennyson pre-text speaks of Penelope only once, as the “agèd wife” of this old hero (Tennyson 3). Waddington grabs hold of this notion and retrieves the trope of the “old blind woman in the tower” by giving her new life with the restructuring of the poem (Waddington 4-5). While Tennyson’s epic poem utilizes the strict confines of iambic pentameter and heroic verse known by Homer’s original Odyssey, Penelope’s updated narrative bleeds out through a variant, but equally structured schematic. Waddington’s six stanzas contain a slow moving enjambment of choppier and more laborious lines, creating a certain rocking of language emergent from the first lines: “You’ve come / at last from / all your journeying” (Waddington 1-3). This motion of the po...
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... impressionistic myth-making it condones. Following literary scholar Peter Widdowson’s concept of revision, “Ulysses Embroidered” serves as a model revisionary text by acting on two levels: both “invert[ing] images” of cultural tradition and “constantly invok[ing] intertext” to create a multi-textual dialogue (Widdowson 501, 502). Waddington revises upon Penelope’s silence, but she also writes back to Tennyson with a similar intention of digging further into the truths of the original character of Ulysses. As Waddington opens our eyes to Penelope’s story, her blindness is transferred to her husband’s character and away from his myth. Much like how “her tapestry saw everything,” she allows her audience the chance for vision, re-vision, and the witnessing of a myth being constructed from the ground up, even after countless centuries and retellings. (Waddington 35-36).
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