‘Klytemnestra’ is the title of a pair of sonnets by Emily Jane Pfeiffer, first published in The Contemporary Review (June 1878), page 544. In this question I’m asking about the first sonnet, quoted in full below:

Daughter of gods and men, great ruling will,
    Seething in oily rage within the sphere
    Which gods and men assign the woman here,
Till, stricken where the wound approved thee still
Mother and mortal, all the tide of ill
    Rushed through the gap, and nothing more seemed dear
    But power to wreak high ruin, nothing clear
But the long dream you waited to fulfil.
Mother and spouse,—queen of the king of men,—
    What fury brought Ægysthus to thy side?—
That bearded semblant, man to outward ken,
    But else mere mawworm, made to fret man’s pride;
Woman, thy foot was on thy tyrant then—
    Mother, thou wert avenged for love defied!

This is tagged so I’m looking for open-ended interpretation of any aspects of this poem, but I have some suggestions for where you might start:

Why is Klytemnestra’s rage “oily”? What is the “wound” that she is stricken with? In what way does it “approve” her “still mother and mortal”? What is the “tide of ill”? How is Ægysthus a “semblant” or a “mawworm”? What’s the meaning of “fret man’s pride”? Is there anything interesting to say about the rhythm? Does the poem contain allusions or responses to Æschylus, and if so, what are they? What is the poem’s take on the character?

  • To whoever voted to close this question for "includ[ing] multiple questions": this is an interpretation question. The interpretation should try to answer the subquestions at the bottom.
    – Tsundoku
    Feb 5 at 22:31
  • The questions are there as suggestions to start with—feel free to ignore them if you find other points to write about. Feb 5 at 22:53
  • I noticed that you are using the phase ‘open ended interpretation’ in several questions. Can you clarify what makes an interpretation ‘open ended’?
    – Spagirl
    Feb 6 at 21:48
  • @Spagirl By "open-ended" I mean "of a response: discursive; wide-ranging" (OED sense 2b), and in particular, not restricted to answering my questions. If you have a suggestion for a better way to phrase this, I can change it! Feb 6 at 23:50
  • I don't think I'm going to tackle this, but what I would take from 'oily rage' is that, like oil, her rage will burn at any pressure, but there's a specific point where the pressure is enough to cause a violent explosion.
    – Spagirl
    Feb 7 at 16:05


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.