Nancy K. Gish, Professor of English Emerita and former Director of Women’s Studies at the University of Southern Maine, is the author of Time in the Poetry of T. S. Eliot (1981) and The Waste Land: a Poem of Memory and Desire (1988), and the co-editor with Cassandra Laity of Gender, Desire and Sexuality in T. S. Eliot (2004). In addition to many articles on Eliot and modern poetry, she also writes on Scottish Modernism, including two books on Hugh MacDiarmid and articles on contemporary Scottish women poets.
Nancy K. Gish
Some stories are told and retold: they seem to strike a profound chord and to resonate in new ways. The story of Philomela, for example, reappears in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline when Imogen has fallen asleep while reading Ovid’s tale. Imogen’s bedroom is described—by a creepy Iachimo as he watches her—with details similar to those in “A Game of Chess.” Lavinia, in Titus Andronicus, is also raped and her tongue cut out. Titus compares her to Philomela, but the assault is even worse: her hands are cut off so that, unlike Philomela, she can not even weave a tapestry of her story. Today the story reappears in commentary and art: The Colby College website account claims it “provides a powerful warning to those who would silence their victims” because, as it does in Ovid, “the truth will out!” Paisley Rekdal retells it to expose the demand for a story. In the Margate exhibition recalling Eliot’s recuperation there, it appears as a graphic image of sorrow. For the #MeToo generation, the story of Philomela, a recurrent allusion in “The Waste Land,” provides an intense articulation of our own experiences.