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Analysis

Margaret Atwood's poem "Eurydice" is, of course, inspired by the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. The latter has died and gone to the underworld, while the former, Eurydice's grieving husband, is eventually allowed to descend to see his wife one more time. Orpheus is known for his beautiful skill at playing the lyre, and using this talent, he is able to persuade Hades, king of the underworld, to allow Eurydice to come back with him to the world of the living. The only requirement is that Orpheus cannot look back while Eurydice follows him out of the underworld, or she will have to stay with Hades. It seems an easy enough task, but near the end of the journey, Orpheus thinks he no longer hears his wife behind him and turns around. He sees his wife's shade go back to the underworld, and he must return to the earth of the living alone.

The poem is addressed to Eurydice, as seen in the first stanza, when the speaker says,

He is here, come down to look for you.

The first stanza of the poem indicates that Orpheus's song tempts Eurydice to return to him, surely something about her husband that was attractive and pleasant. However, the speaker implies that their marriage may have not been that happy. The song is about both "joy and suffering equally," and is "a promise: / that things will be different up there / than they were last time." This suggests that the marriage was not completely fulfilling for Eurydice and that perhaps she won't want to return to it, even if Hades does allow her to leave.

The second stanza indicates that Eurydice feels a kind of satisfying "emptiness" in the underworld that may be preferable to the range of emotions experienced by the living, "the noise and flesh of the surface." This stanza reverses expectations in several ways. For one, it might be assumed that a deceased spouse would want to be reunited with their partner, but Eurydice's feelings on the matter appear to be complex. Secondly, the afterlife might seem to be appealing only when it is paradisiacal or utopian; for Eurydice, though, it is the "nothing" that calls her.

The third stanza simply states that Eurydice is now "used to" her existence in the Underworld and doesn't have a desire to change her circumstances. The world is "blanched" and "dim," and Hades doesn't speak to her when he passes, but still, she finds it attractive—or, at the very least, has adjusted.

"The other one" of the fourth stanza is Orpheus, her husband. He is "different." The speaker says Eurydice "almost remember[s]" him, so it's as if the dead have only faint recollections of the living, even of those who were closest to them in life, such as a spouse. The speaker recognizes that Orpheus loves his late wife, but Atwood breaks the stanza to continue with the idea that he doesn't truly love her "as [she is] now." The image of Eurydice as a shade is dominated by its minimalism, by its lack: of color, of movement, of feeling.

The meditation on Orpheus's expectations and desires continues into the sixth stanza, in which the speaker says,

He wants you to be what he calls real.
He wants you to stop light.

Not only does he have expectations for Eurydice to be what she once was, he has expectations for how he will feel, how he will transform:

He wants to feel himself thickening
like a treetrunk or a haunch
and see blood on his eyelids
when he closes them, and the sun beating.

This figurative...

(The entire section is 912 words.)