“Antigone,” by Frederick, Lord Leighton
I wrote this poem after reading Jean Anouilh’s play Antigone for a French class in about 1995, although this poem, like Anouilh’s play, draws from the original tragedy by Sophocles and in my mind, a little of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, the French Revolution, and the Holocaust. Anouilh’s play was first produced in Paris during the Nazi occupation, and is widely understood to parallel the French Resistance during that time. I like the way tricot (knitting in French) sounds like the knitting needles clicking. Eurydice was the mute wife of Creon and aunt to Antigone, who performs funeral rites for her brother, Polynieces, when Creon has forbidden that as a way to dishonor Polynieces. Eteocles is Polynieces’ brother; Haemon is Eurydice’s son and Antigone’s fiance. It’s a tragedy, so everyone dies, and Eurydice is left to knit and mourn.
Her brief yet Sophoclean voice now dumb,
she knits (tricot, tricot) recording all,
The needles flash and clack; one pulls at one
(tricot, tricot) and then they turn:
There, in the space of templed needles,
Fate stares out, smiles or frowns (tricot),
and weaves out Death.
All Death. Madame DuFarge, recording all,
not silent, but the clack of needles drowned
by drums and tumbrels, pleas for mercy, prayers,
the slide and thump of metal slicing through
to wood, and then a cheer, and then the drums;
(tricot) the women watch and knit the Fates.
Eurydice, with Fate, sees Death’s parade,
The jackboots on the cobblestones, the harsh
accent of Nazis speaking le français.
Perhaps she went from safety just to see
the flock of yellow stars caged at Drancy.
(tricot, tricot) their tumbrels are boxcars
Then Auschwitz, worse than Hades. “God!” they cry.
“Gods!” She hears the cry and knits it in,
(tricot, tricot) and when she hears the news:
Antigone has gone to join them now—
Eteocles, the hero, hailed by all,
Polynieces, the rebel, left to rot,
Her own Haemon, her son, taking Death’s pact
To die with her uncompromising niece—
Antigone is dead! (tricot) Is dead!
Eurydice must pause (and no one sees):
She sighs, lets fall a tear, and
drops a stitch.
by Lisa Bolin Hawkins