Stephanie Pope essay The Dark Myth of Mother
myth and poetry

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The Dark Myth of Mother -stephanie pope posted 8-18-06

I read this morning in Leslie Morgan Steiner’s column On Balance in the Washington Post a recent poster wrote “One of my biggest fears of motherhood is losing myself.” Astutely, Steiner points out the great adventure of motherhood works both sides of the problem of being a self in the presence of giving that self in the labors and loves of motherhood. The adage reminds, something lost is something gained.

The archetypal story of mothers speaks deeply about the nature of this fear. Motherhood, even the idea of potential motherhood, seems to announce an impending doom, a terrible isolation, a looming sadness experienced in the soul of a woman. The motherhood gained is countered with a sense for the daughter loss (& it is always a ‘daughter’, is it not?)

The myth of the loss in the young woman and her grief and quest to regain connection to this soul life is told by Homer in the Hymn To Demeter.  For a time, the sense of loss in the self is grievous and the fury felt, sterile. Motherhood can be a tedious existence. What else is new? The story of Demeter, like every other mythological telling, is a soul-making enterprise. We are not given a soul life. We develop one. This may be what Steiner means when she notes that motherhood brought her new and priceless gifts; one being a belief in some kind of god with whom she could bargain to protect her children.

Soul-making happens in the way a mother becomes a mother by losing herself. James Hillman calls up the daughter side in the feeling self which says feelings are part of archetypal powers governing ethical values, aesthetic judgements, styles of relating, expressing and absorbing but, “they are not a fautless compass to steer by.” (Re-visioning 182) The fear of loss marks a discovery of a deeper life in a darker side of life, the side of loss. This otherness contains an equal richness, a depth of expression that realizes the earlier form of self-expression is what one has outgrown. The other god, the one in the depths of the experience of motherhood, keeps one’s daughter before one’s eye. Her journey, the journey from girl to mother, is a movement from nature to soul.

Psyche (soul) will tell its journey through all different sides, through the fear, the loss and through the newly discovered divinity Steiner means to share. This soul is not a substance nor a thing. This soul, like all psyche, expresses perspectival sense in a personified notion.  Once out of nature such soul will tell the story of a living psyche and that story, will be its own.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come 
                                             -Yeats, Sailing To Byzantium

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