by Louise Glück
Circe, Circe, Circe. Through the The Odyssey, Homer (not Simpson, but the other one) tells us that she is a beautiful sorceress with a tendency to turn men into animals when they venture onto her island. She is an immortal woman with magical powers who (after turning his men into pigs) convinces Odysseus to stay with her on her island for one year. Her dad is Helios, god of the Sun, and her mom is an Oceanid (kind of like a mermaid goddess). She lives on her island attended by ladies-in-waiting and surrounded by animals who were once men. Sounds like a sweet life, no?
In the Odyssey, Circe vanishes into thin air when Odysseus announces that he's going to leave her and continue his journey homeward. In this poem, however, we get to see Circe react to his leaving, and it's an emotional ride. We get the sense that she's a little confused and very sad. We think that Circe really likes Odysseus. In fact, we think that she might even be in love with Odysseus, but that she can't really admit it (because sorceresses really don't go around falling in love – if anything they make others fall in love with them).
Because she has magical powers, Circe is used to being able to make people do things. But here's a situation in which she can't make someone do something: she can't make Odysseus stay. That makes her really frustrated. The thing is, she could make her sweetheart stay with her: she could turn him into an animal and force him to hang out on her island forevermore. She does have that power. But she doesn't want to use it. She is perhaps too in love with Odysseus to deprive him of the thing he wants most (to go home to Ithaca). It's almost like love has stripped her of her power.
In this poem, Circe's mood ring changes color almost every line. We see her being as clever and manipulative with her words as she might be with her magic. That's right, she has a magic, and she also has the power to see into the future and to make predictions. She's a gen-u-ine sorceress, folks.
Throughout the poem, we get the feeling that she is trying a number of tactics designed to convince Odysseus to stay, and when none of these tactics work, she just lets him go. This is a poem about a lady who is in love with a man who is leaving her. It's hard to know much more about Circe, because we never really hear her thoughts, hopes, and dreams. When we read this poem, it's as though we're eavesdropping on a conversation (but are only able to hear one side of the conversation), and we don't know what is sincere and what is manipulation.
Circe is quite a lady. We are sad for her, but part of us feels really excited to hear her voice and to get a different spin on the situation. She's such an intriguing character, and, even after thousands of years have gone by since Homer first spun a tale about her, she's still got us hooked.