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Use of Lucifer in Quilting

Use of Lucifer in Quilting

Lucifer is the epitome and personification of all that is evil according to the traditional American perspective. His name has been linked with the name Satan so that either name refers to “the Devil” in most of the western Christian tradition. American culture, with its Puritan roots and Fundamentalist influences, has cast Lucifer in the role of the eternal enemy of all that we hold to be good and worthwhile. Preachers and others who teach Christian morality have described his power as being great enough to tempt all of us, at the same time, into sin. He seeks to lead us away from God and into his own realm of fear, torment, and undying agony. He is to be shunned and feared, lest he bring us to perdition. He is not human and he possesses none of the traits of a good person, only the bad ones.

Lucille Clifton uses Lucifer in quite a number of her poems. She does not use him in the traditional role of the inhuman enemy who is to be feared. Rather, she imbues him with human qualities and shows him as a flawed being who was, nevertheless, loved and missed by those who knew him best. She instead reflects back to Lucifer’s Promethean history as the “son of the morning” (Isaiah 14:12). As Lucifer says in “lucifer speaks in his own voice” from Quilting, “illuminate I could / and so / illuminate I did” (22-24). This use of the personification of all that is evil in a possibly non-evil context causes the reader to reflect upon their understanding of Lucifer and his influence in an environment without clear-cut definitions of right and wrong, which brings about a fundamental change in the readers outlook on Lucifer.

In Clifton’s poetry Lucifer is not only presented as the object of another’s voi…

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…tion of all that is evil is, in fact, a human person, then what is evil outside of mankind? The reader is most likely to respond to this question with the response that Lucifer is representative of humanity in its lack of understanding of God and His purpose, and that evil is best defined by humanity because of our lack of understanding. There is no evil except as we misunderstand God’s purpose.

Clifton’s poems about Lucifer ultimately act as Lucifer himself did. Lucifer was the light-bringer – that is, in fact, what the name Lucifer means. Her poems shed light upon our understanding of Lucifer and his role, meaning, and purpose. This light makes it easier for us to see our understandings, but it is still up to us to construct or change that understanding. This is perhaps the best thing for someone whose name, Lucille, also stems from the root word for light.

Quilting – Foxes in the Poetry of Lucille Clifton

Quilting – Foxes in the Poetry of Lucille Clifton

In 1942 Virginia Woolf read a paper to the Women’s Service League about “The Angel in the House.” For Woolf, this “Angel” represented the voice in the back of the mind of a woman that was saying, “Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own” (1346). During Woolf’s time a woman was not supposed to write critically. Rather, a woman was supposed to “be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of her sex.” Woolf writes of the need to “kill” this angel. She says, “Had I not killed her, she would have killed me” (1346). Thankfully today it is no longer considered improper for a woman to write critically and truthfully, but Lucille Clifton has her own “angel to kill” in some of her poetry. Clifton is a woman artist who uses her past experiences and those of her ancestors to write her poetry. Clifton uses the ideas of light and foxes to convey the joy she finds in being a woman poet, as well as the fear that an artist sometimes feels when first struck with an idea for a poem.

The poems “telling our stories” and “the coming of fox” reveal the feelings of fear an artist may have when creating a work. In “telling our stories” Clifton compares a fox to a poet:

the fox came every evening to my door

asking for nothing. my fear

trapped me inside, hoping to dismiss her

but she sat till morning, waiting.

at dawn we would, each of us,

rise from our haunches, look through the glass

then walk away.

did she gather her village around her

and sing of the hairless moon face,

the trembling snout, the ignorant eyes?

child, i tell you now it was not

the animal blood i was hiding from,

it was the poet in her, the poet and

the terrib…

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…ht some “terrible stories.” By bringing to light these “terrible stories” a poet in effect slays the “angels” that kept her from writing. Every author has his/her own “angel” to slay. Lucille Clifton sees past the fear she has about what she might write about using her gift of poetry to “slay her angel.”

Works Cited

Clifton, Lucille. Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir: 1969-1980. Rochester, NY: BOA, 1987.

—. Quilting: Poems 1987-1990. Rochester, NY: BOA, 1991.

—. The Terrible Stories. Brockport, NY: BOA, 1996.

Rushing, Andrea Benton. “Lucille Clifton: A Changing Voice for Changing Times.” Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Roger Matuz. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Inc, 1991. 79-81.

Woolf, Virginia. “Professions for Women.” The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women. Ed. Sandra M. Gilbert and S. Gubar. New York, NY: Norton, 1996. 1345-48.

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