Wake: Up to Poetry
Poem of the Week: “The Girl Who Turned into a Sunflower” by Medbh McGuckian
Taken from the collection My Love Has Fared Inland, Medbh McGuckian’s “The Girl Who Turned into a Sunflower” is both one myth and many. The poem’s title refers to the Greek mythical figure Clytie, whose tragic love for the sun god, Helios, led to her transformation into a sunflower. The series of allusions to mythical transformations of women, bookended by water and the paradoxically “unchanging laurel,” meta-poetically refers to both the mutability and the permanence of the poetic form.
The Girl Who Turned into a Sunflower
Her Muse means water, the moisture on the banks,
which can be awakened by a drop of oil.
Her hair is bound by disturbing fidelity,
hands lingering around her neck
make her shoulder the shape of the island,
sprinkle a balsam that spasms the clouds.
He had won her in an archery contest,
a tame stag who wore pearl earrings
descended from a work of art, the head,
though not the body, painted from life.
Cries of animals hunted centuries earlier
took possession of the mountain.
Apples tended by nymphs of the evening
and effortlessly harvested had been the earth’s
wedding present, the losers in the singing contest
mutated into magpies. She gave birth as a myrrh tree
narrated across forty-four north wall windows.
Were it not for her exhausted transformations
she would know the hedge behind the Muses
is of unchanging laurel and resists fire.