I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can’t keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don’t know where, for years.
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.

And I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
This is an ancient gesture, authentic, antique,
In the very best tradition, classic, Greek;
Ulysses did this too.
But only as a gesture,—a gesture which implied
To the assembled throng that he was much too moved to speak.
He learned it from Penelope…
Penelope, who really cried.

32 Comments

  1. brad says:

    In the story odysseus has been gone for about 20 years and penelope is being pestered to choose a new king and she tells her people that as soon as she finishes the quilt she will choose a king so by day she quilts and at night she undo’s it. Thought id throw that in

  2. the man says:

    Ha! you have this for AP? im a freshman and im doing this in our 2nd six weeks and have to have a resource paper for it. Still a good poem.

  3. sara says:

    ulysses is another name for Odysseus, it is his name in roman language learned that from english teacher

  4. Akram Abdallah says:

    Does anyone know what the theme of this poem is? Please help me out someone

  5. Frank says:

    Ulysses is our 18th president, not the husband of Penelope. This mut be referring to his reaction to the civil war. Odysseus’s only name is Odysseus.

    • Ella H says:

      You’re not wrong but Ulysses is the Roman name for Odysseus. This poem is in fact talking about “The Odyssey”.

  6. Jacqueline says:

    I think she recognizes that the gesture is ancient and universal; as such, it has become a symbol of a woman’s grief. At the end of the poem, she realizes that it is, nonetheless, authentic. She is acknowledging that her gesture of grief is beautiful and timeless because it’s real.

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