Lorine Niedecker’s poem about Mary Shelley not only tells the story of the famous woman but about raises issues about herself, as well. The poem points out that Mary Shelley is known by her husband’s name; not many know “her name/ before she married” (2-3). Shelley made a career for herself and, after Percy Shelley died, made a life for herself. Though she is known by a man’s surname, she was not confined to living a life defined by him. It is reasonable that Niedecker would also be concerned with the issues since she was- however briefly- married. The fact that she and her husband separated after two years of marriage speaks to the
fact that she did not let a man define her life, either, and her poetry is a testament to this. Niedecker points out that Mary Shelley “was Frankenstein’s creator” and that “She read Greek, Italian,” things that distinguish her from being just Percy Shelley’s wife (7, 14).
Something else that struck me about Niedecker’s poem is how much emphasis she puts on the fact that “She bore a child/ Who died/ and yet another child/ who died,” another thing to which Niedecker herself can definitely relate (15-8). Niedecker dangles the words “who died” twice in the last stanza, even ending the poem with that line. When reading the poem aloud, the word “died” hovers eerily at the end, drawing attention to the fact that Shelley miscarried. I think that it is important to note that Niedecker and the poet Louis Zukovsky had a professional and romantic relationship and, at one point, she was pregnant with his child. Zukovsky insisted that she have an abortion, and she did. It is likely that this event would have quite an impact of Niedecker, both personally and professionally. Perhaps she felt she had found a kind of kindred spirit in Shelley, since they both lost children.
As well as losing their children, Shelly and Niedecker both lost their husbands, in a sense. And both created careers for themselves despite living in a male-dominated world and dealing with a male-dominated profession. Perhaps, despite living in such different time periods and such different societies, the two women are not so dissimilar after all.