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 voice, but also in his own voice. The first presentation gives the reader new eyes with which to perceive Lucifer. In "oh where have you fallen to…" from Quilting, Heaven’s response to the loss of Lucifer is one of mourning where the speaker states that "it is all shadow / in heaven without you"(5-6). This is certainly not the image of the eternal enemy that we have been taught by everyone from the backwoods, country preacher to Dana Carvey’s character Church Lady on Saturday Night Live. The speaker in the poem shows affection for Lucifer and implies that Heaven is less because of the loss of him. Readers must readjust their assumptions regarding what the "right" feeling about Lucifer is because, if one is taught to fear and avoid someone else, then the normal result is the development of hatred toward the one that we are forced to fear and avoid. Since the response of the speaker in the poem seems to be far from one of hatred, then is the reader supposed to continue to hate him?
The issue becomes no less clouded in "remembering the birth of lucifer" from Quilting when the speaker says that Lucifer’s brilliant emergence "from the littlest finger / of God" (4-5) caused the seraphim – the highest rank of angels – to...