May 17, 2019

Persephone in Hades

        It’s time for another fantasy poem, and this time I’ll share one of my own.  This was written probably some time around 1990 although I don’t feel like taking the time to find an exact date for it.  At any rate, you no doubt know the myth of how Persephone was kidnapped by Hades and brought to the underworld to be his wife.  There she was tricked into eating pomegranate seeds, so that even after Zeus demanded her release, she was now required to spend some of each year with Hades.  As a myth it explains winter, when Earth is in mourning and nothing grows because Persephone is in the underworld.  But as a fantasy story it has so many other interesting places to go.  What would it be like to have experienced this story from within?  How might actual people have lived these events?  I say “lived,” but of course most of the witnesses were the dead, the Shades who inhabit Hades.  What would they think or feel to see a living goddess suddenly brought into their realm of the dead?

The Shades Watch Persephone’s Arrival in Hades

These listless plains were ignorant of screams,
til echoes dropped like wadded cotton shrouds
in Lethe's torpid water as she crossed.

He set her, sullen, on the carbon throne,
her brightness cut the passive haze like ice,
we stilled our barren wanderings to watch.

The rest of us had never screamed or shone.
No thought of life had moved since mute descent;
We paid our earthly coin impassively.

We watched her crack the pomegranate's hull,
to disinter the blood-red seeds and taste
(I hadn't thought of blood in all this time)
unwarned her sentence: burial alive.

Her vivid fingers take the first red bead,
we watch her vivid mouth - the silence is
a rustle of cracked leaves, a scratching breath -
inaudible, unvoiced, we murmur "Don't."

Three times we watch a seed to living lips,
three times there is no cry, no warning, "Death."
We are no longer human and forget what we once were.

Did misery invite our tacit hate?
Did Tantalus's shadow chain our grace?
Did hissing shame advise, "Don't get involved"?

We numbed our minds; no thought of ringing blood
can breathe us now.  Does conscience die with death?  
Not before this we forfeited our souls.

        By the way, I went looking for one or two relief block prints of Persephone to illustrate this post, and discovered so many that I’ll do a separate post so I can share more of them.  So, more on Persephone, coming soon…

[Picture: Persephone’s Choice, linocut with watercolor by Eloise Birnam-Wood (Image from her Etsy shop BirnamWoodPrints).]


Rob Z Tobor said...

Nice Poetry . . . . I have been known to write the odd poem from time to time, but I rather like writing bad poetry so it seldom gets read.

Rob Z Tobor

Pax said...

What an interesting idea for approaching the Persephne story! These dead sound a little like the ones in Thornton Wilder's Grover's Corners -- quite numb, with no emotions. "Does conscience die with death?"

Kristin said...

The print looks sort of 1930s. I like the red with the black and white.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Rob, bad poetry has its own joys! =)

Pax, the ancient Greek underworld is neither heaven nor hell for most of the dead and the Shades do seem to be mere shadows of souls.

Kristin, black and white and red is certainly one of the most dramatic color combinations!