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Apr 6 2014 10:00am

Hades and Persephone

Jo Walton photo by John W. MacDonaldPresenting “Hades and Persephone,” an original poem by Jo Walton in celebration of National Poetry Month, acquired for Tor.com by senior editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

Tor.com is celebrating National Poetry Month by featuring science fiction and fantasy poetry from a variety of SFF authors. You’ll find classic works, hidden gems, and new commissions featured on the site throughout the month. Check out the Poetry Month index for more poems!

 

Hades and Persephone

You bring the light clasped round you, and although
I knew you’d bring it, knew it as I waited,
Knew as you’d come that you’d come cloaked in light
I had forgotten what light meant, and so
This longed for moment, so anticipated,
I stand still, dazzled by my own delight.

I see you, and you see me, and we smile
And your smile says you are as pleased as me
With everything and nothing still to say
All that we’ve saved and thought through all this time
Boils down to affirmation now as we
Stand here enlightened in my realm of grey.

Cerberus wags his solitary tail,
And though the dust of Hell lies round our feet
Your flowers are already sprouting through.
“You came,” “I said I would,” “You didn’t fail,”
“And you’re still here,” “Of course. We said we’d meet.”
“Yes,” “Yes!” “You’re really here! “And so are you!”

We don’t say yet that you will have to go
And Hell return inevitably black
Your flowers fade when parted from your tread
Though this is something we both surely know,
As certain as you come, you must go back,
And I remain alone among the dead.

They say I snatched you from the world above
Bound you with pomegranates, cast a spell
Bribed you with architecture. It’s not so.
Friendship is complicated, life is, love,
Your work the growing world, my task is Hell
You come back always, always have to go.

But here and now, this moment, we can smile,
Speak and be heard, this moment we can share
And laugh, and help each other to be great,
And talk aloud together, all worthwhile,
Our work, our worlds, and all we really care,
Each word shines golden, each thought worth the wait.

And Hell’s poor souls whirl round us as they glide
Off up to Lethe to begin again,
On to new lives, new dawns beyond Hell’s night.
We walk among your flowers, side by side,
Such joys we share are worth a little pain.
You come back. And you always bring the light.

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18 comments
James Cummins
1. James Cummins
Absolutely Gorgeous!
James Cummins
2. Momentary
Solitary tail! Bribed you with architecture! Wonderful.
Pamela Adams
3. Pam Adams
Every year, my campus has a poetry reading amongst the National Library week events. I think I know what my choice will be for this year......
Jo Walton
4. bluejo
Really glad you like it.

I hate the canonical story of Hades and Persephone so much that I have now written two different poems trying to make it into something else.
Genevieve Williams
5. welltemperedwriter
I have written the story two different ways myself: one metaphorical, one literal. Neither canonical, since to do so in a modern setting seems to necessitate Stockholm Syndrome.

I like this version.
James Cummins
7. vanye
Aside from the part where it's not HELL, it was pretty darn good. Verymuch as I tend to perceive the situation.
James Cummins
8. mutantalbinocrocodile
@7, actually, using "Hell" as translation-ese for the many words for the land of the dead in Greek and Latin has a long history and much to say in its favor, especially in later periods when the concept started to more closely resemble what we mean by "Hell" (which is a word of Norse origin, not Hebraic--the vocabulary of "Hell" in the Bible is just as complicated). While "Hades" as a name for a place rather than a person is strange Classical Greek. (Though, ironically, quite common in NT Greek.) You would more often say "House of Hades", or a variety of euphemisms.
Kate Hunter
9. KateH
I like it! This brings to mind Ursula K. Le Guin's bit on Persephone too. Very different from hers, your treatment. But both perspectives are interesting and worthwhile.

Funny thing about modern writers taking on these old, old stories...I've never read a retelling of Troy, Achilles, Cassandra, Persephone, or any of those old stores which was poorly executed, or unimaginative, poorly conceived, or that felt wrong. I've read quite a few, and I don't think my standards are particularly low where Greek mythology is concerned.
Jo Walton
10. bluejo
KateH: Oh, I have, I've read some great ones, but I have also read some terrible ones. There was a book from the POV of Helen of Troy that I read in the early eighties that was just terrible. And it wasn't terrible, but the recent _Shield of Achilles_ didn't feel right to me. These are universal myth and we can all find different things in them, and we retell them in our own time and from our own perspective -- like the way so many people in Europe and North America think it's winter that Persephone spends with Hades, rather than burning Greek summer. We transpose it to our climate, our expectations, our beliefs about psychological realism -- and those will work differently for different people. What is universal will work for everyone.
Elise Matthesen
11. LionessElise
Oh, yes. "As certain as you come, you must go back." But there is the sharing and the laughing, the helping each other to be great.

The excellence of a truly good relationship is that it brings out the excellence of each one in it.
Pamela Adams
12. Pam Adams
There was a book from the POV of Helen of Troy

Was that the Richard Purtill book?
Jo Walton
13. bluejo
Pam -- I read it in Greece in 1982, I didn't like it and didn't keep it. And that name doesn't ring a bell, but it probably wouldn't anyway at this distance. So I don't know. I remember it as overwrought.
Kate Hunter
14. KateH
@ Bluejo

Hmmm. I haven't read those two. Perhaps we should compare notes. I liked Elizabeth Cook's Achilles, Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Firebrand, Madeline Miller's Song of Achilles, and the end of UKL's Hernes short story. I know there have been others as well, but can't come up with specifics at the moment. Would love to hear of any re-tellings you enjoyed.
James Cummins
15. jenphalian
Beautiful. I love this piece many times.
Steven Halter
16. stevenhalter
Quite lovely. Hades now has a nice wistful playfulness about him.
James Cummins
17. Non-necromancer
I love this version of Persephone's story as much as I loved The Private Life of Helen of Troy by John Erskine when I first discovered it!
James Cummins
18. filkferengi
Lovely poem, Jo!

For another non-standard on the legend, consider Mary Crowell's "Pomegranate Tango." Lyrics are here: http://www.magnusretail.com/Mary_Crowell/lyrics/pomegranate_tango.html ; there's a video from Consonance here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1djDHNT0z_o

I think you might enjoy it.

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