The First Lamentation of Demeter ~ (Poetry and Myth)

 British Museum GR 1885.3-16.1 (Terracotta C 529), AN34724001

British Museum GR 1885.3-16.1 (Terracotta C 529), AN34724001

I’ve been looking over my writing notebooks written a while back but unread by anyone other than myself or my husband. The myths of Demeter and her daughter, Persephone, fascinate many including me. For a number of reasons these myths seem to appeal especially to women. Many of the great living women poets have written brilliant poems about Persephone (e.g., Louise Glück and Eavan Boland). The story is timeless.

In today’s poem I’ve written a Lamentation of Demeter. Demeter, the goddess of the harvest and grains, is often referred to as the mother-goddess since she represents fertility on earth. Her importance is indisputable. When she mourns for her missing daughter, Persephone (who has been abducted by Hades and taken down into the underworld by force) the seasons stop. Things stop growing and the earth begins to die before Persephone’s father, Zeus, intervenes.  You know the story, but it is worth re-reading if you haven’t read any mythology for a while.

Demeter statue in front of my gym in Hillsborough, North Carolina

Demeter statue in front of my gym in Hillsborough, North Carolina

So what is a lamentation? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it simply: “The passionate expression of grief or sorrow; weeping.” Anyone who has grieved knows instinctively what it is to lament the loss of someone who is dearly loved. The feeling is painful and deep, and I think this resonates within us all. Demeter mourned her daughter’s abduction to a point where the earth nearly perished. This poem begins with her not yet knowing all that has happened. I picture her as a mother desperate to know what has happened to her child.

This is one of two lamentations of Demeter I’ve written. The second will follow at some point.

Demeter

Demeter

To listen to an audio recording of me reading this poem, click on the link below and wait a few seconds for it to begin:

 

 

The First Lamentation of Demeter

How is it that I don’t know where she has gone?

        I warned her.

I told her time and time again not to trust them,
that there were those who so longed for her
they would stop at nothing.

        And who was right?

Like all girls her age, she could be headstrong,
believing her own mother too old
to understand those yearnings.

         I warned her.

Last night I watched the dog star rise up.
Its magnificent beams were like beacons
that might lead me to my lost child.

        Why is it the stars are silent?

O, Sirius, your brilliant rays reach down
to us and yet your silence is puzzling.
Surely you saw where she went, my only child.

        Will no one tell me where my Persephone has gone?

Grief-Statue

15 thoughts on “The First Lamentation of Demeter ~ (Poetry and Myth)

  1. I really like the counterpoint between the alternating stanzas–Demeter comes across powerfully as a woman trying to talk herself through this crisis as calmly as possible, but her heart’s wail keeps breaking through. Thank you for sharing!

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  2. Interesting, I also wrote a post about Persephone. It is a striking story, she was lucky though because she got back her child for the longest part of the year… my post is here: http://wp.me/p2jlos-1HR
    Your lamentations is more sleek and elegant then what I wrote. I also tell about Niobe. Mythology really has a strong pull on me.

    I thank you for visiting my blog ! Vera

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    • Vera, It’s lovely to meet you. I chanced upon your blog when I was looking for art work for my Second Lamentation of Demeter, which I just now posted. I had seen a “light” work of Persephone of yours, which I wanted to use, but I knew that I was just about to publish the poem and it might take weeks before you might give me permission, so I didn’t ask. Perhaps the next one? It’s a lovely piece, by the way. I shall look at your poem and posting tomorrow after I get some sleep. Your blog seems awfully interesting to me. Thanks for visiting me back! Best wishes, Mary

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  3. Mary, perhaps only a mother can truly fathom the sorrow of that lamentation. Whenever I read/hear/watch news about the death of children, my first thought (and prayer) is for the mother. How would she bear the loss? When my daughter was small (six years old, I think; she is now 19) she came home from school and told me that the little boy who used to sit next to her in class was no more- the teacher had told the class that he will not be coming again. He had drunk, by mistake, some type of cleaning liquid kept at home and died. I wept for days….even though I had never known him.

    Looking forward to your second one…

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    • Your very sad story touched my heart too. I can’t imagine the depth of grief a parent must feel, but I’ve known several children who died and there is no easy way to deal with the loss. Losing a child to things other than death (e.g.,drugs, other destructive choices) also is grieved by so many these days. And then there is suicide. My heart breaks thinking of several I’ve known who chose to leave this way. Thank you for sharing this today. You always give us something to think about.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Mary, this is so timely in light of the sad news from school and also thinking about the mothers in Nigeria whose daughters have been taken from them. Thank you once again for expressing what so many are feeling.

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