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.
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.
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?