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

Willow Branches

Boston Public Garden

Boston Public Garden

The weeping willow is perhaps one of the loveliest trees of all. It certainly plays an important part of many myths and legends in different cultures, and it has stories linking it with full moons, protection and inspiration. I have always loved willows. One of my fondest memories is of living in Cambridge and walking through the Boston Public Gardens when the willows were out in full. On a hot day, you could sit under one and feel ten degrees cooler. The were also among the earliest trees to leaf in spring.

Old Tombstone with Weeping Willow

Old Tombstone with Weeping Willow

In the old, old cemetaries of Boston and Cambridge, willows adorned gravestones and iron work going back to Colonial times.

Lovely Iron Gate with Willow

Lovely Iron Gate with Willow

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the beautiful North Carolina community in which I live there was once a beautiful lotus pond with a magnificent willow overlooking it. One night the tree came crashing down. Later the pond dried up and the lotuses were no more. This poem began quite some time ago, but it, too, lay dormant until I pulled out a forgotten draft of the first three stanzas. Strange how that can be–sometimes returning to a poem that was left unfinished so long ago is suddenly the very thing you need.

~ ~

Click on the link below if you’d like to listen to me reading this poem. It will take a few seconds before the clip begins so please be patient.

 

Weeping Willow Tree

Weeping Willow Tree

 

Willow Branches

 

They said it was the drought that did it.
Too many summers the pond dried up,
Even the lotus pods soon went dormant.

Rainstorms came that June: day after
Day the rain flooded the nearby creek
And filled the small pond you graced.

It was just too much and all too fast.
In the night you fell, your shallow roots
Rudely ripped out of the raw wet earth.

The old gardener pulls up in his truck,
Walks over with chain saw in hand,
Ready to dismember branches and trunk.

I ask if I might take a few willow wands.
He waits patiently and watches as I
Cut three long sticks of fallen green.

I thank him and walk away. He nods,
and smiles wryly after me, at the whimsy
Of a stranger who was passing by.

The chain saw shrieks as it starts
On its ruthless task as I continue
By on my walk, recalling a story I love.

Carrying sticks of willow for protection,
Orpheus, singer of sweet songs and poems,
Wandered in dark and silent Hades.

We know the ending, how Eurydice
Was soon lost forever. But the willow gifted
Orpheus with music, songs so beautiful

Even the wild and rowdy winds stopped
Blowing to listen to his broken heart. With
Orpheus’ death, the lyre lay silenced.

Over the chain saw’s tuneless humming,
I picture the willow’s nocturnal passing,
And I weep for all who are lost too soon.