When Hades decided he loved this girl
he built for her a duplicate of earth,
everything the same, down to the meadow,
but with a bed added.
Everything the same, including sunlight,
because it would be hard on a young girl
to go so quickly from bright light to utter darkness
Gradually, he thought, he'd introduce the night,
first as the shadows of fluttering leaves.
Then moon, then stars. Then no moon, no stars.
Let Persephone get used to it slowly.
In the end, he thought, she'd find it comforting.
A replica of earth
except there was love here.
Doesn't everyone want love?
He waited many years,
building a world, watching
Persephone in the meadow.
Persephone, a smeller, a taster.
If you have one appetite, he thought,
you have them all.
Doesn't everyone want to feel in the night
the beloved body, compass, polestar,
to hear the quiet breathing that says
I am alive, that means also
you are alive, because you hear me,
you are here with me. And when one turns,
the other turns—
That's what he felt, the lord of darkness,
looking at the world he had
constructed for Persephone. It never crossed his mind
that there'd be no more smelling here,
certainly no more eating.
Guilt? Terror? The fear of love?
These things he couldn't imagine;
no lover ever imagines them.
He dreams, he wonders what to call this place.
First he thinks: The New Hell. Then: The Garden.
In the end, he decides to name it
A soft light rising above the level meadow,
behind the bed. He takes her in his arms.
He wants to say I love you, nothing can hurt you
but he thinks
this is a lie, so he says in the end
you're dead, nothing can hurt you
which seems to him
a more promising beginning, more true.
"A Myth of Devotion" from Averno by Louise Glück. Copyright © 2006 by Louise Glück. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.
In the first version, Persephone is taken from her mother and the goddess of the earth punishes the earth—this is consistent with what we know of human behavior, that human beings take profound satisfaction in doing harm, particularly unconscious harm: we may call this negative creation. Persephone's initial sojourn in hell continues to be pawed over by scholars who dispute the sensations of the virgin: did she cooperate in her rape, or was she drugged, violated against her will, as happens so often now to modern girls. As is well known, the return of the beloved does not correct the loss of the beloved: Persephone returns home stained with red juice like a character in Hawthorne— I am not certain I will keep this word: is earth "home" to Persephone? Is she at home, conceivably, in the bed of the god? Is she at home nowhere? Is she a born wanderer, in other words an existential replica of her own mother, less hamstrung by ideas of causality? You are allowed to like no one, you know. The characters are not people. They are aspects of a dilemma or conflict. Three parts: just as the soul is divided, ego, superego, id. Likewise the three levels of the known world, a kind of diagram that separates heaven from earth from hell. You must ask yourself: where is it snowing? White of forgetfulness, of desecration— It is snowing on earth; the cold wind says Persephone is having sex in hell. Unlike the rest of us, she doesn't know what winter is, only that she is what causes it. She is lying in the bed of Hades. What is in her mind? Is she afraid? Has something blotted out the idea of mind? She does know the earth is run by mothers, this much is certain. She also knows she is not what is called a girl any longer. Regarding incarceration, she believes she has been a prisoner since she has been a daughter. The terrible reunions in store for her will take up the rest of her life. When the passion for expiation is chronic, fierce, you do not choose the way you live. You do not live; you are not allowed to die. You drift between earth and death which seem, finally, strangely alike. Scholars tell us that there is no point in knowing what you want when the forces contending over you could kill you. White of forgetfulness, white of safety— They say there is a rift in the human soul which was not constructed to belong entirely to life. Earth asks us to deny this rift, a threat disguised as suggestion— as we have seen in the tale of Persephone which should be read as an argument between the mother and the lover— the daughter is just meat. When death confronts her, she has never seen the meadow without the daisies. Suddenly she is no longer singing her maidenly songs about her mother's beauty and fecundity. Where the rift is, the break is. Song of the earth, song of the mythic vision of eternal life— My soul shattered with the strain of trying to belong to earth— What will you do, when it is your turn in the field with the god?
"Persephone the Wanderer" from Averno by Louise Glück. Copyright © 2006 by Louise Glück. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.
One summer she goes into the field as usual stopping for a bit at the pool where she often looks at herself, to see if she detects any changes. She sees the same person, the horrible mantle of daughterliness still clinging to her. The sun seems, in the water, very close. That's my uncle spying again, she thinks— everything in nature is in some way her relative. I am never alone, she thinks, turning the thought into a prayer. Then death appears, like the answer to a prayer. No one understands anymore how beautiful he was. But Persephone remembers. Also that he embraced her, right there, with her uncle watching. She remembers sunlight flashing on his bare arms. This is the last moment she remembers clearly. Then the dark god bore her away. She also remembers, less clearly, the chilling insight that from this moment she couldn't live without him again. The girl who disappears from the pool will never return. A woman will return, looking for the girl she was. She stands by the pool saying, from time to time, I was abducted, but it sounds wrong to her, nothing like what she felt. Then she says, I was not abducted. Then she says, I offered myself, I wanted to escape my body. Even, sometimes, I willed this. But ignorance cannot will knowledge. Ignorance wills something imagined, which it believes exists. All the different nouns— she says them in rotation. Death, husband, god, stranger. Everything sounds so simple, so conventional. I must have been, she thinks, a simple girl. She can't remember herself as that person but she keeps thinking the pool will remember and explain to her the meaning of her prayer so she can understand whether it was answered or not.
"The Myth of Innocence" from Averno by Louise Glück. Copyright © 2006 by Louise Glück. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.