Persephone the Wanderer
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.
The author of numerous collections of poetry, Louise Glück is the recipient of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature, served as a Chancellor for the Academy of American Poets, and twas the Library of Congress’s poet laureate consultant in poetry.
Date Published: 2006-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/persephone-wanderer