Works of Annie Fields
THE RETURN OF PERSEPHONE.
by Annie Fields
TO THE MEMORY OF MY MOTHER
ZEUS Father of Gods and men.
AÏDONEUS Brother of Zeus and ruler of the Under World.
KELEUS Prince of Eleusis.
DEMOPHOÖN Infant son of Keleus.
HELIOS God of the Sun.
DEMETER Mother of Persephone (her dress a blue robe, as of the earth in shadow).
PERSEPHONE Daughter of Demeter.
METANEIRA Wife of Keleus.
HECATE Goddess of the Moon.
DAUGHTERS OF KELEUS AND METANEIRA.
CHORUS OF NYMPHS.
THE RETURN OF PERSEPHONE.
DEMETER enters, leading the child PERSEPHONE.
MOTHER, may I leave you here awhile
Sitting and listening to the talking drops
Which fill this amber fountain, while I go
To gather crocuses and flags for you
Down in the meadow?
Swift as go the hours!
How like a nymph or dryad speeds she on!
Leaping across the path and fluttering down
Over the meadow, as the Spring herself
First flutters here and there, while close upon
The delicate printing of her feet are found
The new-born flowers and buds and fairest things.
Even thus the field puts on her gayest robe,
Woven in yellow, purple, and in white,
And the grass bends to greet Persephone.
O sweet new days! wherein the young moon folds
The old on her bright breast, to nourish her!
Slowly the old shall vanish, silently,
Lost in the new when bud shall come to leaf.
See, mother, see!
I found a butterfly in the meadow there,
And brought him back to you, best gift of all!
Though here are flowers, crocuses, violets;
But, ah! beyond my reach, down by the cool
Dark stream where you have bid me not to stray,
Grow tall, strange, purple blooms, though some are white,
White as warm lilies, and the purple dark
As streams that flow to Bacchus! Might I go
Once more, dear mother, thence, to gather them?
No, no, my child! The hours now beckon us:
But as thou goest pluck blossoms from thy path
And strew them in the places without bloom;
Thus men shall mark and bless thy passing feet.
To-day the heart of the old earth is glad,
Youth is so sweet to her, and the happy time
When Spring laughs out, nor knows of love nor death.
They pass on and disappear beneath the arches which form the portal of their abode. Scene changes. The same seated within. PERSEPHONE, with embroidery.
Mother, thou teachest all things to thy child,
All she would know and all this life can need;
I pray thee teach me now to blend these threads
And weave the magic hues that make the sky
Teach me to simulate blown grain, and more,
Far more, to paint the light in human eyes,
When joy transforms or pity bids them weep.
My daughter, I give all the earth can give!
This warp and woof of dusky circumstance,
These lovely figures changing endlessly,
Gilded by fancy, painted by a dream;
Further, the needle of thine industry,
By use grown sharp, obedient to thy need.
Thou lackest yet one thing, therefore I go
To watch and to instruct my laborers,
While thou here, sitting, in thine heart revolve
How joy and grief spring from one common root,
Though bearing different blooms, and tenderest souls
Go gathering the darkest, while they smile
With a calm smile which lightens the great world.
Farewell, my bright-haired mother, far away
Over the greening fields they wait for thee,
The laborers! And I, I know, must sit
Alone and learn to weave the mingled web,
And make a shining mantle for thy form,
To prove thy child doth love thee, and would strive
To add a brightness to thy glorious shape.
Farewell! Word heavy with a sea of tears!
How the wind seems to breathe among these reeds
Which the swift needle plants beside the wave!
And now the houses of the gods appear!
The living heaven gazing from many a star!
And now the little globe whereon we sit
Hangs with the rest and sways to Tethys' voice!
(Sings at her work.)
Zeus, thou father of earth and heaven,
Thou who hast clothed the Pleiades seven
In their robes of living light;
Each a flame, a quenchless spark,
Planted in a homeless dark,
Shine and shadow to the sight;
Light companioned by her shade;
Tell me, Zeus, how light is made,
To sink and deepen into dark.
The sacred places of DIS are unveiled to her; she gazes at first awestruck, then bursts into tears.
I hear the myriad waters flow,
Myriad unwilling footsteps go
Toward the realm where shadows dwell.
Now, too soon, the way I know!
Swiftly doth the needle pass
Over the full-ripened grass,
Through yon river's death-cold swell.
Her work drops unfinished, night passes, dawn appears, a chorus of ocean nymphs approach who
beckon to PERSEPHONE.
Ye beckon me to leave my work undone;
Full is the tide, ye say, and summer ripe;
Ye say the dew lies white upon the field,
And cools the thirsty violet which to-day
Must wither ere the blood-red lily blooms.
I will away with ye ere Helios snatch
The diamonds from the meadow, or shall strive
To pierce us with his arrows, all in vain;
For we will shelter seek, if he pursue,
In Hecate's moony cave, or by the rock
Where Neptune murmurs low in days of peace
And in his anger rages up to heaven.
Meanwhile the dewy eye of Phosphor dims;
Let us go hence, for bitter night is passed.
They go out, moving in unison as they sing, into the fields.
CHORUS OF NYMPHS.
What is cool as ocean's bed?
Who shall say?
Violets ere dews be fled;
Naught so cool as they.
What is soft as ocean's wave?
Who shall know?
One her breast to Neptune gave,
White as snow;
He doth know!
Watery world wherein we live,
Mortals call thy realm unstable!
What is stable canst thou give
Earth, the home of magic fable?
Shadows under eyelids play,
Under petals of a flower,
Then they vanish all away,
Youth and petal in an hour.
Fading world of fading form,
Naught is stable we can see,
Gold and green and white and warm
Though the days of June may be.
No more, no more to-day of mournful singing,
Chaunt no replies upon these shining sands,
But come and dance, for Zephyrus is bringing
Fresh odors from the heart of Eastern lands.
Come into meadows where the dews are sleeping
Rocked tenderly upon each petal's breast,
Forgetful of the watch the Hours are keeping,
Forgetting death, not life, is born of rest.
Come, sisters, come, where the strange flowers are blooming,
Down yonder, down, beside the dark-leaved shore,
Where all is silent, where no waves are blooming,
Where widening blossoms star the watery floor.
They move together over the meadows; at length PERSEPHONE allows herself to be outstripped, remembering her mother's wish.
Fain would I too those godlike clusters bind,
Were I one with these others, Neptune's own;
But he is jealous of my mother's love,
And reaches up strong arms to drag me down,
If I grow careless where the waves run low.
She bade me stay behind, but here perchance
I may espy some wandering flowers astray
From that fair multitude, if Helios' eye
Be not too keen to drive me from the field.
How cool their voices sound, half lost, half blent,
With murmur of the willows and the stream!
But ah! there yonder, there, I see them grow
As if new-born for me, the wondrous flowers!
They seem a hundred blossoms from one root,
And earth and sky and the deep-bosomed nymphs,
Daughters of Neptune, laugh in their sweet breath.
Let me but hasten, that I too may glean,
Ere they return, a harvest rich as theirs
From the great love in my great mother's heart.
(She runs leaping across the field.)
I think the blossoms fly, and I pursue;
For still they seem but farther as I go;
Ah! now I seize them! But I faint, I feel
Thee, Father Helios, touch me with thy spear;
Stay, I beseech thee, hold thy cruel hand!
I am too young, my mother's only hope,
Her happiness, the light of her sweet eyes,
I have not disobeyed her! Give me strength!
Come with me, lady, where the shadows cool
Will lay their quiet hands upon thy brow.
The chariot and the horses are mine own;
I will convey thee whither thou shalt sleep,
Or waking sit and hear no sigh of grief,
Nor foolish laughter; calmly move the shades.
She hears me not! Come, lily, bending down,
Seeking, unconscious, still thy mother-love,
I bear thee to my chariot, and the steeds
Now swiftly pass these meadows and the stream,
Now the deep shadowed valley and the cave;
Descending ever to my darkened throne.
How dark! Where am I? Whence is this cool wind
Which fans my brow and bids my sense return!
Why didst thou strive, O Helios, jealous grown,
To bring my bright-haired mother to despair?
But I am better! Mother! mother dear!
I did not disobey thee! Where art thou?
'T is I, my child, am with thee! Still thou art
But half awakened; I have brought thee safe,
And charioted in gold with flying steeds,
Far from the bright hot world, that thou mightst sleep
In peace, nor know the trouble mortals know.
Where is my mother? 'T is no grief of mine
Of which I speak! Bring thou me back to her!
Wilt not? Then will I call to her, and she, --
And she, though hidden in her inmost cave,
Or swept by clashing sheaths of the grown corn,
Would hear, and come, and answer.
[She calls and listens, then calls again.
No voice returns to touch the ear of earth
From these my kingdoms! We are past the bounds
Where voices move the Spirit of the Air,
Bidding him fly to seek the one they love.
The bitter striving and pale agony,
The disobedient heart that endless beats
Forever on the boundaries I have placed,
These may alone be heard, and to the light
Of day and dreams of night bring awful shapes.
A multitude, of shadows approach; PERSEPHONE and AÏDONEUS disappear among them.
HECATE (turning slowly from her dark retreat toward the earth).
I heard a mortal cry, a cry of pain!
I thought the voice was of Persephone;
Now will I give Demeter all my light,
And hang in peace above her restless soul.
I may not smile upon the face of grief
And bid it smile again! I only move
Serene on my one errand, and behold
The clouds succeed, -- then, after clouds, the sun.
We are but phantoms moving to the voice
Of the Great Heart which still renews itself
And blooms again in spite of winter's frost.
[She mounts slowly up the east.
HELIOS (in the west).
My ardent gaze was fixed upon her form.
When lo! she drooped; then Aïdoneus,
Too ready to possess so fair a flower,
Gathered her up and drew her to himself.
I will away unto the sleepy hills.
We were alone, the secret rests with me.
To-morrow with the dawn will I return
Unchanged, as if unknowing of the change
Fallen Demeter; all shall smile the same,
Though now the mother must grow old alone,
Nor greet her darling's face forevermore.
[Sinks and disappears.
WHENCE came, that cry! Echo, mine elf, was 't thou,
Playing thine idle pranks to lure some God
Lost in the enchanted bosom of the wood?
It comes again! And now the peaked hills
Repeat the sound, and now the ocean deeps;
Too like, too like thy voice, Persephone!
Darling, where art thou? I can find thee not.
A sharp pain seizes at my heart! Not here!
How silent are these halls! This narrow room
Wherein she sat! The stillness speaks aloud!
The birds, grown wonted to the dusky vine
Around her open casement, chatter there
All day when naught is questioned of their speech,
But now, alas! they stir not; all are hid;
The very voices of the sea are hushed,
And when I call her name Persephone!
And yet again, Persephone! more loud,
Comes only deeper stillness. Why so mute,
Ye birds, dear birds, who watched her tender feet!
Ye waving trees and blossoming shrubs that brushed
The hem of her soft raiment! Tell me now
Whither she passed! where I may find my love!
Behold the clouds are come to weep for her,
Yet speak no word! Dumb, speechless are ye all!
Yet see, where Iris speeds to Helios' throne
To ask him of my child; swift though her flight,
Already is the god in darkness veiled,
Journeying upon his storm-cloud down the west.
My hope is dying! Sad-faced Erebus
Stalks past my window, enters at the door,
And seems to say he shall abide with me.
Day is not day when love and hope are dead!
Let me look eastward, there where Eos once
Was ever ready with her laughing face
To follow Phosphor. I will wait for her --
But no! I cannot weep through these long hours!
Behold my sister Hecate from her cave
Now looking wistful in my longing eyes!
I will ask her. O tell me, sister mine!
In thy cool cavern hear'st thou aught of grief,
Or voices crying from the deeps of earth?
For one is wandering motherless, and I
Am left alone, bereaved of all my home.
Far in my cave withdrawn
I heard an earthly cry,
As if the leaves were strewn,
As if the wells were dry;
As autumn days were come,
And summer now must die;
Again I heard the moan,
I heard the voice of one
Who prayed her mother's love
To hear her latest tone;
I said it is Persephone,
Demeter's child! The only!
In vain! In vain! Too swift
The chariot rolled away;
I saw not him who drave,
No god those wheels might stay;
Save Helios, who in heaven,
Led on the dancing Hours,
And stooped to kiss her once
While she was gathering flowers;
Alas! I said, Persephone!
The only! The only!
[She passes slowly across the heavens while DEMETER wanders aimlessly, absorbed in grief.
O Hecate, turn not thy calm face away!
Thou wert the last to hear my darling's voice!
Enlighten me to seek at Helios' throne
The path by which her young feet were misled;
Then if thou goest, go but to return;
For day is night now I am left alone,
Yet without thee I stumble in my search.
(The smiling face of Eos appears in the east.)
Eos, dear Eos, know'st thou where is fled
The flower of this fair world, Persephone?
Wherefore should I know, mother, who but steal
A kiss from her young lips when first I wake,
Then flee before the feet of my great Lord?
HELIOS seated on a golden chariot, accompanied by the HOURS, is seen climbing the horizon.
O thou whose awful footsteps climb the sky,
Thou who dost bid the heavens to move for thee,
The seas to follow and the flowers to raise
Their heads in prayer, I, too, bow unto thee,
And kiss thy golden raiment, and implore.
O Father Helios, thou who seest all
Thy children in their ways, both good and ill,
Thou who didst love me decked in happy hues,
I pray thee tell me where Persephone
My child, my only darling, now is gone,
And who hath done this wrong, and why the deed.
Swift are the Hours,
From the waters they rise;
They bear in their eyes
The hope of the future,
The light of the skies.
Strong is their flight;
Moved by their strain
Of laughter or pain,
Sways to admit them,
Then closes again.
God of the heavens,
I move in my sphere
Remote and austere;
I, seated in glory,
Bid the Hours to hear.
Ask them, the sisters!
Ask not the god-head,
Of living or dead;
I, seated in glory,
Know not what is sped.
[He passes on, hidden in a veil of dazzling light.
Linger, ye Hours, O linger, tell me where --
THE FLYING HOURS.
On, ever on,
Servants are we,
We have no will of our own;
Fast or slow, --
The fall of our feet,
The end is ever the same;
What the gods tell us we do,
What the heart of the lover commands;
Naught do we know of ourselves,
We are empty of thought, of desire.
Zeus knoweth more than all,
He knoweth of death and of life;
Both when the child shall be born
And the days at length be fulfilled;
He knoweth the future;
The unknown he knoweth,
The dark and the light;
When one shall vanish away,
And whither the vanisher speeds.
DEMETER (in anger).
Dost thou know all, O Zeus! Then wherefore keep
From me, the sister of the gods, mine own!
Why didst not tell me Aïdoneus stole
My child away, but leav'st me searching here
As if thou wert ignorant of the underworld!
False, false to me, who sittest at thy board
In all the assemblies! I, whom thou hast loved,
And now deceiv'st as one clay-born of men,
Since thou dost know, I know! Ever 't was thus,
Whom I did love thou hatest; and now thou hast given
My one, my darling, to Aïdoneus' arms!
Never again, ah! never will I sit
Beside thy board nor pass the wreathèd cup!
The buds shall wither and the streams shall dry!
Green valleys become brown! The corn shall fail!
And sands now shut in Africa shall sweep
Across the seas and mantle all our land!
The purple dark which shrouds the midnight sky
Is not more dark than is this veil I draw
To hide the ravages of grief and bid
The voice of joy be silent. Thus I pass,
And seek the stony hills and difficult ways
Known to the gods, that haply seeking thus
I yet may hear that voice which made the day
All music, and whose absence makes earth dumb.
[She draws her blue veil about her and wanders away while the land gradually becomes desert.
THE WELL OF ELEUSIS.
DEMETER (in the figure of an aged woman, seated on the Stone of Sorrow).
MY yellow hair is sprinkled white with snow;
Even as in autumn early drifts are piled
Against the hedge, nor fade beneath the gaze
of Helios half estranged, but wait until
The punctual clouds return to bring afresh
A chilly mantle woven for all who sleep.
Thus peace abides under the snow of age,
And living spirit in the faded form!
Here may I sit upon this wayside stone
Alone, or wandering in my loneliness,
And see, upgazing with these mournful eyes,
Visions withheld save from the eyes of grief.
Four young maidens, daughters of KELEUS, approach to draw water. They come running and leaping like fawns. They sing.
CALLIDICE, CLEISIDICE, DEMO, CALLITHOE.
Pure well! Deep well!
We draw thy bubbles,
Thy shining bubbles!
But quick they vanish,
Like the troubles
Of our youth.
O thou pure well!
Deep as love,
Deep as desire!
Stay thou forever,
And us deliver
From thirst and fire.
Thou strong clear spring!
Deep as love,
Deep as truth!
Cleanse and feed,
And cool at need,
These fires of youth.
(They perceive DEMETER.)
CALLIDICE (to her sisters.)
Often we see an aged woman pass
Across our path, and say, Alas! she is old;
Pains have beset her and her nights are long!
But lo! she goeth to her children's home,
To bring them fruits of dear experience,
And guide the grandchild's feet lest they should stray.
Here lonely sits with sorrow for her friend,
Sad friend, sad sorrow, this poor aged crone,
As if her life were death though days remain.
Come, let us speak to her and give her cheer,
And tell her of our mother's baby boy,
Who lies now pale and drooping in her arms.
Pray her to come and tell us how to give
Our baby fresher color and strong life.
She should be wise, if wisdom grow with years!
She should be kind, if sorrow match with love!
DEMETER (regarding them).
(To herself.) I had a daughter once as fair as they!
Her eyes were ardent like the maid who speaks,
Her figure lithe like yonder one who stoops
To gather flowers; 't was even thus she stooped;
And like that other drooped her pensive head, --
The one who listens; and her laugh, ah me!
How like the rippling laugh of her who finds
And points her sister where the blossoms grow!
For here beside the well where all must drink,
A fringe of green still quickens the dead world.
I pray thee wilt thou come with us where sits
Our mother sad beside the household fire,
Holding our baby brother on her knees?
For he is ill, and thou who sittest here,
Bent with the weight of wisdom and of time,
May comfort us and bring him back to health.
Why should I rise!
Why should these aged feet
Make haste to quit this sacred spot whereon
My sorrow hand in hand with peace may sit,
And undisturbed rehearse the happy past!
Here, mindless of the present, I behold
Strange secrets of the future, only known
To those who dwell alone with speechless grief
Why but for ye, ye Prayers, daughters of Zeus,
Honor to whom is honor unto him!
Ye sit upon the lips of these fair maids,
Who each bears with her something of my child
Persephone, that unity of all
Most sweet, most fair, compassed within one form,
And I must listen; since if these are fair,
Yet four times fairer was Persephone!
And when she prays to be brought back to me,
He would offend indeed who would not hear.
Prayers should sit fourfold on her flower-like lips
And wait upon the coming of her feet,
Move as she moves, a goddess in her flight.
She, ever radiant with the illusive veil
Which seems to be, yet fades and is no more,
The mortal veil of something which endures, --
Who can resist beseeching on her lips!
Wilt thou come with us, nurse, and see the child?
I will, lead on! Can others grieve as I?
Stately they move, bearing their water-jars;
Each one with arm uplifted tall and straight;
Attendant maidens worthy of a queen.
They should be mine if rest remained for me,
Or hope, or light, or joy, or aught to love.
Ah me! Beyond the well a poppy grew:
Forgetful of my vow, I plucked the flower
And bearing idly now have sown the seed.
My broken vow, alas! must bear its fruit.
Behold the arch of Keleus and the hall!
And now the. maidens put their burden down
And beckon me to follow on their steps.
(She wraps her blue robe closely around her form and enters.)
I hear the mother singing to her child!
Thus in the night I sung from topmost pine,
Or in the bushes called the nightingale
To give her his own lyric. Ah! ah me!
METANEIRA (singing to Demophoön, who lies upon her knees).
Coo, coo, coo, chanteth the mother of doves!
Rocked in the arms of the trees the drowsy birds are asleep;
Rocked in the arms of thy mother, who ever a watch doth keep,
Coo, coo, my baby, sweetest of all the loves!
(The baby moves restlessly and cries.)
Strive no more, mother, but lay down thy care,
For lo! beside the well an ancient dame
We found, forlorn, like one bereaved of love,
And we have brought her hither. She doth wear
The front of wisdom and the form of age;
And on her heart she seems to rest the head
Of ever-present grief; thine, too, is hers;
Give her the child! He cannot suffer more
Than now he suffers nested in your arms.
Perchance she bears some spell to charm away
The demon which forever draws the child
Farther from us and bids him hate the sun.
METANEIRA (to DEMETER).
Nurse, take the child and sit thou here by me,
Where I may watch his breathing and behold
Each movement, though I no more bear the weight.
DEMETER takes the child and seats herself in silence on a low stool by the hearth. She croons over it in a voice inaudible to METANEIRA.
Come, baby, come
To my warm young breast
Under my robe,
Here is thy home,
Here is thy rest;
Come, baby, come!
Age may not touch thee;
Young, ever young,
Is my heart: see
How soft and how warm!
And the songs I have sung
I will sing them again
For thee, for thee!
Close, nestle close!
I cover my head
With the veil of my grief;
But beneath, beneath,
Sleep beauty and youth,
And my pain is fled.
Close, baby, close!
I feel thy soft hands
Nestle and steal
Round the waves of my breast;
Come, baby, come!
Here is thy home,
Here is thy rest.
The child is quiet! I will rise and seek
The household duties which forever wait
The housewife's hand. Why should he lie so still,
While I who strove and wept o'er his unrest
Could soothe him not! Bring hither, maid, the wheel!
[She takes the distaff and spins.
Who is this ancient crone who sits with thee
And rocks our babe?
One whom our daughters found
Beside the well, alone, and worn with grief,
Whose length of days outrun the days of love,
And still go on. Yet when she learned
We drew our breath in anguish for our child,
Her heart renewed itself, and swift she came,
Armed with experience, to bring us aid.
The baby is asleep: the night draws nigh;
Go thou to rest! Perchance when day returns
He may require thy care, the nurse being spent.
[They go out.
DEMETER (alone with the child).
Breathe, breathe, and suck the milk of my warm breast!
How should I feel again a mother's joy!
Sad Aïdoneus shalt not find thee, dear!
For I will nourish thee and hold thee safe,
That others may not weep as I have done,
And see the black days pass devoid of hope.
Wax strong and grow and stretch thy rounded limbs!
Drink the warm milk of my late tenderness,
Grown greater for the sorrows I have known.
But hush! Thou shalt not breathe the breath of sighs,
Nor languish on my heart's exhausted flame;
I will build fires afresh for thee, and blow
The ashes of my love, and lay thee there
To purify and strengthen for thy day.
She rises, lays the brands together on the hearth, and places the child thereon. He rests there unhurt, growing more ruddy, laughing and stretching out his hand to her, while she smiles down on him.
Work, charm! Work, fire! 'T is thus a man is made.
She takes up the child, who rests and sleeps on her shoulder, while she walks with him; again she sits and looks at DEMOPHOÖN, who seems to increase in size; presently she rises and lays him once more on the flaming brands.
My child! Ah, woe! What horror! Slave, begone!
Help! help! My child! In vain I snatch thee up
And strive to dash away these floes of flame
Wider and wider still they seem to spread --
[She flings down the child and runs out, shrieking for help.
Mortals know not the gods till they be fled;
Wrapped in the veil of silence, grief, or age,
They follow unsuspected on man's path.
My darling, my Demophoön, thou must live
And serve me here, grown stronger for this hour,
But I must forth! Alone, ever alone,The great must voyage over stony heights,
And step by step must climb Olympos, ere
The voice of Zeus shall answer! Sweet, farewell!
KELEUS and METANEIRA enter, while DEMETER, about to vanish, rises in her youthful glory and scatters flowers and odors in benediction upon the house.
Mother Demeter, now I know thy face,
Alas, too late! I pray thee hear my prayer!
I did not know my goddess in that garb,
Far hidden under sorrow's dark-blue veil;
Her, ever-youthful, shrouded thus in age!
Hear me, O mother! Stay -- Demophoön --
She is gone! Fools are we: slow to see the good!
Caught, by the glamour of a passing joy,
But dull to prize the jewel, till too late,
Concealed within the stone! O mother, hear!
There by the well where first thy sacred feet
Paused in Eleusis we will build thy shrine,
A holy temple which may shelter thee
And thy fond votaries till Zeus shall hear
Thy prayer and give thee back Persephone.
Meanwhile this child Demophoön shall abide
Thy priest therein; there, from his loins grown strong
With thine own strength, shall flourish through all time
A race of priests which shall adore thy name,
And keep thy temple for a holy place,
Till mortal birth no longer mortal death
Shall follow, from thy hands, forevermore.
DEMETER (alone just before dawn on the desert shore of a vast silent river.)
FATHER HELIOS, through the thick of night,
Above the silver river at my feet,
I see thy rosy messengers return.
Look thou with kindly eyes on me forlorn,
A heart forsaken in a desert land,
And wandering through a night which has no day.
Look tenderly upon me once again,
Though I am gray and wear these dark-blue weeds,
And have forgotten all the tissues fine,
Woven of roses, thou wast wont to love.
But, if thou wilt recall Persephone,
She will adorn her with the flowers of spring.
Her thou wilt love; then will old earth be gay,
Then will the sea and sky rejoice with her,
And gladness take possession! Hear me now.
HELIOS (bending his rays slowly but caressingly upon her; a blush suffuses the whole heaven and the deep of the sea).
Yield, O thou god of darkness, yield the maid!
(A cry of joy is heard, continued and confused, like myriads of waking birds.)
This gladness thrills throughout the upper world.
Now Aïdoneus bids his love return
For a brief space to soothe her mother's heart.
I bear Persephone answer him again,
Up from her couch, swift-rising, with a song;
All nature listens, every bird replies.
PERSEPHONE (dimly heard from afar).
I would away, since thou, my love, dost bid:
Ceaseless I hear my mother's longing cry,
Still do I see her in the dust forlorn;
I would bend over her and bid her live,
Would sing old songs until she too shall sing,
Would laugh a girlish laugh till she shall smile
The old sweet way, bidding the land rejoice.
To her belongs a portion of the fruit,
Pomegranate, which thy love hast given to me,
And eating I have learned to know the seed
Shall fall, the many many seeds shall fall
In the dark earth, then grow again to light.
Speed thee, Persephone, and seek thine own!
Wipe her dull tears away, and bring the joy
Of thy bright presence to the weeping world.
I may not hence with thee, but thou to me,
Dear, shalt return and find thy promised rest.
I hear the stamping horses, swift I go!
And peaceful will return when I shall hear
The peaceful beating of my mother's breast.
For she shall know what calm abides with thee.
Here jealous Helios nor the hand of Zeus
Can make us grieve: here, when the brown leaves fall
And autumn freezes the green upper world,
We do but smile and brood on the new birth
Within the fallen seed; here do we watch
The life that ever lives, yet living, rests,
Thus to renew itself and bring again,
Not the old past, -- ah no! but tenderer yet
The same old beauty with a heart renewed.
Quickly I go, and amaryllis plant
In the same places where last year it bloomed,
That the new heart may bound with the old love.
Away! away, ye steeds! Away! away!
DEMETER enters in the perfect beauty of womanhood, wearing full-blown roses; she leads PERSEPHONE by the hand.
Sit here, my child, and let me gaze on thee!
How softly dance these tendrils of the vine,
These earliest shoots of many a promised joy,
About thy brow; and this illusive veil
The summer of mine eyes would fain disperse,
How gently does it shroud thy tender form.
Ah! gladness of return! What is all bliss,
The whole wide sum the soul may gather in,
Compared to this, thy coming? What was death,
Is life; all being absent is now all
Restored: so deep as grief could sound, so high
Doth joy now climb; once having been mine own,
There is no life, no light, when thou art gone.
Fond mother, say not so! Thou found'st the child
Demophoön, and fed'st thy hungry heart;
Or when that joy was snatched thou still didst feel
A new, keen grace in making others glad.
And this is left to thee, this forever stays,
Though I must go and leave thee; for no more
Can thy warm breast, thy beauty, or the love
Of thy great glory feeding every sense,
Detain me from the world where shadows dwell;
For there is also love, and there is calm.
Speak no more, darling, of the darkness past!
Art thou not here? Are youth and joy not here?
Do not the birds sing and the buds leap out?
Why shouldst thou dwell on sorrows that have been!
Mother, the immortal shadows in their wanderings
Teach us what hath been evermore shall be.
The race of mortals quickly may forget,
But in that shade the seeds put forth again
Which thou, neglectful, hid'st in thy rich heart.
Hence is it sorrow may no longer be
A sorrow there; there do we find again
What love has covered; only such remains;
The seed that is not cherished shall not grow.
Look not on me with thy compassionate eyes!
Thou, love, art here, and gladness is on all;
The west wind waves at will my yellow hair;
The hoary chestnuts blow on yonder hill;
The flower-de-luce is blooming by the stream;
And thou and I may wander all the day.
What more! What more! I ask the gods no more.
I, too, rejoice, my mother, thou being glad!
Brief are the days I may remain with thee,
But glorious in their passing; nor is told
What hour the steeds of Aïdoneus come.
But he is kind, and while the summer moons
Greaten or fade, he stays his solemn call
And leaves us to our gladness.
Art thou not mine!
Then wherefore dost thou bring these darksome thoughts
Into our sunshine!
Am I not also his!
Let me not grieve thee, mother, this sweet day!
Hold me once more upon thy blessed breast,
As when I was a child and knew but thee.
Perchance thou dost not know the world of shades!
I know thou wert stolen and art mine,again;
That with thy coming summer days are ours,
And endless beauty, born of light and love.
Endless! Nay, mother, see yon roses droop
Which. were but now thy pride.
Thou art not a rose!
In the vast kingdom of the shades, where live
The spirits men call dead, we love these flowers
With a deep passion, such as Sorrow plants
In her black mould; and from their faded stem
Springs ever a fresh blossom like to that
Pale Sorrow yields.
I pray, look yonder, see!
A yellow bee upon his purple throne!
Even now the thistle wears a gorgeous robe
To greet thee coming.
Autumn. A forsaken garden. DEMETER and PERSEPHONE.
The ground is strewn with ruins of the year;
One rose remains, late lingerer! Boreas calls!
I shudder at the echoes of his voice!
What would he here? And now the last swan bends
His southward course and flies to Africa.
But hark! Another sound the silence stirs!
The stamping of strange steeds! Ah me! ah me!
My child, my daughter, Aïdoneus comes!
Dear mother! long ago and from afar
I heard the chosen chariot and the steeds,
The impatient messengers of one who waits,
I may not say, weep not! for now thou knowest
I shall return, nor leave thee comfortless;
Thou mayst awake and sing, thou of the dust!
For I shall ever come when buds shall spring,
When the warm seed is quickened in the earth,
When the vines dance and stretch their tendrils forth!
Nor yet the same, but evermore renewed,
With the old love in a diviner form.
I shall return, my mother -- shall return!
DEMETER stands gazing after the chariot which bears her away.
She will return, my darling will return!
Forever changing, evermore the same!
O ye who dwell in dust, awake and sing!
She will return, my darling will return!
Notes by Annie Fields
[Page number from the print edition of Under the Olive.]
PERSEPHONE. (Page 139.)
"Wer jung die Erde verlassen
Wandelt auf ewig jung im Reiche Persephoneia's
Ewig erscheint er jung den Künftigen, ewig ersehnet."
"The central expression of the story of Demeter and Persephone is the Homeric hymn to which Grote assigns a date at least as early as six hundred years before Christ. The one survivor of a whole flight of hymns on this subject, it was written perhaps for one of those contests which took place on the seventh day of the Eleusinian festival, and in which a bunch of ears of corn was the prize; perhaps for actual use in the mysteries themselves by the Hierophantes or Interpreter, who showed to the worshipers at Eleusis those sacred places to which the poem contains so many references..... What follows is an extract from an abbreviated version of this hymn."
"I begin the song of Demeter," says the prize-poet, or the Interpreter of the holy places, "the song of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, whom Aïdoneus carried away, by the consent of Zeus, as she played, apart from her mother, with the deep-bosomed daughters of the Ocean, gathering flowers in a meadow of soft grass, roses, and the crocus, and fair violets, and flags, and hyacinths, and, above all, the strange flower of the Narcissus, which the Earth, favoring the desire of Aïdoneus, brought forth for the first time, to snare the footsteps of the flower-like girl. A hundred heads of blossom grew up from the roots of it, and the sky and the earth and the salt sea were glad at the scent thereof. She stretched forth her hand to take the flower; then the earth opened, and the king of the great nation of the dead sprang out with his immortal horses.....
"Demeter sent upon the earth, in her anger, a year of grievous famine. The dry seed remained hidden in the soil; in vain the oxen drew the ploughshare through the furrows; much white seed-corn fell fruitless on the earth, and the whole human race had like to have perished, and the gods had no more service of men, unless Zeus had interfered. First he sent Iris, afterwards all the gods, one by one, to turn Demeter from her anger; but none was able to persuade her; she heard their words with a hard countenance, and vowed by no means to return to Olympus, nor to Yield the fruit of the earth, until her eyes had seen her lost daughter again. Then, last of all, Zeus sent Hermes into the kingdom of the dead, to persuade Aïdoneus to suffer his bride to return to the light of day. And Hermes found the king at home in his palace, sitting on a couch, beside the shrinking Persephone, consumed within herself by desire for her mother. A doubtful smile passed over the face of Aïdoneus,; yet he obeyed the message, and bade Persephone return; yet praying her a little to have gentle thoughts of him, nor judge him too hardly, who was also an immortal god. And Persephone arose up quickly in great joy; but before she departed, he caused her to eat a morsel of sweet pomegranate, designing secretly thereby that she should not remain always upon earth, but might sometime return to him. And Aïdoneus yoked the horses to his chariot; and Persephone ascended into it; and Hermes took the reins in his hands and drove out through the infernal halls; and the horses ran willingly; and they two quickly passed over the ways of that long journey, neither the waters of the sea, nor of the rivers, nor the deep ravines of the hills, nor the cliffs of the shore, resisting them; till at last Hermes placed Persephone before the door of the temple where her mother was; who, seeing her, ran out quickly to meet her, like a mænad coming down a mountain-side dusky with woods..... So Demeter suffered the earth to yield its fruits once more, and the land was suddenly laden with leaves and flowers and waving corn. Persephone also visited the princes of Eleusis and instructed them in the performance of her sacred rites, -- those mysteries of which no tongue may speak. Only, blessed is he whose eyes have seen them; his lot after death is not as that of other men!" -- From the Myth of Demeter and Persephone, by W. H. PATER.
"In three lines of the Theogony we find the stealing of Persephone by Aïdoneus, one of those things in Hesiod, perhaps, which are really older than Homer. Hesiod has been called the poet of helots, and is thought to have preserved some of the traditions of those earlier inhabitants of Greece who had become a kind of serfs; and in a certain shadowiness in his conception of the gods, contrasting with the concrete and heroic forms of the gods of Homer, we may perhaps trace something of the quiet brooding of a subdued people, -- of that dreamy temper to which the story of Persephone properly belongs. However this may be, it is in Hesiod that the two images, divided in Homer, the goddess of summer and the goddess of death, -- Kore and Persephone, -- are identified with much significance, and that strange dual being makes her first appearance, whose latent capabilities the poets afterwards developed, among the rest, a peculiar blending of those two contrasted aspects, full of purpose for the duly chastened intelligence. Awake, and sing, ye that dwell in the dust." -- THE SAME.
"There is an attractiveness in these goddesses of the earth akin to the influence of cool places, quiet hours, subdued light, tranquillizing voices.... This myth illustrates the power of the Greek religion as a religion of pure ideas, of conceptions, which, having no link on historical fact, yet because they arose naturally out of the spirit of man, and embodied, in adequate symbols, his deepest thoughts concerning the conditions of his physical and spiritual life, maintained their hold through many changes, and are still not-without a solemnizing power even for the modern mind, which has once admitted them as recognized and habitual inhabitants; and abiding thus for the elevation and purifying of our sentiment, long after the earlier and simpler races of their worshipers have passed away, they may be a pledge to us of the place in our culture, at. once legitimate and possible, of the associations, the conceptions, the imagery, of Greek religious poetry in general, -- of the poetry of all religions." -- THE SAME.
Works of Annie Fields