Friday, June 06, 2008
I've been mulling over Ruth Pitter's 800 line poem Persephone in Hades recently.
Despite having studied Classics at uni I don't feel that Greek and Roman myths and legends are part of my personal cultural heritage (I preferred the history, architecture and philosophy side), maybe it's because I never got to study it at school where we did the Vikings instead and I feel more of an affinity with Viking mythology.
Anyway, I'm not particularly predisposed to modern poems about Greek mythology but something grabbed me in the section of Pitter's poem available on the Happenstance website where I purchased it.
This poem was first published for private circulation in 1931 (only 100 copies printed) and until now, has never been reprinted. It is prefaced by Helena Nelson ( editor of Happenstance) who doesn't shy from pointing out the archaic language employed by Pitter throughout the poem. Yet despite the subject-matter and, at times, archaic language, this is a beautiful and engaging piece of work.
This is no flowery retelling of an old myth but beautiful, dark and powerful writing.
Here's some of my favorite lines in the poem:
'What is love's counterpart? Answer, Love only'
'The chilly mist that drifted in from the sea / hung in her hair'
'The pale urns of the autumn crocuses / admired her feet'
'upon the sable air
a powdered silver hung, as when the moon
before she rises, sends a herald light
to gild the naked shoulder of the hill.'
'the trees / naked from winter, shining like golden wire'
'and the fire of love
confessed in spangles; then became a sea
carnation-crested, with a myriad waves
each moment in vermilion deeper dyed'