Persephoné: A Lay of Spring

Through the dusky halls of Hadës
        Thrills the echo of a voice,
Full of love, and full of longing:
        ‘Come, and bid my heart rejoice!
Daughter, all the world is barren,
        While I mourn thy long delay!’
It is fond Demeter calling
        On her lost Persephoné.

Sad she leans, the queen of Hadës,
        On the gloomy monarch’s breast,
When upon her fettered senses
        Falls that wail of Earth distrest;
And it woos her latent fancy
        With a dream of days gone by–
And her heart responds in rapture
        To that eager parent-cry!

Gently from the shadowy circle
        Of his arms she lifts her head,
And its youthful beauty lightens
        Even the Kingdom of the Dead.
Half-a-dreaming, yet resistless
        To the voice that bids her come,
Soft she murmurs: ‘Mother calls me;
        Hermes waits to lead me home.’

‘Wilt thou leave me? I have loved thee,
        Held thee dear as queenly wife;
It was Zeus who gave thee to me–
        Life to Death, and Death to Life!’
Still a-dreaming and bewildered,
        ‘Ah!’ she says, complaining low,
‘Hear ye not Demeter calling?
        King and husband, let me go!’

Lingeringly he yields his darling,
        But she leaves the Shadow-land
With his spell upon her spirit,
        With his chain upon her hand.
‘She will come again,’ he whispers,
        ‘And our union earth must own;
Young Life drawn from Death’s embraces
        Will return to share his throne!’

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Pure and queenly, all immortal,
        Stands she ’neath her native skies:
Cloud and sunbeam, dew and rainbow,
        Mingle in her lucid eyes:
Fitful smiles and vivid blushed
        Blend to banish every tear,
And, like lute, her tender accents
        Fall upon Demeter’s ear:

‘Mother, from the heart of Hadës
        I have come again to thee!’–
Desert wide and boundless welkin,
        Grove and valley, hill and sea,
All the animate creation,
        All the haunts of listening day,
Echo with Demeter’s answer:
        ‘Hail, my child Persphoné!’

Lo! the world awakes to rapture;
        Love rejoices, gods are glad,
Flowers unfold around her footfalls,
        Youth in virgin garb is clad;
All the Muses chant a welcome;
        Nymph and Naïad swell the strain;
Dancing sunbeams, laughing waters,
        Aid the triumph of her train.

Where she moves, a magic whisper
        Stirs the world to wanton mirth;
Winter flies before her presence;
        Forms of beauty find new birth;
Nature’s languid pulses flutter
        With the fervid breath of Spring,
Zephyrs tell to opening blossoms:
        ‘Eros comes to reign as king!’

Ah! while life breaks forth in music,
        Emerald hues, and heavenly light,
Warmth, and love, and fairest promise,
        Still a vision of the night
Glides athwart the happy Present,
        Vague as harvest hopes in May;
’Tis a dream of gloomy Hadës
        Haunts the young Persephoné!

So, to Mother Earth she falters:
        ‘Though thy daughter, still his wife.
Zeus decrees in kingly fashion,
        Death shall hold the hand of Life:
Zeus decrees, and in one circle
        Life and Death doth still combine.
Though I crown thee with my beauty,
        Though my soul is part of thine,
Yet the mighty Hadës holds me
        By a power that is divine.

‘But, sweet mother, Life can only
        Be withdrawn. It never dies.
From the heart of sombre Hadës,
        At thy call I will arise.
Year by year thy eager summons
        Shall have power to break the chain,
All in all her youthful glory,
        Will thy daughter come again.

‘Yet, because his spell must ever
        Lie upon my charmèd soul,
He, the gloomy Lord of Shadows,
        Shall my wayward will control.
As I heard thee call, my mother,
        So his call I must obey;
Even here shall come his mandate,
        And I may not answer nay.
Ah! when harvest fruits are garnered,
        Mourn thy child Persephoné.’

[Original Note] Persephoné, according to the Greek mythology, was the daughter of Zeus (the Heavens) and Demeter (the Earth). Various legends are related of her, one of the later and most beautiful being that, when young, she was carried off by Pluto (ruler of the spirits of the dead), and by him made Queen of Hadës (the nether world). Her mother, in agony at her loss, searched for her all over the earth with torches, until at last she discovered her abode. The gods, moved by the mother’s distress, sent a messenger to bring Persephoné back, and Pluto consented to let her go on condition that she returned and spent a portion of every year with him. From this, Persephoné became among the ancients the symbol of Spring, her disappearance to the lower world coinciding with winter, and her reappearance in the upper world bringing back vegetable life and beauty.

Source: Chambers Edinburgh Journal 3.114 (6 March 1886): 160.
(Available in ProQuest database)

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