“A Myth on Devotion”
Posted October 1, 2007on:
After reading both poems, “A Myth on Innocence” and “A Myth on Devotion”, despite Hades’ largely indubitable, loving tone expressed in the second, it’s Persephone’s uncertainty that my reaction more closely resembled. They both have such divergent perspectives on their lot that it is questionable whether they could ever come to a common position; and if they did, could it be on equal footing. In “A Myth of Devotion” it is clear that Hades holds all knowledge. He spies on her, has time to anticipate and make plans for the abduction and to reflect on the relationship’s long term prospects. In “A Myth of Innocence” Persephone was caught completely off guard and post-abduction does not even retain a complete memory of the event. Because of the plan’s premeditated nature the poem’s scope is wider, reaching long before the pivotal event and containing some speculation about the future. Persephone’s poem is primarily concerned with the motivations, actions and implications immediately surrounding the event.
The god of the Underworld’s decisive, go-getter mentality is established in the first sentence:
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.
In comparison to the first stanza in “A Myth of Innocence” this one has a steadier, more consistent rhythm. In the next he mentions that his duplicate earth included sunlight. Intriguingly enough Persephone only mentions the earthly original: her memories of being taken under are associated with a chill darkness. An echo of that is in the line “it would be hard on a young girl/ to go so quickly from bright light to utter darkness.” (Say that last bit out loud because the vowels really emphasize the difference between the two states.)
What I see as a common feature in Glück’s poems is the way sentence structure is intimately linked to tone or mood. When any of her characters display any insecurity, the sentences get longer and one may take up one or more stanzas, the sizes of which also increase. It works to a heightened effect here because Hades’ dominant, definite tone, expressed with comparatively short stanzas with single sentences, or longer ones with several, gives way to a longer stanza mostly comprised of one one sentence. For example, the third stanza ends with two complete sentences, in addition to others before. They lend a finality, a nice finishing touch to his thoughts that persuade one to think that events have already happened as foreseen, before they occurred. (The fifth stanza, expressing similar determination, has a similar structure.)
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.
He breaks form in the fourth by asking a question, the only one of his that’s given the conventional punctuation: “Doesn’t everyone want love?” He pulls back in the sixth, his questions more subdued and restrained (see “October“) after that revealing moment. but the long sentence and the hyphen at the end where he breaks off give clues to his emotional state.
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 —
The diction does as well, with the directional metaphor — “compass, polestar” — give the impression that he, a god, needs some kind of guidance from “a simple girl”. Another interesting thing here is the inadvertent irony of his poignant thoughts. He wants to feel alive, and so needs a lover beside him to confirm his existence. We are privy to his fantasies, his airy castles which Glück quickly punctures in the next stanza by reminding the reader of his dominion, which is death. To achieve some new vitality in his life he must, in a certain sense, kill her to get it. Her sensual curiosity that he observed during his reconnaissance which he used to reassure himself that she’ll be as open to other new experiences would be curtailed once she moved to the Underworld.
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 imagines them.
I considered why Glück would give Death such a romantic, sympathetic depiction. The engaging (and probably very obvious) conclusion was that it was played a part in one of Averno‘s prominent themes, that is the reconciliation with death, the removal of its horrifying, hostile stereotype. So she casts him in this myth as Persephone’s charismatic lover. In a larger sense, death is something of a more benevolent force, or if not that, is at least not a negative entity, is not an enigma that need be set up as alien to life. Hades inability to grasp how different life would be for Persephone is not only due to a seducer’s myopic point of view, but a delineation of death’s limits, in the same way we, as living beings, cannot completely understand death. Neither is an omniscient force.
The poem ends on an ambiguous note, despite the supposed truth expressed in the last few lines.
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.
What is the lie and the truth? Is it that love cannot absolutely guard one from pain, ceding to death that power? Or that a pronouncement on her mortal state rather that on his amorous emotions would be a more accurate description? Glück is never content with simple tales.