Demeter and Persephone
Faint as a climate-changing bird that flies All night across the darkness, and at dawn Falls on the threshold of her native land, And can no more, thou camest, O my child, Led upward by the God of ghosts and dreams, Who laid thee at Eleusis, dazed and dumb, With passing thro' at once from state to state, Until I brought thee hither, that the day, When here thy hands let fall the gather'd flower, Might break thro' clouded memories once again On thy lost self. A sudden nightingale Saw thee, and flash'd into a frolic of song And welcome; and a gleam as of the moon, When first she peers along the tremulous deep, Fled wavering o'er thy face, and chased away That shadow of a likeness to the king Of shadows, thy dark mate. Persephone! Queen of the dead no more -- my child! Thine eyes Again were human-godlike, and the Sun Burst from a swimming fleece of winter gray, And robed thee in his day from head to feet -- "Mother!" and I was folded in thine arms. Child, those imperial, disimpassion'd eyes Awed even me at first, thy mother -- eyes That oft had seen the serpent-wanded power Draw downward into Hades with his drift Of fickering spectres, lighted from below By the red race of fiery Phlegethon; But when before have Gods or men beheld The Life that had descended re-arise, And lighted from above him by the Sun? So mighty was the mother's childless cry, A cry that ran thro' Hades, Earth, and Heaven! So in this pleasant vale we stand again, The field of Enna, now once more ablaze With flowers that brighten as thy footstep falls, All flowers -- but for one black blur of earth Left by that closing chasm, thro' which the car Of dark Aidoneus rising rapt thee hence. And here, my child, tho' folded in thine arms, I feel the deathless heart of motherhood Within me shudder, lest the naked glebe Should yawn once more into the gulf, and thence The shrilly whinnyings of the team of Hell, Ascending, pierce the glad and songful air, And all at once their arch'd necks, midnight-maned, Jet upward thro' the mid-day blossom. No! For, see, thy foot has touch'd it; all the space Of blank earth-baldness clothes itself afresh, And breaks into the crocus-purple hour That saw thee vanish. Child, when thou wert gone, I envied human wives, and nested birds, Yea, the cubb'd lioness; went in search of thee Thro' many a palace, many a cot, and gave Thy breast to ailing infants in the night, And set the mother waking in amaze To find her sick one whole; and forth again Among the wail of midnight winds, and cried, "Where is my loved one? Wherefore do ye wail?" And out from all the night an answer shrill'd, "We know not, and we know not why we wail." I climb'd on all the cliffs of all the seas, And ask'd the waves that moan about the world "Where? do ye make your moaning for my child?" And round from all the world the voices came "We know not, and we know not why we moan." "Where?" and I stared from every eagle-peak, I thridded the black heart of all the woods, I peer'd thro' tomb and cave, and in the storms Of Autumn swept across the city, and heard The murmur of their temples chanting me, Me, me, the desolate Mother! "Where"? -- and turn'd, And fled by many a waste, forlorn of man, And grieved for man thro' all my grief for thee, -- The jungle rooted in his shatter'd hearth, The serpent coil'd about his broken shaft, The scorpion crawling over naked skulls; -- I saw the tiger in the ruin'd fane Spring from his fallen God, but trace of thee I saw not; and far on, and, following out A league of labyrinthine darkness, came On three gray heads beneath a gleaming rift. "Where"? and I heard one voice from all the three "We know not, for we spin the lives of men, And not of Gods, and know not why we spin! There is a Fate beyond us." Nothing knew. Last as the likeness of a dying man, Without his knowledge, from him flits to warn A far-off friendship that he comes no more, So he, the God of dreams, who heard my cry, Drew from thyself the likeness of thyself Without thy knowledge, and thy shadow past Before me, crying "The Bright one in the highest Is brother of the Dark one in the lowest, And Bright and Dark have sworn that I, the child Of thee, the great Earth-Mother, thee, the Power That lifts her buried life from loom to bloom, Should be for ever and for evermore The Bride of Darkness." So the Shadow wail'd. Then I, Earth-Goddess, cursed the Gods of Heaven. I would not mingle with their feasts; to me Their nectar smack'd of hemlock on the lips, Their rich ambrosia tasted aconite. The man, that only lives and loves an hour, Seem'd nobler than their hard Eternities. My quick tears kill'd the flower, my ravings hush'd The bird, and lost in utter grief I fail'd To send my life thro' olive-yard and vine And golden grain, my gift to helpless man. Rain-rotten died the wheat, the barley-spears Vere hollow-husk'd, the leaf fell, and the sun, Pale at my grief, drew down before his time Sickening, and tna kept her winter snow. Then He, the brother of this Darkness, He Who still is highest, glancing from his height On earth a fruitless fallow, when he miss'd The wonted steam of sacrifice, the praise And prayer of men, decreed that thou should'st dwell For nine white moons of each whole year with me, Three dark ones in the shadow with thy King. Once more the reaper in the gleam of dawn Will see me by the landmark far away, Blessing his field, or seated in the dusk Of even, by the lonely threshing-floor, Rejoicing in the harvest and the grange. Yet I, Earth-Goddess, am but ill-content With them, who still are highest. Those gray heads, What meant they by their "Fate beyond the Fates" But younger kindlier Gods to bear us down, As we bore down the Gods before us? Gods, To quench, not hurl the thunderbolt, to stay, Not spread the plague, the famine; Gods indeed, To send the noon into the night and break The sunless halls of Hades into Heaven? Till thy dark lord accept and love the Sun, And all the Shadow die into the Light, When thou shalt dwell the whole bright year with me, And souls of men, who grew beyond their race, And made themselves as Gods against the fear Of Death and Hell; and thou that hast from men, As Queen of Death, that worship which is Fear, Henceforth, as having risen from out the dead, Shalt ever send thy life along with mine From buried grain thro' springing blade, and bless Their garner'd Autumn also, reap with me, Earth-mother, in the harvest hymns of Earth The worship which is Love, and see no more The Stone, the Wheel, the dimly-glimmering lawns Of that Elysium, all the hateful fires Of torment, and the shadowy warrior glide Along the silent field of Asphodel.
Alfred Tennyson’s other poems:
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