The Tears of the Gods

An ancient fable tells of how the gods rose from the main
Of azure deep of Ocean and all Being they surveyed
How Sun he warmed the stones, how the vibrant verdure swayed
How tawny bees rejoice to homeward wing with pollen’s stain.
The gods then smiled themselves and took to shining atmosphere
And took up their positions on the distant clouds and stars
They peopled rings of Saturn and the russet seat of Mars
Satisfied with what the Sun had wrought in all his cheer.
They still returned from time to time to see the shores and groves
Of their ancestral planet and to take delight therein
To wander mountain paths and to frolic in the glen
To talk with sundry animals who batten in their coves.
But then one day the gods they came no more to Earth’s domain
But nonetheless they watched it from th’ ethereal realm of spheres
Feeling no more welcome in the rolling of the years
They hold to their astral abodes and will not come again.
And who can blame them? They still shine on softly in the night
And one surmises that they are not in the least impressed
With what the creatures of a day have done to all the rest
Of nature’s trove by leaving in their wake a trail of blight.
It is as though a child, anticipating Christmas games,
Awakes and finds his presents waiting underneath the tree,
And perusing them, decides ‘These gifts aren’t suitable for me!’
And casually tosses gifts prepared with love into the flames.
So if the theory holds that elder gods arose one day
From the Ocean’s channels that all forms of life disclosed
Then it must surely be that lakes and rivers are composed
Of the tears that those same gods weep for humanity today.

 

Snow

The crystals glitter brightly
Celestial wings are driven
And through the air they flutter
Before our eyes

Seeds of imagination
Breathe life into the flurries
And sing unto the heavens
Of what they know

And what they know is secret
The Terpsichorean artistry
Of shells reanimated
And given life

And bitter blasts of Zephyr
They cleave the azure firmament
And drive headlong the flurries’
Chaotic patterns

The mighty sun shines weakly
And hangs low in the heavens
Reminder to the clear sky
Of latent life

The whirling flakes are gleaming
With brilliant machinations
And in their proper timing
Unknown by all

Remind us of Khione
Within her reliquary
She calls to life the flurries
And drives them on

So children in their pile caps
Their great coats and their mittens
May in the snow be smitten
With nature’s call.

 

The Wanderer

Not all those who wander are lost. -Tolkien

According to the usual legends, Orpheus had been commanded not to look upon Eurydice until they had achieved the world of light above; if he did so, she would fall back into death, and permanently this time. Once he was in the light himself, Orpheus then looked back upon his wife, who still stood upon the threshold of the Underworld, and so he lost her once again. The poet was forever after inconsolable.

 

Helios* cleaves the black of firmament
And puts to rout the stars, his stallions bent
Their course to essay from the Ocean’s main
And thence the heights of heaven to attain.
And stands upon the ruin of the night
A wandering bard bereft by Death’s chill blight
And looking ‘round through saddened eyes he sees
The briny surf, the rocky hills, the trees
Reviewing for the last time nature’s trove
Before he turns into the sacred grove
And turns his final course in pure distress
Into the noxious maw of Erebus*.
As bold Helios mounts the peak of sky
Ever downward does the bard now fly
And ever downward till he lights upon
The lowest plain of lowest Acheron*.
He breathes in noxious vapors in the gloom
Where incorporeal phantoms shriek their doom
And drawn to his life’s warmth, the shades of those
Who no more see the light his trek oppose
And seek to drag him to the dismal flood
Of Acheron where he can pay with blood
The price of his impertinent intrusion
But the witless shades he sunders in confusion
Their strengthless hands his sinews cannot grasp
Nor body can their weightless fingers clasp
The shades they shriek in pain and fury then
As when the fawn is dragged to lion’s den
His mother stomps around, and bleats, and cries
But can do nothing while the yearling dies.
So too the shades* now cry out their dismay
That the living to the Underworld do stray
That a pumping heart—so near!—they cannot touch
And hot life’s blood is just beyond their clutch.
The bard them quells the shades with baleful song
And charms away the longing of the throng
As when the wailing of Merope* ceased
When her sisters took the forms of trees
And tears to amber then were crystallized
And no more cry from their lungs could be prised—
As what was quick was rendered cold and hard,
The shades fell silent, baffled by the bard.
On he journeys past the frozen gyre
Where wailing of Cocytus* rises higher
And past the black and uninviting fall
Of Tartaros*, whose dungeons do enthrall
The titans who rebelled against the might
Of Zeus, and past whose borne no ray of light
May illuminate the prison walls,
Where Kronos, they say, continuously falls.
But he ignores these wonders and keeps on
Until he comes to boiling Phlegethon*
Where rolling pitch confers shades to their doom
And scorches them within their fiery tomb.
The smell of sulfur wafts upon the air
Combined with stench of burning flesh and hair
Of those condemned by Minos* to be burned,
Who in the rolling pitch could be discerned.
Into the valleys now the bard descends
By hateful Styx* where Charon* ever sends
The shades of those who did receive above
A fitting burial sanctified with love,
Across the Styx and to the shores of Night
To have their judgment in great Minos’ sight.
Some he sends to burn in Phlegethon,
Some to torment by grim Acheron
Some will freeze in ice of Cocytus,
The worst are lost in black of Tartaros.
Yet there is hope for these, except the last:
For once their time of punishment is past,
The shades may drink from Lethe* and flee the night,
And go above once more to see the light.
Or so some say. But to the east is light—
Elysian fields lie just beyond his sight!
Elysium where, they say, the just find rest
Since they led blameless lives, when Fate did wrest
Their lives from them they were allotted peace
In the world below without surcease.
In the soft hills of that verdant spring
They say that death was profit with no sting
And I have heard that they don wreaths of flowers
Entwining hands, they celebrate life’s powers.
But turning thence, he wonders through the pale
And thoughtless midnight howling through that vale
Scattering ghosts encountered on his path
The enchanting lyre dispelling death’s dire wrath
He pities those he sees, and gnaws his heart
With dread to think of his poor wife apart
From him and so his face a teardrop streaks—
But nowhere does he see her whom he seeks.
And coming then to Hades’ iron keep
On lowest sands of Styx there in the deep
He charms the guards with soporific song,
His lyre undoes the gates and, waxing strong,
He steals his way along its corridors,
The choking purple gloom seeps in his pores,
Ensorceling his eyes but dares he not
To give in to the cold of winter’s rot—
Not and leave his wife’s grim fate unfought,
Not and leave Eurydice* unsought!
The ghastly king of hell sits on this throne
And whiles away the hours like a stone
Trying to remember days of yore
The green of trees, the salty warmth of shore
But cannot quite recall their vibrant glow.
Persephone*, she conjures thoughts of woe
The pain of mere existence and despairs
Her face worn down by centuries of cares
Once beautiful, now all she sees, she hates.
And rousing then as if from darkened fates,
The king and queen hear baleful melody
Throughout the castle halls so recently
Bereft of life, but color now returns
To graying walls and dust-eroded urns
The bard approaches, singing death to life—
And pleads infernal mercy for his wife.
He sings of Zeus’s rain and summer’s peach
And lazy days spent on the sun-drenched beach
And crops that at the summer’s end are found,
Then nature steals once more beneath the ground.
He sings the blasts of winter that assail
The walls of humble cabins with their gale
But within, a cozy scene is set
As life will not the earth’s decrease abet—
Gay faces are aglow with fireside’s cheer
And solemnly hail the turning of the year.
He sings the strength of lions on the plains
Who catch gazelles and feast through bloodied manes
Who gulp down all the guts and greedily
Drink up their black blood by the Fates’ decree:
That life must feed on life is manifest
To live, one must another life arrest.
He also sings the wolves who howl at night
To give the children in their beds a fright
And of the dragons soaring through the skies
Their barbed tails and their glittering, emerald eyes
And great sea monsters, sounding Triton’s deep
Where ancient tombs of kings now lie asleep.
He sings the flowers of springtime and the bees
Which hail the reappearance of the trees
And break the adamantine hearts who hear
And recall the springtime of their life’s own year.
‘It cannot be,’ quoth he, ‘that she no more
‘will look upon the golden tract of shore
‘nor celebrate ethereal paths of air
‘where Zeus’s eagles the heights of heaven dare,
‘nor that she will no longer see the moon
‘nor play with me on green hilltops in June
‘nor hear the soft cry of the bird bereft
‘of offspring, nor the sound of hearts now cleft
‘in twain, the cause of which is hateful death,
‘when life is done, no longer drawing breath—
‘No, sooner take me now, forever silence
‘this my lyre, put song to rest with violence.’
The years came flooding back into their faces,
Erasing years of death and wrought the traces
Of springtime rolling ‘round again in its time—
Non-existence put to flight by rhyme.
The king, though moved, was firm in his decree:
‘A mortal girl, moved hence? This cannot be!
‘She with us stays, but I have not the heart
‘to take you now, so leave this place: depart!’
The queen then placed her hand upon the chin
Of her dread lord, and softly spoke to him,
‘Husband, recall you now those ancient days
‘when you took me, and went your kingly ways—
‘Recall, you loved me once, and did decree
‘the world is how you wanted it to be.’
Great Hades sighed, and dropped his countenance,
And raised his right hand, sign of his assent.
And bowing low, the bard then did retire
From the house of Night and plucked his lyre,
To summon her for whom he had risked all,
When by her river, Mnemosyne* did call.
‘This river, twin of Lethe, do I guard,
‘reminding those in this infernal yard
‘of what they have experienced while above
‘of joy and heartbreak, misery and love.
‘Before they go once more to upper air
‘they drink from Lethe, and so forget despair
‘and consider her a blessing, me a curse—
‘I say it is not so, I reimburse
‘you for the choices that in life you made.
‘Now, here, remember, is Eurydice’s shade.’
He remembered her to him, and she appeared
And up they made their course as Helios steered
His steeds of fire down toward the western sea
And vanished from sight, but not from memory.
Eurydice, they say, then fell once more
Rejoining the shades on Styx’s gloomy shore,
When Orpheus* did turn to look at her—
One moment too soon, the fool, he did not learn.
And so the story goes that poetry
Is born of sadness, and things that cannot be
That sooner or later, love is lost, and then
Poets do their plaintive songs begin.
I abjure it! and I bid you, stay,
And entertain the reason why that day
The bard began to fill the air with song
That moveth sticks and stones and rights the wrong
Done to the earth by man’s frivolity
That pushes tons of garbage to the sea.
It was not loss! No, but Mnemosyne
Of things that are, not things that cannot be.
And so the song continues to this day,
Each time Helios showers us with his ray.

Helios: The personification of the sun. Helios draws his chariot across the sky each day from the eastern ocean to the western, pulled by steeds of fire.

Erebus: Primordial god of darkness, or possibly the entrance to the Underworld itself.

Acheron: A river in the Underworld, specifically the River of Pain.

Cocytus: The River of Wailing in the Underworld, sometimes thought to be frozen.

Tartaros: A dungeon pit below the Underworld where many of the worst offenders against the gods are put to be eternally punished.

Phlegethon: A river in the Underworld, whose name means “burning” in Greek.

Shades: Ghosts

Minos: The legendary king of Crete who became judge of the dead after his death.

Styx: the River of hatred in the Underworld, and the first normally encountered by those making their way thither. Charon will ferry souls across who have received burial rites; those who have not must wander aimlessly until they are buried.

Hades and Persephone are the king and queen of the Underworld. Hades, too, had unlawfully taken his own wife in his day and stolen away with her.

Mnemosyne: The River of memory in the Underworld, and also the personification of memory.

Lethe: Two syllables for meter. The River of Forgetfulness in the Underworld, from which persons returning to life once more in a new incarnation must drink, so as not to remember their former lives.

 

 

 

Featured Image: “Helios as Personification of Midday,” by Anton Raphael Mengs.

 

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