Persephone (Bridges)

Persephone demeter robert bridges play poem illustration

Acrylic on board, 29.7 x 21 cm. 2020.

Persephone was goddess of vegetal fertility and Spring. As a carefree maiden, she was abducted by Hades and forced to become the queen of the underworld. Although her enraged mother, Demeter, managed to convince Zeus that she should be restored to the realm of the living, she was required to return to Hades for half of every year, during which time—Winter—the land would wither.

Robert Bridges, in his play Demeter, is especially interested in the way Persephone combines in herself the greatest innocence and brightness with the greatest coldness and darkness. Artemis and Athena, martial and high-minded, regard her youthful love of flowers with condescension. But when Hades bids her enter the Cave of Cacophasia, in which she is initiated into the "mystery of evil," she acquires a depth of spirit that also deepens the tragic significance of the transient growth, warmth and beauty that she represents.

Her mother asks her to describe what she saw inside the Cave:

     PER. . . . Outside the darkness was

  But as accumulated sunlessness;

  Within 'twas positive as light itself,

  A blackness that extinguished: Yet I knew,

  For Hades told me, that I was to see;

  And so I waited, till a forking flash

  Of sudden lightning dazzlingly reveal'd

  All at a glance. As on a pitchy night

  The warder of some high acropolis 

  Looks down into the dark, and suddenly

  Sees all the city with its roofs and streets,

  Houses and walls, clear as in summer noon,

  And ere he think of it, 'tis dark again,—

  So I saw all within the Cave, and held

  The vision, 'twas so burnt upon my senses.

     DEM. What saw'st thou, child? what saw'st thou?

     PER. Nay, the things

  Not to be told, because there are no words

  Of gods or men to paint the inscrutable 

  And full initiation of Hell.—I saw

  The meaning and the reason of all things,

  All at a glance, and in that glance perceiv'd

  The origin of all things to be evil,

  And the end evil: that what seems as good

  Is as a bloom of gold that spread thereo'er

  May, by one stroke of the hand,

  Be brush'd away, and leave the ill beneath

  Solid and foul and black. . . . 

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