Edith Wharton Poems >>
Pomegranate Seed

DEMETER PERSEPHONE
HECATE HERMES
In the vale of Elusis


DEMETER

Hail, goddess, from the midmost caverned vale
Of Samothracia, where with darksome rites
Unnameable, and sacrificial lambs,
Pale priests salute thy triple-headed form,
Borne hither by swift Hermes o'er the sea:
Hail, Hecate, what word soe'er thou bring
To me, undaughtered, of my vanished child.


HECATE

Word have I, but no Samothracian wild
Last saw me, and mine aged footsteps pine
For the bleak vale, my dusky-pillared house,
And the cold murmur of incessant rites
Forever falling down mine altar-steps
Into black pools of fear . . . for I am come
Even now from that blue-cinctured westward isle,
Trinacria, where, till thou withheldst thy face,
Yearly three harvests yellowed to the sun,
And vines deep-laden yoked the heavier boughs --
Trinacria, that last saw Persephone.


DEMETER

Now, triune goddess, may the black ewe-lambs
Pour a red river down thine altar-steps,
Fruit, loaves and honey, at the cross-roads laid,
With each young moon by pious hands renewed,
Appease thee, and the Thracian vale resound
With awful homage to thine oracle!
What bring'st thou of Persephone, my child?


HECATE

Thy daughter lives, yet never sees the sun.


DEMETER

Blind am I in her blindness. Tell no more.


HECATE

Blind is she not, and yet beholds no light.


DEMETER

Dark as her doom is, are thy words to me.


HECATE

When the wild chariot of the flying sea
Bore me to Etna, 'neath his silver slope

Herding their father's flocks three maids I found,
The daughters of the god whose golden house
Rears in the east its cloudy peristyle.
"Helios, our father," to my quest they cried,
"Was last to see Persephone on earth."


DEMETER

On earth? What nameless region holds her now?


HECATE

Even as I put thy question to the three,
Etna became as one who knows a god,
And wondrously, across the waiting deep,
Wave after wave the golden portent bore,
Till Helios rose before us.


DEMETER

O, I need
Thy words as the parched valleys need my rain!


HECATE

May the draught slake thee! Thus the god replied:
When the first suns of March with verdant flame
Relume the fig-trees in the crannied hills,
And the pale myrtle scents the rain-washed air --
Ere oleanders down the mountain stream
Pass the wild torch of summer, and my kine
Breathe of gold gorse and honey-laden sage;
Between the first white flowering of the bay
And the last almond's fading from the hill,
Along the fields of Enna came a maid
Who seemed among her mates to move alone,
As the full moon will mow the sky of stars,
And whom, by that transcendence, I divined
Of breed Olympian, and Demeter's child.


DEMETER

All-seeing god! So walks she in my dreams.


HECATE

Persephone (so spake the god of day)
Ran here and there with footsteps that out-shone
The daffodils she gathered, while her maids,
Like shadows of herself by noon fore-shortened,
On every side her laughing task prolonged;
When suddenly the warm and trusted earth
Widened black jaws beneath them, and therefrom
Rose Aides, whom with averted head
Pale mortals worship, as the poplar turns,
Whitening, her fearful foliage from the gale.
Like thunder rolling up against the wind
He dusked the sky with midnight ere he came,
Whirling his cloak of subterraneous cloud
In awful coils about the fated maid,
Till nothing marked the place where she had stood
But her dropped flowers -- a garland on a grave.


DEMETER

Where is that grave? There will I lay me down,
And know no more the change of night to day.


HECATE

Such is the cry that mortal mothers make;
But the sun rises, and their task goes on.


DEMETER

Yet happier they, that make an end at last.


HECATE

Behold, along the Eleusinian vale
A god approaches, by his feathered tread
Arcadian Hermes. Wait upon his word.


DEMETER

I am a god. What do the gods avail?


HECATE

Oft have I heard that cry -- but not the answer.


HERMES

Demeter, from Olympus am I come,
By laurelled Tempe and Thessalian ways,
Charged with grave words of aegis-bearing Zeus.


DEMETER
( as if she has not heard him)
If there be any grief I have not borne,
Go, bring it here, and I will give it suck . . .


HERMES

Thou art a god, and speakest mortal words?


DEMETER

Even the gods grow greater when they love.


HERMES

It is the Life-giver who speaks by me.


DEMETER

I want no words but those my child shall speak.


HERMES

His words are winged seeds that carry hope
To root and ripen in long-barren hearts.


DEMETER

Deeds, and not words, alone can quicken me.


HERMES

His words are fruitfuller than deeds of men.
Why hast thou left Olympus, and thy kind?


DEMETER

Because my kind are they that walk the earth
For numbered days, and lay them down in graves.
My sisters are the miserable women
Who seek their children up and down the world,
Who feel a babe's hand at the faded breast,
And live upon the words of lips gone dumb.
Sorrow no footing on Olympus finds,
And the gods are gods because their hearts forget.


HERMES

Why then, since thou hast cast thy lot with those
Who painfully endure vain days on earth,
Hast thou, harsh arbitress of fruit and flower,
Cut off the natural increase of the fields?
The baffled herds, tongues lolling, eyes agape,
Range wretchedly from sullen spring to spring,
A million sun-blades lacerate the ground,
And the shrunk fruits untimely drop, like tears
That Earth at her own desolation sheds.
These are the words Zeus bids me bring to thee.


DEMETER

To whom reply: No pasture longs for rain
As for Persephone I thirst and hunger.
Give me my child, and all the earth shall laugh
Like Rhodian rose-fields in the eye of June.


HERMES

What if such might were mine? What if, indeed,
The exorable god, thy pledge confirmed,
Should yield thee back the daughter of thy tears?


DEMETER

Such might is thine?
Beyond Cithaeron, see
The footsteps of the rain upon the hills.


HERMES

Tell me whence thy daughter must be led.


HECATE

So much at least it shall be mine to do.
If ever urgency hath plumed thy heels,
By Psyttaleia and the outer isles
Westward still winging thine ethereal way,
Beyond the moon-swayed reaches of the deep,
And that unvestiged midnight that confines
The verge of being, succourable god,
Haste to the river by whose sunless brim
Dark Aides leads forth his languid flocks.
There shalt thou find Persephone enthroned.
Beside the ruler of the dead she sits,
And shares, unwilling, his long sovereignty.
Thence lead her to Demeter and these groves.


DEMETER

Round thy returning feet the earth shall laugh
As I, when of my body she was born!


HECATE

Lo, thy last word is as a tardy shaft
Lost in his silver furrow. Ere thou speed
Its fellow, we shall see his face again
And not alone. The gods are justified.


DEMETER

Ah, how impetuous are the wings of joy!
Swift comes she, as impatient to be gone!
Swifter than yonder rain moves down the pass
I see the wonder run along the deep.
The light draws nearer. . . . Speak to me, my child!


HECATE

I feel the first slow rain-drop on my hand . . .
She fades. Persephone comes, led by Hermes.


PERSEPHONE

How sweet the hawthorn smells along the hedge . . .
And, mother, mother, sweeter are these tears.


DEMETER

Pale art thou, daughter, and upon thy brow
Sits an estranging darkness like a crown.
Look up, look up! Drink in the light's new wine.
Feelest thou not beneath thine alien feet
Earth's old endearment, O Persephone?


PERSEPHONE

Dear is the earth's warm pressure under foot,
And dear, my mother, is thy hand in mine.
As one who, prisoned in some Asian wild,
After long days of cheated wandering
Climbing a sudden cliff, at last beholds
The boundless reassurance of the sea,
And on it one small sail that sets for home,
So look I on the daylight, and thine eyes.


DEMETER

Thy voice is paler than the lips it leaves.
Thou wilt not stay with me! I know my doom.


PERSEPHONE

Ah, the sweet rain! The clouds compassionate!
Hide me, O mother, hide me from the day!


DEMETER

What are these words? It is my love thou fearest.


PERSEPHONE

I fear the light. I fear the sound of life
That thunders in mine unaccustomed ears.


DEMETER

Here is no sound but the soft-falling rain.


PERSEPHONE

Dost thou not hear the noise of birth and being,
The roar of sap in boughs impregnated,
And all the deafening rumour of the grass?


DEMETER

Love hear I, at his endless task of life.


PERSEPHONE

The awful immortality of life!
The white path winding deathlessly to death!
Why didst thou call the rain from out her caves
To draw a dying earth back to the day?
Why fatten flocks for our dark feast, who sit
Beside the gate, and know where the path ends?
O pitiless gods -- that I am one of you!


DEMETER

They are not pitiless, since thou art here.


PERSEPHONE

Who am I, that they give me, or withhold?
Think'st thou I am that same Persephone
They took from thee?


DEMETER

Within thine eyes I see
Some dreadful thing --


PERSEPHONE

At first I deemed it so.


DEMETER

Loving thy doom, more dark thou mak'st it seem.


PERSEPHONE

Love? What is love? This long time I've unlearned
Those old unquiet words. There where we sit,
By the sad river of the end, still are
The poplars, still the shaken hearts of men,
Or if they stir, it is as when in sleep
Dogs sob upon a phantom quarry's trail.
And ever through their listlessness there runs
The lust of some old anguish; never yet
Hath any asked for happiness: that gift
They fear too much! But they would sweat and strive,
And clear a field, or kill a man, or even
Wait on some long slow vengeance all their days.


DEMETER

Since I have sat upon the stone of sorrow,
Think'st thou I know not how the dead may feel?
But thou, look up; for thou shalt learn from me,
Under the sweet day, in the paths of men,
All the dear human offices that make
Their brief hour longer than the years of death.
Thou shalt behold me wake the sleeping seed,
And wing the flails upon the threshing-floor,
Among young men and maidens; or at dawn,
Under the low thatch, in the winnowing-creel,
Lay the new infant, seedling of some warm
Noon dalliance in the golden granary,
Who shall in turn rise, walk, and drive the plough,
And in the mortal furrow leave his seed.


PERSEPHONE

Execrable offices are theirs and thine!
Mine only nurslings are the waxen-pale
Dead babes, so small that they are hard to tell
From the little images their mothers lay
Beside them, that they may not sleep alone.


DEMETER

Yet other nurslings to those mothers come,
And live and love --


PERSEPHONE

Thou hast not seen them meet,
Ghosts of dead babes and ghosts of tired men,
Or thou wouldst veil thy face, and curse the sun!


DEMETER

Thou wilt forget the things that thou hast seen.


PERSEPHONE

More dreadful are the things thou hast to show.


DEMETER

Art thou so certain? Hard is it for men
To know a god, and it has come to me
That we, we also, may be blind to men.


PERSEPHONE

O mother, thou hast spoken! But for me,
I, that have eaten of the seed of death,
And with my dead die daily, am become
Of their undying kindred, and no more
Can sit within the doorway of the gods
And laughing spin new souls along the years.


DEMETER

Daughter, speak low. Since I have walked with men
Olympus is a little hill, no more.
Stay with me on the dear and ample earth.


PERSEPHONE

The kingdom of the dead is wider still,
And there I heal the wounds that thou hast made.


DEMETER

And yet I send thee beautiful ghosts and griefs!
Dispeopling earth, I leave thee none to rule.


PERSEPHONE

O that, mine office ended, I might end!


DEMETER

Stand off from me. Thou knowest more than I,
Who am but the servant of some lonely will.


PERSEPHONE

Perchance the same. But me it calls from hence.


DEMETER

On earth, on earth, thou wouldst have wounds to heal!


PERSEPHONE

Free me. I hear the voices of my dead.
She goes.


DEMETER

( after a long silence)
I hear the secret whisper of the wheat.