'A Myth of Devotion'

Averno

This selection is from Averno, a collection by Louise Gluck that mines the ancient myth of Persephone for the light that it sheds on the experience of death and dying.

To mark National Poetry Month, NPR.org will feature a series of new works selected by the Academy of American Poets. Learn more about this and other titles at the academy's New Spring Books list.

A Myth of Devotion

Louise Gluck

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.

 

Everything the same, including sunlight,

because it would be hard on a young girl

to go so quickly from bright light to utter darkness

 

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.

 

A replica of earth

except there was love here.

Doesn't everyone want love?

 

He waited many years,

building a world, watching

Persephone in the meadow.

Persephone, a smeller, a taster.

If you have one appetite, he thought,

you have them all.

 

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—

 

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 ever imagines them.

 

He dreams, he wonders what to call this place.

First he thinks: The New Hell. Then: The Garden.

In the end, he decides to name it

Persephone's Girlhood.

 

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.

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Averno

by Louise Gluck

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