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A Book of Myths

Page: 81

“‘The coal-black horses rise—they rise,
O mother, mother!’ low she cries—
Persephone—Persephone!
[Pg 163] ‘O light, light, light!’ she cries, ‘farewell;
The coal-black horses wait for me.
O shade of shades, where I must dwell,
Demeter, mother, far from thee!’”[5]

In cold, strong arms Pluto seized her—in that mighty grasp that will not be denied, and Proserpine wept childish tears as she shivered at his icy touch, and sobbed because she had dropped the flowers she had picked, and had never picked the flower she most desired. While still she saw the fair light of day, the little oddly-shaped rocky hills, the vineyards and olive groves and flowery meadows of Sicily, she did not lose hope. Surely the King of Terrors could not steal one so young, so happy, and so fair. She had only tasted the joy of living, and fain she would drink deeper in the coming years. Her mother must surely save her—her mother who had never yet failed her—her mother, and the gods.

But ruthless as the mower whose scythe cuts down the seeded grass and the half-opened flower and lays them in swathes on the meadow, Pluto drove on. His iron-coloured reins were loose on the black manes of his horses, and he urged them forward by name till the froth flew from their mouths like the foam that the furious surf of the sea drives before it in a storm. Across the bay and along the bank of the river Anapus they galloped, until, at the river head, they came to the pool of Cyane. He smote the water with his trident, and downward into the blackness of darkness his horses passed, and Proserpine knew no more the pleasant light of day.

[Pg 164] “What ails her that she comes not home?
Demeter seeks her far and wide,
And gloomy-browed doth ceaseless roam
From many a morn till eventide.
‘My life, immortal though it be,
Is nought,’ she cries, ‘for want of thee,
Persephone—Persephone!’”

So, to the great Earth Mother came the pangs that have drawn tears of blood from many a mortal mother’s heart for a child borne off to the Shades.

“‘My life is nought for want of thee,—
Persephone! Persephone!’” ...

The cry is borne down through the ages, to echo and re-echo so long as mothers love and Death is still unchained.

Over land and sea, from where Dawn, the rosy-fingered, rises in the East, to where Apollo cools the fiery wheels of his chariot in the waters of far western seas, the goddess sought her daughter. With a black robe over her head and carrying a flaming torch in either hand, for nine dreary days she sought her loved one. And yet, for nine more weary days and nine sleepless nights the goddess, racked by human sorrow, sat in hopeless misery. The hot sun beat upon her by day. By night the silver rays from Diana’s car smote her more gently, and the dew drenched her hair and her black garments and mingled with the saltness of her bitter tears. At the grey dawning of the tenth day her elder daughter, Hecate, stood beside her. Queen of ghosts and shades was she, and to her all dark places of the earth were known.

“Let us go to the Sun God,” said Hecate. “Surely [Pg 165] he hath seen the god who stole away the little Proserpine. Soon his chariot will drive across the heavens. Come, let us ask him to guide us to the place where she is hidden.”

Thus did they come to the chariot of the glorious Apollo, and standing by the heads of his horses like two grey clouds that bar the passage of the sun, they begged him to tell them the name of him who had stolen fair Proserpine.

“No less a thief was he,” said Apollo, “than Pluto, King of Darkness and robber of Life itself. Mourn not, Demeter. Thy daughter is safe in his keeping. The little nymph who played in the meadows is now Queen of the Shades. Nor does Pluto love her vainly. She is now in love with Death.”

No comfort did the words of the Sun God bring to the longing soul of Demeter. And her wounded heart grew bitter. Because she suffered, others must suffer as well. Because she mourned, all the world must mourn. The fragrant flowers spoke to her only of Persephone, the purple grapes reminded her of a vintage when the white fingers of her child had plucked the fruit. The waving golden grain told her that Persephone was as an ear of wheat that is reaped before its time.


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