'Demeter And Persephone' by Alfred Lord Tennyson

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PoemsFaint as a climate-changing bird that flies
All night across the darkness, and at dawn
Falls on the threshold of her native land,
And can no more, thou camest, O my child,
Led upward by the God of ghosts and dreams,
Who laid thee at Eleusis, dazed and dumb,
With passing thro' at once from state to state,
Until I brought thee hither, that the day,
When here thy hands let fall the gather'd flower,
Might break thro' clouded memories once again
On thy lost self. A sudden nightingale
Saw thee, and flash'd into a frolic of song
And welcome; and a gleam as of the moon,
When first she peers along the tremulous deep,
Fled wavering o'er thy face, and chased away
That shadow of a likeness to the king
Of shadows, thy dark mate. Persephone!
Queen of the dead no more -- my child! Thine eyes
Again were human-godlike, and the Sun
Burst from a swimming fleece of winter gray,
And robed thee in his day from head to feet --
"Mother!" and I was folded in thine arms.Child, those imperial, disimpassion'd eyes
Awed even me at first, thy mother -- eyes
That oft had seen the serpent-wanded power
Draw downward into Hades with his drift
Of fickering spectres, lighted from below
By the red race of fiery Phlegethon;
But when before have Gods or men beheld
The Life that had descended re-arise,
And lighted from above him by the Sun?
So mighty was the mother's childless cry,
A cry that ran thro' Hades, Earth, and Heaven!So in this pleasant vale we stand again,
The field of Enna, now once more ablaze
With flowers that brighten as thy footstep falls,
All flowers -- but for one black blur of earth
Left by that closing chasm, thro' which the car
Of dark Aidoneus rising rapt thee hence.
And here, my child, tho' folded in thine arms,
I feel the deathless heart of motherhood
Within me shudder, lest the naked glebe
Should yawn once more into the gulf, and thence
The shrilly whinnyings of the team of Hell,
Ascending, pierce the glad and songful air,
And all at once their arch'd necks, midnight-maned,
Jet upward thro' the mid-day blossom. No!
For, see, thy foot has touch'd it; all the space
Of blank earth-baldness clothes itself afresh,
And breaks into the crocus-purple hour
That saw thee vanish.Child, when thou wert gone,
I envied human wives, and nested birds,
Yea, the cubb'd lioness; went in search of thee
Thro' many a palace, many a cot, and gave
Thy breast to ailing infants in the night,
And set the mother waking in amaze
To find her sick one whole; and forth again
Among the wail of midnight winds, and cried,
"Where is my loved one? Wherefore do ye wail?"
And out from all the night an answer shrill'd,
"We know not, and we know not why we wail."
I climb'd on all the cliffs of all the seas,
And ask'd the waves that moan about the world
"Where? do ye make your moaning for my child?"
And round from all the world the voices came
"We know not, and we know not why we moan."
"Where?" and I stared from every eagle-peak,
I thridded the black heart of all the woods,
I peer'd thro' tomb and cave, and in the storms
Of Autumn swept across the city, and heard
The murmur of their temples chanting me,
Me, me, the desolate Mother! "Where"? -- and turn'd,
And fled by many a waste, forlorn of man,
And grieved for man thro' all my grief for thee, --
The jungle rooted in his shatter'd hearth,
The serpent coil'd about his broken shaft,
The scorpion crawling over naked skulls; --
I saw the tiger in the ruin'd fane
Spring from his fallen God, but trace of thee
I saw not; and far on, and, following out
A league of labyrinthine darkness, came
On three gray heads beneath a gleaming rift.
"Where"? and I heard one voice from all the three
"We know not, for we spin the lives of men,
And not of Gods, and know not why we spin!
There is a Fate beyond us." Nothing knew.Last as the likeness of a dying man,
Without his knowledge, from him flits to warn
A far-off friendship that he comes no more,
So he, the God of dreams, who heard my cry,
Drew from thyself the likeness of thyself
Without thy knowledge, and thy shadow past
Before me, crying "The Bright one in the highest
Is brother of the Dark one in the lowest,
And Bright and Dark have sworn that I, the child
Of thee, the great Earth-Mother, thee, the Power
That lifts her buried life from loom to bloom,
Should be for ever and for evermore
The Bride of Darkness."So the Shadow wail'd.
Then I, Earth-Goddess, cursed the Gods of Heaven.
I would not mingle with their feasts; to me
Their nectar smack'd of hemlock on the lips,
Their rich ambrosia tasted aconite.
The man, that only lives and loves an hour,
Seem'd nobler than their hard Eternities.
My quick tears kill'd the flower, my ravings hush'd
The bird, and lost in utter grief I fail'd
To send my life thro' olive-yard and vine
And golden grain, my gift to helpless man.
Rain-rotten died the wheat, the barley-spears
Were hollow-husk'd, the leaf fell, and the sun,
Pale at my grief, drew down before his time
Sickening, and Aetna kept her winter snow.
Then He, the brother of this Darkness, He
Who still is highest, glancing from his height
On earth a fruitless fallow, when he miss'd
The wonted steam of sacrifice, the praise
And prayer of men, decreed that thou should'st dwell
For nine white moons of each whole year with me,
Three dark ones in the shadow with thy King.Once more the reaper in the gleam of dawn
Will see me by the landmark far away,
Blessing his field, or seated in the dusk
Of even, by the lonely threshing-floor,
Rejoicing in the harvest and the grange.
Yet I, Earth-Goddess, am but ill-content
With them, who still are highest. Those gray heads,
What meant they by their "Fate beyond the Fates"
But younger kindlier Gods to bear us down,
As we bore down the Gods before us? Gods,
To quench, not hurl the thunderbolt, to stay,
Not spread the plague, the famine; Gods indeed,
To send the noon into the night and break
The sunless halls of Hades into Heaven?
Till thy dark lord accept and love the Sun,
And all the Shadow die into the Light,
When thou shalt dwell the whole bright year with me,
And souls of men, who grew beyond their race,
And made themselves as Gods against the fear
Of Death and Hell; and thou that hast from men,
As Queen of Death, that worship which is Fear,
Henceforth, as having risen from out the dead,
Shalt ever send thy life along with mine
From buried grain thro' springing blade, and bless
Their garner'd Autumn also, reap with me,
Earth-mother, in the harvest hymns of Earth
The worship which is Love, and see no more
The Stone, the Wheel, the dimly-glimmering lawns
Of that Elysium, all the hateful fires
Of torment, and the shadowy warrior glide
Along the silent field of Asphodel.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Demeter And Persephone by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Oh, what a masterpiece! Alfred Lord Tennyson's Demeter and Persephone is one of the most haunting and beautiful poems in the English language. The story of the mother goddess Demeter's search for her abducted daughter Persephone has captivated readers for centuries. Tennyson's version of the myth is both faithful to the original and uniquely his own.

The Plot

The poem begins with Demeter wandering the earth in despair, searching for her missing daughter. She encounters a young girl who tells her that Persephone has been taken by Hades, the god of the underworld. Demeter is devastated and vows to find her daughter, but no one will tell her where Hades has taken Persephone.

Finally, Demeter learns that Zeus, the king of the gods, has given Hades permission to take Persephone as his wife. Demeter is furious with Zeus and refuses to allow the crops to grow until her daughter is returned to her.

Eventually, Zeus is forced to intervene and negotiates a compromise. Persephone will spend half the year with Hades in the underworld and half the year with Demeter on earth. This compromise explains the changing seasons and the reason for winter.

The Themes

The themes of the poem are numerous and complex. One of the central themes is the power of motherhood. Demeter's love for her daughter is so strong that it can move the gods themselves. Her despair at losing her daughter is palpable, and her determination to find her is unrelenting.

Another theme is the balance of power between the gods. Zeus is the king of the gods, but even he cannot stand up to Demeter's anger and grief. Hades is a powerful god in his own right, but he is also subject to the will of Zeus and Demeter.

Yet another theme is the cycle of life and death. Persephone's abduction and return symbolize the cycle of the seasons and the eternal cycle of birth, growth, decay, and rebirth that is at the heart of nature.

The Language

Tennyson's language in Demeter and Persephone is simply stunning. He employs a variety of poetic devices to create a rich and evocative atmosphere. His use of vivid imagery, metaphor, and allusion is masterful.

For example, Tennyson describes Demeter's grief as a "winter woe" that freezes the land and causes the crops to wither. This metaphor not only conveys the intensity of Demeter's emotions but also explains the cause of winter.

Tennyson also makes use of allusion to classical mythology and literature. For example, he refers to the "lovely-haired Demeter" and the "golden-haired Persephone," alluding to their goddess-like beauty. He also alludes to the story of Orpheus and Eurydice when he describes Demeter's desperate search for her daughter.

The Interpretation

Demeter and Persephone can be interpreted in a number of ways. Some readers see it as a feminist work, celebrating the power of motherhood and the resilience of women in the face of adversity. Others see it as a meditation on the cycle of life and death, and the role of the gods in the natural world.

Still, others see it as a commentary on the balance of power between the gods, and the way that their actions and decisions affect mortals. Tennyson himself may have intended it as a warning against the excesses of the Victorian era, which he saw as a kind of spiritual winter.

Whatever interpretation one chooses, there can be no doubt that Demeter and Persephone is a timeless classic that speaks to the deepest human emotions and desires. Its haunting beauty and vivid imagery will continue to captivate readers for generations to come.


In conclusion, Demeter and Persephone is a masterful work of poetry that deserves to be read and appreciated by all lovers of literature. Its themes of motherhood, power, and the cycle of life and death are as relevant today as they were in ancient times. Tennyson's language and imagery are simply breathtaking, and his interpretation of the myth is both faithful and original. If you have not yet read this masterpiece, I urge you to do so without delay!

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Demeter and Persephone: A Tale of Love, Loss, and Renewal

Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "Demeter and Persephone" is a classic retelling of the ancient Greek myth of the goddess of agriculture and her daughter, who was abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld. The poem is a powerful exploration of the themes of love, loss, and renewal, and it offers a profound insight into the human experience of grief and the search for meaning in the face of tragedy.

The poem begins with a description of Demeter, the goddess of the harvest, who is grieving for her daughter Persephone, who has been taken away from her by Hades. Demeter's sorrow is so great that she withdraws from the world and refuses to allow the crops to grow, causing famine and suffering among the mortals. The poem vividly captures the despair and anguish of a mother who has lost her child, and it portrays the devastating impact of grief on the natural world.

Tennyson's language is rich and evocative, and he uses a range of poetic devices to convey the depth of Demeter's emotions. For example, he employs vivid imagery to describe the barren landscape that results from Demeter's grief, using phrases such as "the black earth yawned" and "the parched eath cracked." He also uses repetition and alliteration to create a sense of rhythm and intensity, as in the lines "The great goddess wept / She wept, and said, 'O light, how dark thy realm is!'"

As the poem progresses, we see Demeter's determination to find her daughter and bring her back from the underworld. She travels the world in search of Persephone, and her grief is so intense that she is willing to do whatever it takes to be reunited with her child. This determination is a testament to the power of a mother's love, and it is a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there is always hope.

Eventually, Demeter learns that Persephone has been taken by Hades, and she confronts him in the underworld. This confrontation is a pivotal moment in the poem, as it represents the triumph of love over death. Demeter's love for her daughter is so strong that she is able to overcome the power of the underworld and bring Persephone back to the world of the living.

The reunion between Demeter and Persephone is a moment of great joy and celebration, and it marks the beginning of a new season of growth and renewal. The poem ends with a description of the world coming back to life, as the crops begin to grow and the flowers bloom once again. This renewal is a powerful symbol of the resilience of the human spirit, and it offers a message of hope and optimism in the face of tragedy.

Overall, Tennyson's "Demeter and Persephone" is a masterpiece of poetic storytelling, and it offers a profound exploration of the themes of love, loss, and renewal. The poem is a testament to the enduring power of myth and legend, and it reminds us of the timeless truths that lie at the heart of the human experience. Whether read as a work of literature or as a meditation on the human condition, "Demeter and Persephone" is a work of great beauty and significance, and it deserves to be celebrated and remembered for generations to come.

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