Hymn to Proserpine

We know they are cruel as love or life, and lovely as death.
O Gods dethroned and deceased, cast forth, wiped out in a day! From your wrath is the world released, redeemed from your chains, men say. New Gods are crowned in the city; their flowers have broken your rods; They are merciful, clothed with pity, the young compassionate Gods. But for me their new device is barren, the days are bare; Things long past over suffice, and men forgotten that were. Time and the Gods are at strife; ye dwell in the midst thereof, Draining a little life from the barren breasts of love. I say to you, cease, take rest; yea, I say to you all, be at peace, Till the bitter milk of her breast and the barren bosom shall cease.Wilt thou yet take all, Galilean? but these thou shalt not take, The laurel, the palms and the pæan, the breasts of the nymphs in the brake; Breasts more soft than a dove’s, that tremble with tenderer breath; And all the wings of the Loves, and all the joy before death.

These are the words of Algernon Ccharles Swinburne (1837-1910), taken from his Hymn to Proserpine (After the Proclamation in Rome of the Christian Faith). If you are in a melancholy mood, you can read the complete poem here.

I am in a melancholy mood today. Perhaps it is because I have just returned from a trip. Leaving, saying goodbye to a place I hardly had time to get to know properly, this always makes me melancholy. Plus spring has halted. Though the first daffodils are blooming, the skies have darkened and the clouds are saturated. And thus my mind turns to those ages past long forgotten by common man. Yes, I too am susceptible to that longing for the mythical golden age. Today I am as much a romantic as Swinburne. And my mind turns to her.

The Garden of Proserpine

The Celtic gods have always been first in my affection. But information about them is scant. And imagining them to life is often hard work. But Proserpine, Persephone … she is deep. Deep with history and stories. I have always associated the Celtic gods with watercolours, but Proserpine is meant to be painted in oil.

The Gaelic cultures differ from Mediterranean culture, like the light turquoise skies of Ireland compare to the contrasting blues from southern Italy. Different light. Different paint. Different art. Different Gods.

The Gaelic gods, reflected in the landscape, seem familiar. The Irish stories make sense to me. The Anglo-Saxon stories make sense to me. The Greek and Italic stories do not. Proserpine does not make sense to me. She is insensible. She is alien. She is wholly different from myself. And my imagination falls short. I seem unable to imagine her. And yet she is still there. An oracle told me Proserpine stands behind me. But I have shut the door to her. Proserpine tells me the gods are always wholly Other, and I refuse to hear it. She herself is like a black obsidian wall, absorbing everything.

I have written in defence of imagining the gods. I have also stated that the gods are bigger than our imaginings (though we should imagine big). But am I bigger than my imagination? Can I even find her?


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