Friday, April 13, 2018

Myths 3

Reposted from April 2013

(Taken from a portion of the Blake Primer.)


(Kathleen Raines' book Blake and Tradition gives a good source for interpretation of The Myth of the Kore (Persephone), as used by Blake.)
(Kore: Greek = Persephone: Roman)

       Here is a simple version of Persephone's story. We are told that Blake became interested in the Eleusinian Mysteries in about 1790.

       I suppose the original and oldest story of Persephone may have been from the pen of Homer.
Demeter (Kore) was the goddess of agriculture and marriage. Her daughter was Persephone (Prosepine). This fair maiden plucked a special flower and had the fortune to be abducted by Pluto to be queen of his Underworld. Demeter appealed to Zeus about this outrage; as a consequence Persephone was granted dual citizenship in the Underworld and the material World with the freedom to move from one to the other twice a year.

       The origin if this myth is the natural arrangement of the yearly sequence of seasons. Persephone spent winter in Hades and the warmer months in the World. The metaphysics points toward the dual nature of man: made in the image of God, but made of clay.

       Psychologically we have the angelic impulse and the devilish one. (They generally alternate more frequently than twice a year.) The literal form is kind of self evident: a girl raped and kidnapped-- all too common in the 21st Century; whether she's ever recovered is problematic.

       (This little lesson in the origin of myths illustrates something that will become more and more obvious if you continue reading Blake: what his words mean superficially is often (or usually) far from his most significant intention.)

       In the early centuries of the Christian era a close relationship existed between the "followers of Jesus and  those of Persephone".  They had much in common-- particularly salvation, which (at least ritually) was achieved in remarkably similar fashions.

Persephone in Blake

 In Blake 'Vala' represents fallen woman;  'Jerusalem' is redeemed woman.

Wikimedia Commons
Songs of Innocence and of Experience
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Copy Y, Plate 34

 Lyca (The Little Girl Lost), we see Vala in microcosm (as Persephone). Two poems in Songs of Experience tell her story, a lovely miniature statement of the myth included in all the large myths already described here. Blake spent the next 30 years expanding, enlarging, journaling, commenting on, etc. - the basic myth which we've called his 'system', namely the descent of the soul (humankind) into the world (matter) and it's return to Eternity.

The are many ways to interpret the two "Little Girl" poems in Songs of Experience. Following Raine I have focused on the neo-Platonic viewpoint:
    Songs of Experience, Song 34. (E 20)      
    "In futurity I prophesy
           That the earth from sleep
           (Grave the sentence deep)
           Shall arise, and seek
           For her Maker meek;
           And the desert wild               [this mortal world]
           Become a garden mild.
Here in Blake's inimitable poetry we have the biblical New Heaven and New Earth. It is also a promise of the happy outcome of Blake's myth.
    In the southern clime,              [the eternal realm]
    Where the summer's prime
    Never fades away,
    Lovely Lyca lay. Seven summers old
    Lovely Lyca told.
    She had wandered long,
    Hearing wild birds' song.
    'Sweet sleep, come to me,
    Underneath this tree;              [the Elm of Hades]
    Do father, mother, weep?        [like Demeter wept.]
    Where can Lyca sleep?
    'Lost in desert wild
    Is your little child.
    How can Lyca sleep
    If her mother weep?
    'If her heart does ache,
    Then let Lyca wake;
    If my mother sleep,
    Lyca shall not weep.
    'Frowning, frowning night,
    O'er this desert bright
    Let thy moon arise,
    While I close my eyes.'
    Sleeping Lyca lay,
    While the beasts of prey,
    Come from caverns deep,
    Viewed the maid asleep.
    The kingly lion stood,    [lion=Pluto, king of the underworld]
    And the virgin viewed:
    Then he gambolled round
    O'er the hallowed ground.
    Leopards, tigers, play
    Round her as she lay;
    While the lion old
    Bowed his mane of gold,
    And her bosom lick,
    And upon her neck,
    From his eyes of flame,
    Ruby tears there came;        [Why was the lion sorrowful? Did he mourn the descent of the soul?]
    While the lioness       
    Loosed her slender dress,
    And naked they conveyed
    To caves the sleeping maid."

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