Friday, April 09, 2010

Poetry Friday: Mythology

I was looking for poetry at the library and found this book: Orpheus and Company: Contemporary Poems on Greek Mythology. There are many good poems in this collection. Here's one of them:

Parable of the Hostages


The Greeks are sitting on the beach
wondering what to do when the war ends. No one
wants to go home, back
to that bony island; everyone wants a little more
of what there is in Troy, more
life on the edge, that sense of every day as being
packed with surprises. But how to explain this
to the ones at home to whom
fighting a war is a plausible
excuse for absence, whereas
exploring one’s capacity for diversion
is not. Well, this can be faced
later; these
are men of action, ready to leave
insight to the women and children.

. . .

There on the beach, discussing the various
timetables for getting home, no one believed
it could take ten years to get back to Ithaca;
no one foresaw that decade of insoluble dilemmas—oh unanswerable
affliction of the human heart: how to divide
the world’s beauty into acceptable
and unacceptable loves! On the shores of Troy,
how could the Greeks know
they were hostages already: who once
delays the journey is
already enthralled; how could they know
that of their small number
some would be held forever by the dreams of pleasure,
some by sleep, some by music?

You can read the whole poem, including the middle that I left out, here.

I always enjoy poetry based on mythology, and I had been thinking of writing something about Odysseus and Penelope, since my husband and I are a long way apart right now. (After a breakup in college I wrote a terrible poem about Dido and Aeneas. What can I say? Sometimes I am a bit dramatic.) There were several poems in the book about Odysseus and Penelope, all much more cerebral than mine. I started out feeling tragic and ended up just enjoying Penelope. It was so much fun to write something light and ironic after all the impassioned pieces about me-me-me I've been doing lately. As I told my husband when I sent it to him, don't worry; it's not autobiographical. I don't have any suitors and this isn't what I think of my husband. You can look at several of my recent Poetry Friday posts for sappiness about him. (In case you aren't up on the story of Odysseus and Penelope, here's some information about it.)

Penelope Thinks it Over

Penelope thinks twenty years is pushing it,
With never a word from Odysseus
Except for vague rumors of what a hero he is.

Penelope wonders how she will ever get Telemachus to behave.
She tells him about how much his father loves him
And how when Palamades put baby Telemachus in front of the plough
Odysseus quit playing crazy and grabbed his son.
But that story gets old fast
Especially since there are no others to tell except the long story of absence.

Penelope hates crafts.
She makes such a mess every day
That she has to rip all her work out at night.
If only she could get that sewing project finished!

Penelope walks on the beach,
The white, white sands of Ithaka.
She wishes she had someone to talk to.
She remembers Odysseus used to talk a lot,
Mostly about himself.

Penelope couldn't follow the news of the war.
This guy died heroically,
That one went berserk and killed a bunch of Trojans,
That one got his feelings hurt
And sulked in his tent.
And all because of that insipid Helen?
She thinks she must have missed something.

Penelope may not know about Circe and Calypso
But she suspects that it doesn't have to take ten years
To get back from Troy,
Even if you take a wrong turn at Albuquerque.
She's no dummy.

Penelope remembers Odysseus fondly:
His blue eyes, exactly the shade of the Aegean,
His fantastical stories, all of which she has heard repeatedly,
His warm body in her bed at night.
She liked being married to a legend
But he has been gone a long time.

The suitors clamor,
Eat her out of house and home in an endearing, manly way,
Bring her narcissi and baklava and seashells,
Vie for her attentions flatteringly.

Penelope eyes the suitors,
Who, sure, are not Odysseus,
But who at least are there.

by Ruth, from

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is here.


Jeannine Atkins said...

I love your Penelope so much! She hates crafts. Remembering the guy who talked about himself. Shaking her head about a war over insipid Helen. You really made her come awake for me. Thank you.

And I'm a fan of Louise Gluck, too. (Her name was what led me from the Poetry Friday link). I'm going to look for that collection. Thank you!

Tricia said...

Great poem - you made me want to learn more about Penelope.

But I must also chime in to add that a wrong turn at Albuquerque would definitely add to that trip - but then again, New Mexico is already about a third of the way around the world from Greece... :^)

Janet said...

I love it!

Mary Lee said...

"But she suspects that it doesn't have to take ten years
To get back from Troy,
Even if you take a wrong turn at Albuquerque.
She's no dummy."

This part cracks me up! Poor Penelope! I hope her/your hero gets home soon!!!

Marjorie said...

I loved your poem when I read it yesterday - and just as much today! I've always liked Penelope - a quietly determined character - but never really thought about her inner musings before. I hope your husband enjoyed it too.

And thank you for introducing mee to Louise Gluck...