Friday, March 11, 2016

Poetry Friday: Judgment of Paris

I love teaching Greek mythology to my eighth graders.  Every year we read a retelling of the Iliad together, and every year I am reminded of what a great story it is.  We just finished this year's reading, and I shared some poems with the kids based on the stories we'd read, including part of "The Judgment of Paris," by W.S. Merwin.  As we read it, the students identified each of the three finalists in the beauty contest that poor hapless Paris is required by the gods to judge.  Each offers Paris a bribe to choose her, but wisdom and power are a bit too abstract for him.  Not so the third offer: the most beautiful woman in the world.  I love how the poem ends, showing how Paris' decision has set in motion a whole series of events which nothing will be able to change.

it was only when he reached out to the voice
as though he could take the speaker
that his hand filled with
something to give
but to give to only one of the three
an apple as it is told
discord itself in a single fruit its skin
already carved
To the fairest

then a mason working above the gates of Troy
in the sunlight thought he felt the stone

in the quiver on Paris’s back the head
of the arrow for Achilles’ heel
smiled in its sleep

and Helen stepped from the palace to gather
as she would do every day in that season
from the grove the yellow ray flowers tall
as herself

whose roots are said to dispel pain

Here's the whole poem.

What choices that we'll make today will affect the course of our lives?  Or maybe even the lives of future generations?  We don't know, of course.  Chances are, they won't be as obviously unusual as a trio of goddesses to choose among.

Irene at Live Your Poem has the roundup today.


Irene Latham said...

Yes, so much of our lives (and good fortune) we can only see by looking back: all the things that brought us here, to this place, this life. It fills me with awe to think of how pulling one thread can unravel the whole thing -- and one thread holds the whole thing together. Such a beautiful thing, to be alive. Thank you, Ruth!

Tabatha said...

"the head
of the arrow for Achilles’ heel
smiled in its sleep" is chilling! I will be re-reading this poem. Thanks for sharing, Ruth.
We have a college decision to make soon. I would almost rather have a trio of goddesses...

Joy said...

Thanks for the information and inspiration. Lots to ponder.

Linda B said...

Considering our coming election, the choices are more dire than choosing beauty, I think. What a lesson learned/to learn from long ago. Thanks, Ruth.

Tara Smith said...

The weight of our choices...big and small. Thanks for sharing this with us this poetry Friday, Ruth.

Mary Lee said...

Lucky eight graders!!