Thursday, October 19, 2017

Poetry Friday: Advice to Odysseus

When I read the Odyssey with my daughter last summer, we noticed that Odysseus was very dismissive of the emotion of grief.  Anytime someone expressed sadness - and there was plenty of opportunity during the story, especially since they were constantly recounting the various horrid deaths in the Trojan War - he responded by saying that grief was useless.  I've used one of those quotes in the epigraph to the sonnet I wrote about this. 

Advice to Odysseus, on Grief

“So I said,  and it broke my shipmates’ hearts,
They sank down on the ground, moaning, tore their hair.
But it gained us nothing - what good can come of grief?”
The Odyssey, book 10 lines 622-624

Odysseus, no; no good can come of grief;
It’s such a waste of time, and days, and tears,
Till when you look, a wilderness of years
Spreads out behind you, cacti in relief,
And tumbleweed, and skulls à la O’Keeffe:
You’ve spent your life in simply being sad.
And think of all the feasts you could have had,
The loud carousing, all the sides of beef.

So quit your thinking of Penelope
And fallen friends, the thoughts that make you cry.
Instead, just pour yourself another glass,
Or sail some more upon the wine-dark sea,
Or find another bed where you can lie
And wait for all this pointless grief to pass.

Ruth, from

Grief may be pointless, but it's part of life, and in my experience, it's not possible to just power your way through it.  Even if you use Odysseus' methods (eating, drinking, travel, companions both human and divine), grief takes as long as it takes.

Odysseus (source:

The Poetry Friday roundup is here.


Irene Latham said...

Love the address to Odysseus! I remember once in social work school when we were taught about grief/depression being selfish, and a choice -- how we could linger there -- or not. These days, I think it's not so simple. And I do believe grief has a point -- we MUST allow ourselves to journey through in order to be fully awake in our lives. The key is to keep moving through it -- not to mire ourselves. Thank you for this thought-provoking poem and post, Ruth! xo

jama said...

Yes, grief is part of life, and is handled differently by each person. Interesting address to Odysseus, Ruth.

Kay said...

Such a powerful poem, not only for Odysseus, but for any who would try to ignore grief. I suspect we will be more able to experience joy again once we allow ourselves to move through grief rather than deny it. No, it's never simple or easy.

Linda B said...

There are those who say we learn from books, and perhaps we also learn to dismiss what they say, no matter how long ago the advice, no matter how others use the words as rules. I love your address to Odysseus. Each of us must choose our own path!

Mary Lee said...

Wise words: "Grief takes as long as it takes."

Jane @ said...

Alas, I have had my first real taste of grief this year, and as you say, there's only so much you can do, it will take as long as it takes. Though a glass of wine here and there certainly doesn't hurt.