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Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Stephen Fryer (---.bbd07wfd.dsl.pol.co.uk)
Date: February 14, 2003 12:45PM

I've exhausted the net, looking for critique on this. I get the mythical references, I think. Does anyone see anything in the poem beyond linking the Ceres and Persephone story (and why mix Roman and Greek names?) with the poet and her daughter? That's all I've got out of it so far - but why does the modern mother say that she could warn her daughter not to eat the fruit, but then decides not to?

Here's the poem:

The only legend I have ever loved is
the story of a daughter lost in hell.
And found and rescued there.
Love and blackmail are the gist of it.
Ceres and Persephone the names.
And the best thing about the legend is
I can enter it anywhere. And have.
As a child in exile in
a city of fogs and strange consonants,
I read it first and at first I was
an exiled child in the crackling dusk of
the underworld, the stars blighted. Later
I walked out in a summer twilight
searching for my daughter at bed-time.
When she came running I was ready
to make any bargain to keep her.
I carried her back past whitebeams
and wasps and honey-scented buddleias.
But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road.
Was inescapable for each one we passed.
And for me.
It is winter
and the stars are hidden.
I climb the stairs and stand where I can see
my child asleep beside her teen magazines,
her can of Coke, her plate of uncut fruit.
The pomegranate! How did I forget it?
She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.
She put out her hand and pulled down
the French sound for apple and
the noise of stone and the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry. I could warn her. There is still a chance.
The rain is cold. The road is flint-coloured.
The suburb has cars and cable television.
The veiled stars are above ground.
It is another world. But what else
can a mother give her daughter but such
beautiful rifts in time?
If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.
The legend will be hers as well as mine.
She will enter it. As I have.
She will wake up. She will hold
the papery flushed skin in her hand.
And to her lips. I will say nothing.

Stephen


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Desi (---.clientlogic.ie)
Date: February 14, 2003 01:42PM

"But I was Ceres then and I knew
winter was in store for every leaf
on every tree on that road."

She knows she is going to lose her daughter. I think she is talking about her daughter growing up and living her own life (in the last stanza she talks about her daughter having a daughter (son?) of her own, and be Ceres then.

The pomegranate is maybe a symbol for love/sex??? (or just a life on her own?)

As to your question, Ceres is Demeter in Greek, and Persephone is Proserpina in Latin. I think Ceres and Persephone are the more well known names. I will see if I can find something on that.


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Hugh Clary (---.sdsl.cais.net)
Date: February 14, 2003 03:40PM


Right, the daughter will leave home, hopefully to often return, and will have to face the same issues of losing an offspring when her child grows up.

I suspect the Roman/Greek name switch was merely a technical error by the author, but I can't be sure. It is tempting to make the pomegranate (French pomme and granite sounds) into a symbol of love/lust/menstruation, but I don't believe it.


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Stephen Fryer (---.bbd07wfd.dsl.pol.co.uk)
Date: February 14, 2003 06:13PM

"so Zeus ordered Hades to return Persephone. But that was no longer possible. During her stay in the Underworld Persephone had eaten a pomegranate seed which linked her forever to Hades" - allegedly.

Stephen


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Hugh Clary (---.sdsl.cais.net)
Date: February 14, 2003 06:28PM


Right. Sorry, I thought you already had those details.


"Persephone, in Greek mythology, daughter of Demeter, goddess of the earth. When the god Hades seized Persephone and took her to the underworld, the earth grew desolate as Demeter searched for her daughter. The god Zeus sent Hermes to bring Persephone back. But Hades fed her a pomegranate seed, the food of the dead, compelling her to return to the underworld for four months each year. Persephone represented the revival of nature in spring, and the Eleusinian Mysteries honored her and Demeter."

"Ceres (mythology), in Roman mythology, goddess of agriculture. She and her daughter Proserpine were the counterparts of the Greek goddesses Demeter and Persephone. It was believed that Ceres' joy at being reunited with her daughter each spring caused the earth to bring forth an abundance of fruits and grains."


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Stephen Fryer (---.bbd09tcl.dsl.pol.co.uk)
Date: February 15, 2003 01:59AM

Thanks Hugh. And you're thinking that the pomegranate reference is a straightforward allusion to the myth, nothing more to be read into it? Good.

Any idea why a pomegranate, in myth?

Stephen


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Les (---.trlck.ca.charter.com)
Date: February 15, 2003 02:43AM

To me the pomegranate represents a strange and exotic fruit. Perhaps, the same in the poem. Once the daughter tastes of this type of desire, for the strange and exotic, she is lost to the everyday common experiences she knew before.

Just my reading, without Hugh's classical references.

Les


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Hugh Clary (---.sdsl.cais.net)
Date: February 15, 2003 12:30PM


Well, the whole composition seems to be aimed at finding as many parallelsas possible between the speaker's life and the myth(s). She used to be the Persephone figure, and now she is Ceres/Demeter, when her teenager is about to start living the same adventure.

We don't see a husband or father in the picture. Zeus was the father of Persephone, also seldom in their lives.

Best line- a city of fogs and strange consonants, lovely.

The pomegranate was the food of the dead, but I didn't go searching for why the Greeks thought it was or would be.


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Stephen Fryer (---.bbd02wfd.dsl.pol.co.uk)
Date: February 15, 2003 01:08PM

Thanks again, Hugh and thanks Les.

But is this fair? I mean, you're given a poem to read and comment upon, and usually you don't need a degree in ancient mythology to understand it!
Is it a good thing, to assume the reader understands the references; or is it reasonable, to expect other less well-read readers to go away and look it up? I know a lot more now about the myth than I ever did. Is that a plus for me? for the poet? for poetry?

Btw, any other contemporary poems around this or other Greek/Roman myths?

Stephen


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Stephen Fryer (---.bbd02wfd.dsl.pol.co.uk)
Date: February 15, 2003 01:33PM

Desi, I omitted to thank you too; sorry.

The poet is Irish. Do these myths have greater resonance there than in mainland Europe?

Stephen


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Hugh Clary (---.sdsl.cais.net)
Date: February 15, 2003 02:04PM


But is this fair?

Really. An obscure Irish poet, who'dathunkit? At least there were no green parrots.


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Les (---.trlck.ca.charter.com)
Date: February 15, 2003 02:30PM

I tend to cling to the idea that poetry should stand by itself and mean something to a reader. However, without getting into a discussion of intentional fallacy, I think many authors wish to create a sense of depth and mystery to their poems by adding obscure references known only to themselves and perhaps an inner circle of learned friends. Is this fair to the average reader? No, but then the author who does this isn't trying to impress the average reader, only that inner circle of friends.

This is much different from authors, most notably Will Shakespeare, who drew on classical references which the majority of his audience knew and understood.

Les


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Hugh Clary (---.sdsl.cais.net)
Date: February 15, 2003 02:44PM


In fairness to Boland, the author can't NOT use (what she thinks are) the best metaphors, simply because a given reader may not be familiar with the references. I mean, they are all findable, as we have just shown.

And, as she points out:

If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Les (---.trlck.ca.charter.com)
Date: February 15, 2003 02:58PM

Good point, Hugh, this may be why some authors are not appreciated in their own lifetimes and by their own countrymen. Sometimes time makes their references and poems more understandable to future generations who "discover" authors 50 years after their deaths.

Les


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Pam Adams (---)
Date: February 17, 2003 03:02PM

This stanza makes it seem like the loss of Persephone was her own fault-
'She could have come home and been safe
and ended the story and all
our heart-broken searching but she reached
out a hand and plucked a pomegranate.'

It sounds like the traditional parental 'Thank God, you're safe/Why did you do such a foolish thing?' tug-of-war.

Personally, the story was familiar to me from school. (Programmed Readers in the 1970's had a mythology component) I admit, however, to further knowledge, based on many years as a science fiction reader. Maybe Disney should do a movie on this legend.

Perhaps Ceres was chosen for the number of syllables versus Demeter's 3?

pam


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Desi (---.clientlogic.ie)
Date: February 18, 2003 12:15PM

I don't think greek/roman mythology is more popular in Ireland. I love it. But well, I studied classics for about three years at university.

I think allusions to mythology and literature are a fashion thing as well. In our times people don't know so many things by heart. If you read classic authors, like for example Virgil, you can see it is full of references to other works and the listeners/readers were expected to know them. We are supposed to be in the age of information, but on the whole we seem to know a lot less. I think we should make of for that by being very good in finding out what we need to know. Otherwise poetry should go down to a level where it can only write about sunsets and the latest television hit! ;-)

And another thing. If you are a poet and grew up learning a lot about mythology, how can you know that you are an exception and the average reader won't have a clue what you're talking about?


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Pam Adams (---)
Date: February 18, 2003 04:04PM

"Friends, Baywatch, Beverly Hills 90210, lend me your ears.
I come to bury Archie Bunker, not to praise him."

Scary!

pam


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Tandy (---.networkrichmond.com)
Date: February 21, 2003 01:31PM

Well, there is "Leda and the Swan" by William Butler Yeats (yes, Irish!).


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Stephen Fryer (---.bbd09tcl.dsl.pol.co.uk)
Date: February 23, 2003 11:59AM

"the proof
that even in the place of death,
at the heart of legend, in the midst
of rocks full of unshed tears
ready to be diamonds by the time
the story was told, a child can be
hungry"

I understand that Persephone unwisely ate pomegranate seeds, thus ensuring that for at least part of the year she would live with her husband in hell.

"Even in the place of death ... a child can be hungry" seems to be about unrecognised danger - about which Ceres may (if she chooses to, which is doubtful) warn her child.

I can see that there would be rocks in hell - but why would they be "full of unshed tears"? And why were they "ready to be diamonds by the time the story was told"?

Stephen


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Hugh Clary (---.sdsl.cais.net)
Date: February 23, 2003 01:48PM


You haven't written that essay yet? No more dawdling! To me, the tears into diamonds thought is morely a reference to the amount of time it takes to turn carbon into gems.

A child can be hungry - could be that the kid has to eat, and is unmindful of the danger of the pomegranate. Could be that she seeks the danger itself, dunno.


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Les (---.trlck.ca.charter.com)
Date: February 23, 2003 02:01PM

I agree with Hugh on the interpretation of rocks into diamonds. I think the tears come from the path the child has chosen. I.e. to live in hell, for part of the year.

Whether you use the references to Ceres and Persephone or not, recall that I do not, the tears will come from the choices the child has made. Once Eve ate the apple it was all over, no going back. Same principle here. Once a person has chosen exotic fruits, no going back to apples and plums.

Les


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Les (---.trlck.ca.charter.com)
Date: February 23, 2003 02:35PM

Continued---- from the above post.

I see the child's hunger as hunger for adventure, the exotic, unusual etc.

Les


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Pam Adams (---)
Date: February 24, 2003 01:12PM

Perhaps the 'unshed tears' part is saying that all sorrows come from the Underworld. (We see it as Hell, but I don't think that's how the original story really ran.)

It could also be a reference to the Niobe myth.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

Niobe


(nīb) (KEY) , in Greek mythology, queen of Thebes, wife of Amphion and daughter of Tantalus. The mother of six sons and six daughters, she boasted of her fruitfulness, saying that Leto had only two children. Apollo and Artemis, angry at this insult to their mother, killed all Niobe’s children. Crying inconsolably, she fled to Mt. Sipylus. There Zeus turned her into a stone image that wept perpetually.

pam


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Hugh Clary (---.sdsl.cais.net)
Date: February 24, 2003 08:43PM


The myths seem related, but one weeps perpetually, whereas the other has tears unshed, so I'm not sure.


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Pam Adams (---)
Date: February 24, 2003 09:41PM

I see it as iffy myself, but it did pop into my mind on reading the discussion. Maybe Stephen can toss it out in class discussion for brownie points.

pam


<b>Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate</b>
Posted by: Stephen Fryer (---.wfd17.dsl.pol.co.uk)
Date: May 18, 2003 03:58PM

Well, I have my results now; and I got a Distinction for my analysis. So, thanx to all my friends here.

If anyone is interested, here is my paper ...

Stephen


Attachments: Pomegranate Analysis.doc (39KB)  
Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Hugh Clary (---.MCLNVA23.covad.net)
Date: May 18, 2003 04:36PM


What! You believed us? Oh, dear. Well, at least you didn't get a failing grade.


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: Pam Adams (---)
Date: May 19, 2003 01:04PM

Nice work!

pam


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: JP (---.tnt1.rochelle.il.da.uu.net)
Date: May 22, 2003 02:42AM

Congratulations Stephen.
Now, more poetry, sil vous plait.
JP


Re: Eavan Boland The Pomegranate
Posted by: XxJordiixX (79.97.107.---)
Date: September 28, 2008 12:26PM

The Pomegranate is the old symbol for sexual awakening in girls ie menstraution,it's translation is the blood apple.

Boland mixes the two stories to show the universitality of her poetry,she takes a greek and a roman,herself and her daughter to show how the story applies to eveyone woman on the planet regardless of place or era

Well thats my view anyway smiling smiley

Peace,Jordii




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