One of my favorite passages of poetry in all of Latin Literature is the Orpheus and Eurydice story in Vergil’s fourth Georgic. After his wife’s tragic death, Orpheus’s love for Eurydice sends him to the depths of the underworld to retrieve her. But when he breaks Hades’s one stipulation, that he cannot look back at her on their journey out, she is lost to him once again. Ovid also includes his own version of the myth in the Metamorphoses. I have been dipping in and out of Eavan Boland’s poetry for the past week and her use of myth as inspiration for her poems has resonated with me. This piece, inspired by the Eurydice myth, gives her a voice (the focus of the myth is usually on Orpheus) and is a particularly striking reflection on loss, recognition, memory and reunion.
How will I know you in the underworld?
How will we find each other?
We lived for so long on the physical earth—
Our skies littered with actual stars
Practical tides in our bay—
What will we do with the loneliness of the mythical?
Walking beside ditches brimming with dactyls,
By a ferryman whose feet are scanned for him
On the shore of a river written and rewritten
As elegy, epic, epode.
Remember the thin air of our earthly winters?
Frost was an iron, underhand descent.
Dusk was always in session
And no one needed to write down
Or restate, or make record of, or ever would,
And never will,
The plainspoken music of recognition,
Nor the way I often stood at the window—
The hills growing dark, saying,
As a shadow became a stride
And a raincoat was woven out of streetlight
I would know you anywhere.