Saturday, July 30, 2011

Anticipation of True Felicity

Detail from “Phryne in Eleusus” by Henryk Siemiradzki (1889)

By long-established custom, Saturday is either Ranting Day or Poetry Day here at Gates of Vienna. This past week’s events have left me too worn out to rant, so poetry will have to do.

A few days ago, just as the flood of media fury surrounding this blog crested, the following poem by Robert Graves came into my mind. It seemed to have relevance to our current situation.

The phrase “Eleusinian ambrosia” in the penultimate line is a reference to the potion drunk by initiates at the Greater Eleusinian Mysteries at the culmination of the festival of Demeter and Persephone at Eleusis.

The concision and economy of diction in this poem lend it a lambent clarity:

As When the Mystic
by Robert Graves

To be lost for good to the gay self-esteem
That carried him through difficult years of childhood,
To be well-stripped of all tattered ambitions
By his own judgement, now scorning himself
As past redemption —
                                                this is anticipation
Of true felicity, as when the mystic
Starved, frightened, purged, assaulted and ignobled
Drinks Eleusinian ambrosia
From a gold cup and walks in Paradise.