Tagged: poetry

Feb 29

Anne Sexton reading For My Lover Returning To His Wife

Magnificent and tragic all at once.


Jun 09

Mythical Love

Mythical tales of love are many – countless, perhaps – and have a tendency towards the melodramatic at best and the tragic at worst. A few weeks ago, in an attempt to remain in keeping with the celebration of love that is St Valentine’s Day, I searched the scores of mythological lovers for a happy tale. The best I could come up with is one that bore a golden age, Ovid’s tale of Halcyone.

Daughter of Aeolus and wife of Ceyx, when her husband perished in a shipwreck, Halcyone threw herself into the sea and drowned. Out of pity, the gods changed them both into halcyon birds (later to be known as kingfishers), then forbade the winds from blowing for seven days before and after the winter solstice so Halcyone could lay her eggs in peace without the threat of storms. In a further act of perilous spousal support, the female halcyon bird is said to support her mate when he tires flying over the sea by carrying him on her wings.

Though her tale is tragic, the birds named for her are beautiful and the days of rest the gods gave her, too, are halcyon.

Now, halcyon days are golden. They tend to be associated with times of peace, prosperity, and tranquillity; family picnics at the seaside from which familial bickering is absent; and days in which joy is abundant and strife forgotten. Depending on your disposition, this is either a nauseating prospect best dispatched to the same spot in hell as Hallmark’s wonderful mothers, true friends, devoted fathers, and forever-mine lovers; or remembrance of such days fills you with the glow of repose, idle nostalgia, and hope. It really depends who you ask.

In the search for golden moments, fiction is as good a place to start as any. Writers tend to have something to say about it. To name a few: Lucy Maud Montgomery, sent Anne of Green Gables off to spend many a halcyon day in “the golden prime of August” in the lodges and harbours of Prince Edward Island. Fyodor Dostoyevsky declared them to be “frightfully dull” leading to such desperate boredom that it “sets one sticking golden pins into people”. Jack London only found them with a drink in hand. Arthur Conan Doyle brought a certain flamboyance to his idea of bliss with the “strange tales of fortunes made and fortunes lost” and “stirring adventures” of the pioneers. W. Somerset Maugham sided with Dostoyevsky after being charmed by a woman into married misery. And Charlotte Bronte’s Professor mistook female subjugation and repugnance for a “halcyon mien”.

So, tragic little Halcyone, leaping from the rocks, knew nothing about the dastardly, plundering writers who would either venerate or take her name in vain. All she wanted was to see her man. Preferably in human form, but feathered and with the promise of immortality was the only deal the gods were offering that day.