The Grief of Orpheus

Virgil Solis [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

They may not call this music.
This is the air of anger.
This is refusal made palpable,
cast in chords as bells are cast in bronze.
Each step down is inexorable.
This is the necessity of the lyre.

Earth opens by the logic of these notes.
I insist there is a way down;
a long, tiled, sloping passage
towards the ferry, the waiting dog,
the marble halls, the king, the queen,
the seven hard rivers of hell.

This theme everyone knows.
Nobody has gone down alive;
nobody has come back before.
This time my will
bending possibility
demands there is a way back up.

I have not come to plead.
I have not thought of grief.
(Since she fell, I have not stopped singing.
This is neither grief nor music.)
I have alloyed anger and art together
to make the world the way I will have it.

While I am singing,
she is dancing through long grass,
crowned with poppies and cornflowers.
Our eyes meet and joy touches her
she is light on bare feet,
turning towards me.

While I am singing,
she is looking with love, and dancing,
there is no next moment
no snake in the grass,
no fear, no falling,
no fluster of folk and useless fuss.

While I am singing,
I am walking the long way down
to Death’s dark kingdom.
When I come singing up
through hell’s seven rivers,
she will be behind me.

I need not look back,
since I am singing.
By sheer necessity,
that wrings each word and note to follow
the word and note that came before it
she follows behind me.

We pass the dark thrones,
and the path turns upwards.
Towards the growing lands,
towards the earth, the sea, the sky,
towards the meadow where she is dancing,
towards the waiting wedding breakfast.

By the power of my lyre
by the power of art to bend hearts,
by the power that makes and unmakes,
by the undeniable power of love,
she is bound to be behind me
while I am singing.

We make our way up,
one measured step at a time.
I lead the way upwards,
out of this hell, in which she is dead,
in which I may not stop singing,
towards the memory of light.

January 2001. This is one of my favourite poems to read aloud.

By Alfie (Helmut Schütz) (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Towards the memory of light