Professor Gruber- Miller
October 17, 2005
The Loss of Innocence
Eavan Boland was born in 1944 in Dublin. She married Kevin Casey, a novelist, in 1969, and had two daughters. She has taught creative writing and lectured at many different universities and has participated in the University of Iowa International Writing Program of 1979. One of her poems, “The Pomegranate”, is based on the story of the abduction of Persephone by Hades, and the idea that the grief of Demeter can be found in all mothers across the world. This myth was appealing to Boland because she also experienced Persephone’s feelings of being lost, and the incredible love and fear for her own daughter, that Demeter feels for Persephone. Throughout the poem Boland tells about the different seasons of her own life and how she must learn to let her own daughter go so that she may continue the cycle of mother and daughter. It is through this cycle that every woman is first Persephone, lost and afraid, and then, Demeter, searching. Boland begins her poem by describing the myth of Demeter and her daughter, Persephone, who is captured by Hades and taken to the underworld to be his queen. Persephone, before she is taken, is a beautiful maiden who loves playing in the wildflower fields. She is the very essence of innocence. Every child can be compared to her, for all children are innocent and carefree. They live in a summer land, a world all their own where fairies and elves can exist, and although there are dragons and horrible monsters as well, there is also a parent whose warm embrace can guard against any evil. There comes a winter, though, after every summer, when children must grow up, and they feel lost and confused just as Persephone was lost in the underworld. Part of growing up is seeing the world through your own eyes and realizing that not every thing can be fixed by mommy and daddy. You begin to see that there are real evils in the world that are much scarier than those of your fancy. This new world is one of uncertainty and confused responsibilities. There are bills to pay and dishes to do. There are people waiting in the alley ways who do not care about your pleading and begging, but who will stab you in the back for a ten dollar bill. Boland writes that she was as Persephone was, “…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” (8-12). With the realization of evil there often times comes the death of belief in magic. We no longer believe in enchanted kingdoms where princesses grow their hair a mile long. It is not because we do not like the story any more, but because it all of a sudden becomes impossible where it wasn’t before. We begin thinking about things too much and asking for logical proofs. It is not enough to just believe anymore. There is no escaping this process, this winter that comes to us all. There’s no Neverland to fly away to where it is always summer. Every child must grow up, as Boland did. The pain does not end here, nor does the story, for now we become Demeter searching for our own child. He or she becomes our greatest responsibility. As Boland puts it, “Later I walked out in the summer twilight / Searching for my daughter
at bedtime. / When she came running I was ready / To make any bargain to keep her” (13-16). She would like to keep her daughter young and carefree forever, so that she can protect her from all the worries and cares of the world, but she knows that she cannot. Just as Persephone ate the pomegranate seeds, so will every child dip his or her foot in evil. Boland says about her daughter, “She put out her hand and pulled down / The French sound for apple…” (34-35). Apple in French is pomme and it is pronounced pom. This represents the forbidden fruits: the pomegranate and the apple, which Eve ate in the Garden of Eden. We mustn’t eat these fruits, and yet, we have no way to guard against them. A mother might warn her daughter, but that would do no good. The daughter changing into the mother is a never ending cycle. In the story of Demeter and Persephone, Persephone must go down to the underworld for a certain time every year and at that time her mother, Demeter, mourns and refuses to let anything grow upon the earth. This time is called winter. This is the same process that mortal women go through, but since they are not immortal it is a process that must go through the generations. It transforms every wandering child into a searching mother, and then her child into a mother, and it goes on forever.
No mother can stop her child from experiencing pain and grief. But the greatest gift she can give is that safe world where children live when they are still young. It is a place where magic can exist and safety can be found in the parent’s arms. It is a Summerland. The mother cannot keep the child forever; as Boland says, “If I defer the grief I will diminish the gift.” If she holds on too tightly the safe house will become a prison and the child who is now a woman will not even have the sweet memory of what it once was. All hope is not lost in growing up, though. Just the possibility of such immense pain and grief tells us that there must have been great love and beauty behind it. Womanhood is a gift in-and-of-itself; for it brings with it the gift of life. Just as the pomegranate is as red as blood and fertile with many seeds, so will the daughter’s loins turn red with blood at the onset of puberty that brings unto her that fertility of womanhood. That is why the cycle of mother and daughter will continue to go on forever, because though a daughter is destined to cause the mother great pain, she could not experience that great pain if a greater joy had not come before it. Some responsibilities are cumbersome, but some, like having a child, are so precious that we would not deny it to our daughters by keeping them forever young and for ourselves.
The saying that it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, is evident in the cycle that we see with mothers and daughters. Our very willingness to pass on this responsibility to our daughters should offer proof enough that the gift far outweighs the suffering we experience when we lose it. In every generation the daughter will become the mother. As Boland says about her daughter, “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.” The thing that she will hold in her hands could mean the pomegranate which will bring her into womanhood whether or not she wants to be brought there; or it could mean the poem itself that tells of the long journey she must make, the same journey that her mother made before her. That is the great secret that a mother must keep, waiting patiently for her daughter to find it out on her own.