Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The “Homeric Hymn to Demeter,” even in its disturbing account of Persephone’s rape, gives the starring role to the goddess of agriculture. Dove expands Demeter’s role, adding psychological layers to the goddess-mother’s love and loss. The poet, however, also develops Persephone’s and Hades’s characters, giving them prominent first-person voices throughout the collection. These revisions of the myth serve Dove’s thematic purposes. With this triad, the poet can emphasize contradictions in and pressures on maternal love, mother-daughter relationships, and adulthood.

One such contradiction, the narcissism of all three characters, is Dove’s covert psychological gesture to the account in the “Homeric Hymn to Demeter” in which a narcissus flower attracts first Persephone and then Hades to Persephone. Certainly, Demeter’s maternal pride matches the self-absorption of both Persephone and Hades. The result is a triangle of willfulness, uneasiness, and power struggles. Demeter, for example, will not accept her daughter’s sexuality or autonomy. The goddess is also a chronic worrier. Persephone, even as she gains independence and tries to shake off her mother’s worry, is bored and numb. The latter problem also characterizes Hades and the detachment with which Hades and Persephone approach each other. In fact, all three characters in this sequence reflect numbed states of waiting: “It’s an old drama, waiting./ One grows into...

(The entire section is 572 words.)