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- Journeys Through Bookland V2 - 70/71 -

abode been a less gloomy place. Up the dark and dangerous passages to earth Mercury conducted her, and it was strange to see how, as she stepped forth into the sunshine, her pallor and her sadness left her, and she became the bright-eyed, happy Proserpina of old. And not only in her did the change appear. About her, on all sides, the grass and corn came shooting through the dry brown earth. Violets, hyacinths, daisies were everywhere, and Proserpina stooped and caressed them, with a gay laugh. But what was her joy when she saw at the door of her home Mother Ceres, with arms outstretched to greet her! Not even the thought of the separation which must surely come again could sadden their meeting. For that day they sat together and talked of all that had happened in the weary months gone by; but the next morning Ceres mounted her dragon-car for the first time in many, many days, and set forth to the fields to tend the new grain, while Proserpina ran to the seashore and with a happy shout called the nymphs, her old companions, from their seaweed beds.

Each year thereafter, when Proserpina was led by Mercury to Pluto's kingdom, Ceres, in grief and anger, shut herself up and would not attend to her duties, so that the earth was barren and drear. Each year, with the return of Proserpina, the flash of green ran across the fields and announced her coming before she appeared in sight. And all the people, weary and depressed after the hard, bitter months, joyed with Ceres at her daughter's approach, and cried with her, "She comes! She comes! Proserpina!"

This story, like that of Phaethon, is a nature myth; that is, it accounts for natural phenomena which the Greeks saw about them. As they conceived of Ceres, the earth goddess, as the kindest of the immortals, and of her daughter, Proserpina, the goddess of flowers and beautifying vegetation, as always young and happy, they found it hard to explain the barrenness of the winter months. Why should Ceres and Proserpina neglect the earth during a part of the year, so that it would bring forth nothing, no matter how much care was bestowed upon it?

We must remember that the people who invented these stories really believed that the earth produced grain and fruit because some goddess bestowed upon it her care. They even fancied, sometimes, as they entered their fields, that they saw Ceres, with her dragon-car and her crown of wheat ears, vanishing before them. And they did not say, during winter months, "The ground is hard and frozen, and thus cannot give food to the plants;" or, "The seed must lie underground for a time before it can send its roots down and its leaves up, and bring forth fruit." They said, "Mother Ceres is neglecting the earth."

What more natural, then, than that they should imagine that the earth goddess was mourning for the loss of something and refusing to attend to her duties? And since the flowers, the special care of Ceres's daughter, disappeared at the same time, it seemed most likely that it was this daughter who had disappeared, stolen and held captive underground. When, each year, the time of her captivity was at an end, Ceres went joyfully back to her work, the flowers and grass once more appeared--in a word, it was spring.

Looked at in a slightly different way, Proserpina represented the seed which is placed underground. For a time it is held there, apparently gone forever; but at last it appears above the earth in fresher, brighter guise, just as the daughter of Ceres reappeared.

It is held by some that this myth is a symbol or allegory of the death of man and his ultimate resurrection. That, however, does not seem extremely likely, as the ancients, although they believed in the life of the soul after death, conceived of that life as something far from pleasant, even for those who had led good lives.

The story of Proserpina has been used as a subject for many paintings. One of the best-known of these is Rosetti's "Persephone," which shows her as she stands, sad-eyed, with the bitten fruit in her hand.


A dewdrop came, with a spark of flame He had caught from the sun's last ray, To a violet's breast, where he lay at rest Till the hours brought back the day.

The rose looked down, with a blush and frown; But she smiled all at once, to view Her own bright form, with its coloring warm, Reflected back by the dew.

Then the stranger took a stolen look At the sky, so soft and blue; And a leaflet green, with its silver sheen, Was seen by the idler too.

A cold north wind, as he thus reclined, Of a sudden raged around; And a maiden fair, who was walking there, Next morning, an OPAL found.


By Lucy Larcom

Father Time, your footsteps go Lightly as the falling snow. In your swing I'm sitting, see! Push me softly; one, two, three, Twelve times only. Like a sheet, Spread the snow beneath my feet. Singing merrily, let me swing Out of winter into spring.

Swing me out, and swing me in! Trees are bare, but birds begin Twittering to the peeping leaves, On the bough beneath the eaves Wait,--one lilac bud I saw. Icy hillsides feel the thaw; April chased off March to-day; Now I catch a glimpse of May.

Oh, the smell of sprouting grass! In a blur the violets pass. Whispering from the wildwood come Mayflower's breath and insect's hum. Roses carpeting the ground; Thrushes, orioles, warbling sound: Swing me low, and swing me high, To the warm clouds of July.

Slower now, for at my side White pond lilies open wide. Underneath the pine's tall spire Cardinal blossoms burn like fire. They are gone; the golden-rod Flashes from the dark green sod. Crickets in the grass I hear; Asters light the fading year.

[Illustration: Father Time pushes the swing]

Slower still! October weaves Rainbows of the forest leaves. Gentians fringed, like eyes of blue, Glimmer out of sleety dew. Meadow-green I sadly miss: Winds through withered sedges hiss. Oh, 'tis snowing, swing me fast, While December shivers past!

Frosty-bearded Father Time, Stop your footfall on the rime! Hard you push, your hand is rough; You have swung me long enough. "Nay, no stopping," say you? Well, Some of your best stories tell, While you swing me--gently, do!-- From the Old Year to the New.

The title tells you that this poem is not about a real swing, under an apple tree. Why is Time asked to push "twelve times only"? What month is it when the swinging begins? How many times does the swing move in the first stanza? How many times in the second? Do the birds begin to twitter while the trees are still bare? Should we expect to see lilac buds in February or March?

Do you know the "smell of sprouting grass"? Do the violets pass in May? Does it seem to you that the author has chosen the right flowers and birds to represent each month? Do the pond lilies, the cardinal blossoms, the golden-rod, the asters, and the gentians follow each other in that order?

If you are familiar with the flowers mentioned, you will know that they almost all grow in damp, marshy places. Where do sedges grow? Does it not seem to you that the illustrations are particularly well chosen?

There is a series of beautiful little pictures in the words, "underneath the pine's tall spire cardinal blossoms burn like fire"; "the golden-rod flashes from the dark green sod"; "asters light the fading year"; "gentians fringed ...glimmer out of sleety dew."


By Mary Howitt

There were, in very ancient times, two brothers, one of whom was rich, and the other poor. Christmas was approaching, but the poor man had nothing in the house for a Christmas dinner; so he went to his brother and asked him for a trifling gift.

The rich man was ill-natured, and when he heard his brother's request he looked very surly. But as Christmas is a time when even the worst people give gifts, he took a fine ham down from the chimney, where it was hanging to smoke, threw it at his brother, and bade him be gone and

Journeys Through Bookland V2 - 70/71

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