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Persephone, Falling

Persephone, Falling


by Rita Dove

Analysis: Allusions

When poets refer to other great works, people, and events, it’s usually not accidental. Put on your super-sleuth hat and figure out why.

Literary and Philosophical References:

The main allusion, which begins in the title, is the story of Persephone's abduction by Hades. In Ovid's version of Persephone's capture, she is pictured as picking flowers in a far more innocent way. In fact, when Hades snags her, she cries to her mommy because her flowers are spilling, as if that were her only problem. Dove is obviously taking a slightly different spin on this.

The title itself is a minor allusion to the notion of sin as "falling," which comes to us from the biblical story of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. John Milton's Paradise Lost emphasizes that this disobedience (along with Satan's) caused the world to fall. This adds a nice double meaning to the title. Of course, it's no sin to get kidnapped (duh). We can really only read this from the mother's point of view. She's an overprotective woman who disapproves of her daughter's wandering off alone.

Line 1 contains a double-meaning shout out to Narcissus, the man who couldn't stop gazing at his reflection. Although ultimately we find out that Dove is referring to the flower, the reference sets us up for a story about a reckless teenager who wants to be unique and beautiful.

Line 7 also has a word-for-word allusion to Christ's final words on the cross as recorded in the New Testament. Dove ties Persephone's fall to this blunt statement to heighten the finality of the tragedy. Interestingly, in the New Testament, Jesus rises again, and in mythology, Persephone is able to escape the underworld (at least for eight months of the year).

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