by Rita Dove
When you've got a poem with the name Persephone in the title, you know you're gonna be dealing with the ancients for at least a line or two. Readers in the know will make some immediate associations after reading the title, but for those less in the know, let's take a closer look.
- Title: The classical allusion to Persephone reminds us immediately of the story of her forced trip to the underworld at the hands of Hades.
- Line 1: There is also the passing reference to Narcissus. Yes, Dove really means a flower, but we can also think of the god who was stuck on his own reflection. He represents Persephone's vanity, her desire to be unique and special.
- Line 9: Suddenly, the poem shifts to a voice of a mother, giving advice to her daughter. Given that we've already met Persephone, we might assume that this mother is Demeter, but if it is, why is she telling Persephone to go to school? We're pretty sure Persephone wasn't headed to McKinley High or anything. We might think of this moment, then, as the moment the poem steps out of itself, and Persephone and Demeter become mythological symbols for any mother-daughter pair. They're stand-ins for the typical mother-daughter relationship. Through the two stanzas of the poem, the reader is given the chance to understand what it feels like to be a daughter who longs to be free and a mother who longs to keep her child safe.