Study Guide

Demeter's Prayer to Hades Man and the Natural World

By Rita Dove

Man and the Natural World

What happens when you are an ancient citizen of Greece and want a good explanation for why the weather suddenly turns cold and dreary? Well, you don't have the benefit of modern science, so you instead invent a story that explains the inexplicable change in seasons. The story of Persephone, Demeter, and Hades explains why there are four seasons, and it does so with a dash of drama for entertainment's sake. Man's relationship to nature is therefore also man's relationship to the gods. Unfortunately, as we see in "Demeter's Prayer to Hades," they don't have too much say in what happens, and are left to deal with the hand they've been dealt.

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. How does Dove use seeds and plants in the poem? In what way do they work as symbols?
  2. What role do mortals play in the world? Do they plant anything in the poem? If not, then who does?
  3. Isn't dying "natural"? Why does Demeter say that "no one believes without dying"?

Chew on This

This poem shows that the gods are part of the natural world; they don't control it.

Demeter speaks in farming metaphors because she's the goddess of agriculture. (We guess she sticks to what she knows.)

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