Saturday, 25 June 2016

Opening the Jar

This poem is based on Hesiod, Works and Days, interworking various texts, principally Pandora’s jar – not box – but also the Hymn to Zeus, the Ages of Man, Justice and Good Conduct, and the Calendar. I was working from the translation by H.G. Evelyn White.

While I allude to Pandora’s jar, I do not name it as such. The original text has a degree of misogyny - “But the woman took off the great lid of the jar with her hands and scattered all these and her thought caused sorrow and mischief to men.”

That this is not just a misinterpretation on my part can be seen in other parts of the texts, such as the maxim “the man who trusts womankind trust deceivers”. So I have recast the myth to remove Pandora. After all, we don’t need a single Pandora, we have many men and women more than capable of letting loose troubles upon our world.

Opening the Jar

O Muses of Pieria, sing this lament now:
The sorry tale of loss and woe, of how
Zeus makes the strong man bend and fall,
Humbles him so, breaks him, so small,
Beneath the god, who blasts the proud;
For what merit numbers, god against crowd?
Zeus thunders aloft, his dwelling so high:
Judgements makes with clear sight eye;
And where the tribes of men lived free,
He gave them a jar, so that they might see
The sickness which brings fates on men,
That they retreat from day to murky den;
They grow old so quickly, before time due,
Because of arrogance, in ignorance knew
Nothing and took the great lid, opened jar,
Scattered all that caused sorrow now afar;
And mischief went out upon all mankind,
Because of their ignorance, they were blind,
And could not stop the lid, seal against woe,
Countless plagues spread, bringing men low;
For the earth is full of evils, the tide is high,
And there is no escape, and nowhere to fly;
And only Hope remained bound within the jar,
Under the rim, a shining light, far and distant star,
Held by the will of Zeus who gathers the clouds,
And sees the diseases unleashed, as if shrouds
Covered the earth, bringing darkness, despair;
Taking the speech from men, no common tongue,
But only hatred of the stranger, evils so wrung;
None can escape the wrath of Zeus, just, wise,
Mankind must be humbled, before it can rise;
You princes, mark well this punishment also:
The anger of gods against deeds of men below;
Keeping watch on wrongs, virgin Justice roams,
Daughter of Zeus, brings judgement to all homes,
From humble hovel to mighty palaces of the kings,
Seek those who fall corrupted where the siren sings;
Songs of hatred, of fear of strangers, of the other,
Decry our common ancestry, our goddess mother;
Hands unwashed of wickedness, a race set apart,
With no compassion, mercy, and a hardened heart;
May we yet pray, having washed hands in streams,
In lovely clear water, and river spirit sends us dreams;
When Orion and Sirius are come again into the night,
Open again the jar, and let hope fly forth into the light;
Rosy fingered Dawn, a new morning broken, fresh dew:
And let the spirit of man rise, arms outstretched, anew.

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