The Meadow of Asphodel (extended version)
Said Circe of the lovely hair,
The goddess with the tresses fair:
“Odysseus, go and set sail,
For in your quest you must not fail.
I will provide a strong north breeze
That will propel you o’er the seas
To where a land is bathed in mist;
That Dawn’s soft rays have never kissed;
Where dreadful Night has spread her cloak.
Cimmerians, unhappy folk,
Live there, close to the gates of Hell.
A meadow clothed in asphodel,
A grove of slender poplar trees,
(They are august Persephone’s)
Two rivers mingle in a gyre –
The Lamentation, Flaming Fire.
The first has waters of the Styx.
Around a towering rock they mix,
And with a thundering are gone –
They pour into the Acheron.
So when this mournful land you reach,
And on its shore your boat you beach,
Then dig a trench a cubit broad,
A cubit long, with your fine sword.
Around the trench pour offerings,
To all the dead, to slaves and kings,
Then barley, white, all over spread,
And say your prayers to the dead:
At Ithaca, when you return,
A heifer you will kill and burn,
And treasure heap upon the pyre,
So all will be consumed by fire.
And to Teiresias the seer,
The blind, the ghost who dwells quite near,
You’ll sacrifice the finest sheep,
So that the sage in peace may sleep.
When prayers are done, call to your crew
That they must bring a ram and ewe,
Jet-black, no others will suffice –
Two victims for the sacrifice.
To Erebus then turn each head,
But look away till they are bled.
And when the trench is filled with blood;
When death has staunched the surging flood,
From Erebus there’ll come a swarm
Of all the souls in ghostly form;
But take your sword, and let none pass
Till you speak with Teiresias.”
All then went as Circe said.
From Erebus the swarms of dead
Approached Odysseus the Lord,
Who held them back with his bare sword,
And said: “Until the Prince of seers,
His prophesy brings to my ears,
No soul but he this blood will taste.
I beg Teiresias – make haste.”
And then the Theban seer came up:
“Odysseus, now let me sup
The dark blood; nimble-witted Lord,
In silver scabbard sheathe your sword.”
Odysseus did then obey
The ghostly sage, and backed away.
Teiresias, the blood consumed,
Then spoke: “You and your men are doomed
If the Earth Shaker has his way.
He still broods on that fateful day
When with your crudely crafted spear
You blinded Polyphemus – dear
To him – his son; he’ll send you down
To Ocean’s bottom – watch you drown.
But should he fail, then mark my words:
There is an island blessed with herds
Of cattle, flocks of sheep; the Sun,
He keeps them – watches every one.
Trinacria this isle is named,
And for these kine and sheep is famed.
So if by chance you reach this isle,
Do not these flocks and herds defile;
Don’t hurt the cattle or the sheep,
Or Sun will send you to the deep;
For wrecked will be your ship – your crew
Will perish, but perchance should you
Survive – should you avoid this fate,
To Ithaca you’ll come home late,
And in a ship from foreign soil,
All laden rich with gifts and spoil.
But trouble in your house you’ll find,
Where are the Suitors fed and wined,
And to your royal and faithful wife
Make love. By stratagem or strife,
By plan or sword, clear them away.
In Ithaca you cannot stay;
For you must bear a shapely oar
And travel far away once more
Until you meet the men who know
Not sea – who salted food forgo.
Where red-cheeked ships are unknown things,
As are their oars – their well-cut wings.
A sign I’ll send – will say a man:
“Upon your shoulder there’s a fan
For winnowing.” Then plant the oar
Into the earth. A breeding-boar,
A bull, a ram, then sacrifice
To Lord Poseidon. Sage advice
To you Odysseus I give,
Though I am dead and you still live:
Return then home – to gods, in turn,
The hecatombs on pyres burn.
As for your end – Death from the sea
Will gently come – prosperity
Will mark your days – you will grow old.
Teiresias, the truth has told.”
– D.N. O’Brien