The Ballad of Orpheus and Eurydice, NaPoWriMo


Odilon Redon, “Orpheus,”


“It has been said that the myth is a public dream, dreams are private myths.”

–Mary Zimmermann, Metamorphoses


Busking, I play my guitar

mostly by day,

sometimes under the stars

(their music lovelier than ours).

My songs are stunning, striking riffs,

god-blessed, my parents’ gift

to shift a mood–

when I sing my songs

the birds and trees dance along,

while men and women weep

and want to sweep

away the night,

keeping love alight.


And so, on this I survived

till my own love came to me.

In my joy, my music soared

as if on Pegasus-winged chords–

and I dreamt all manner of lovely things.

We married, and then one day

she journeyed far by urban subway,

vanishing deep underground

where she would not be found.


I wandered for days and night

in corridors

far below the banks and stores,

strumming the strings while I walked

until a fellow said, “Come, we’ll talk.”

He said a bloke as talented as me

shouldn’t be without his love, his muse–

but, well, let’s see what she’ll choose.


On the appointed day,

I stood beneath the street

(where she had agreed to meet).

She told me that with me

she had been in love,

but she was tired—sick of

living on song and air,

really it wasn’t fair,

it was no life–

she was dying as my wife.

So, she went down the stairs–

found work with City Transportation–

for her, a cause for celebration.


“Now, I’ve made my declaration. Go,” she said.

“Don’t look back, pretend I’m dead.”


You, of course, know the tale

I looked, I failed my darling wife

who’s disappeared behind a veil

of mystery and confusing trails.

I still hope that she’ll return.

Till then, I yearn,

I ride the subway cars,

looking for her, undeterred,

I find her face among the stars,

go out to sing about our story,

(now the most popular

in my repertory).

Then people sigh and cry

while I strum and sing,

and wonder why.


The prompt for Day 24 of NaPoWriMo is write a poem inspired by a reference book. The Encyclopaedia Britannica says Orpheus had “superhuman musical skills.” He was said to be the son of the Muse Calliope (poetry) and Apollo, who also had musical skills, and who gave him his first lyre. His “singing and playing were so beautiful that animals and even trees and rocks moved about him in dance.”

On dVerse, Anmol has asked us to reimagine a myth. I really wanted to use this painting that I saw on Jane Dougherty’s post the other day.





40 thoughts on “The Ballad of Orpheus and Eurydice, NaPoWriMo

      • Possibly, for one of the few people who actually know the story.
        There are some lovely Old English words that haven’t crossed the Atlantic. I suspect the Puritans chucked pillock out with the cock and the tit 🙂

      • Do you call the nineteenth century Victorian? After Queen Victoria? Weird. Yes, they were real Philistines, I wonder if they were responsible then? They didn’t tamper with the language in England, but maybe their American counterparts were more prudish (if that”s possible).

      • No, I don’t call the whole century Victorian, but isn’t Victorian a term used on your side of the ocean? I think it became a thing on both sides to “be respectable,” so I imagine if trying to sound refined, one wouldn’t use words deemed uncouth–maybe pillock is just slang. Maybe we were worse here in the 20th century when comedians like Lenny Bruce were arrested and couples on TV always had twin beds. 🙂

      • Yes, Victorian refers to the reign of Queen Victoria so from around the 1840s to the end of the century. I didn’t know you used it too.
        That notion of slang is maybe modern, I’m not sure. I think Shakespearean English is full of colourful language that wouldn’t be tolerated even in the kitchens of a respectable Victorian household never mind the drawing room!
        I remember seeing old films of a husband and wife team of detectives (1930’s I think. They had a dog) and they slept in twin beds. Apart from the oddity of sleeping in separate beds (in the same room, with the dog…) I remember thinking how yucky it was sleeping on such shiny sheets and pillows. It was probably satin but you didn’t have satin in Yorkshire, just slippery nylon…

  1. AH! I love your narrative of the myth which gives due importance to both the central characters — for me, it seems to break the image of the tragic artist by focusing on Eurydice as more than just his muse, as someone with her own decisions and choices. It’s refreshing to read this ballad, Merril! Also loved the tone and flow of it. 🙂

  2. You’re so vain indeed! Man is his overwhelming infatuation with his own reflection and echo! Pillock indeed, well named Jane!! I think you brought the myth into the so-called modern age perfectly.

  3. Very skillful writing … and thank you for introducing me to the word “pillock”. Already I can think of some likely uses!

  4. I love this Merril thank you – myths and their dynamics continue to operate in our contemporary lives and you’ve done just this in your melodious way – this truly felt like a ballad to me!

  5. Poor fellow, sounds like he may have been the first country singer. Would have likely chosen Blake’s team. This was fun, and a bit bittersweet to read. I know nothing about myths, nor am I so drawn, so do not know the parallel backstory, but I enjoyed reading this Merill.

    • Thank you, Rob. I’m not very knowledgeable about country music, but that would probably work. 🙂
      As I mentioned, Orpheus had astounding musical skills. Eurydice was kidnapped or died from a snakebite or whatever, but she died. Orpheus sang so beautifully that he convinced the gods of Hades to let her return to him–but he could not look back as he exited with her. Of course, as he was walking with her behind him, he looked back to check on her, and she was whisked back into the underworld.

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