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had happened in the weary months gone by; but the next morning Ceres mounted her dragon-car for the first time in many, many days, and set forth to the fields to tend the new grain, while Proserpina ran to the seashore and with a happy shout called the nymphs, her old companions, from their seaweed beds.
Each year thereafter, when Proserpina was led by Mercury to Pluto's kingdom, Ceres, in grief and anger, shut herself up and would not attend to her duties, so that the earth was barren and drear. Each year, with the return of Proserpina, the flash of green ran across the fields and announced her coming before she appeared in sight. And all the people, weary and depressed after the hard, bitter months, joyed with Ceres at her daughter's approach, and cried with her, "She comes! She comes! Proserpina!"
This story, like that of Phaethon, is a nature myth; that is, it accounts for natural phenomena which the Greeks saw about them. As they conceived of Ceres, the earth goddess, as the kindest of the immortals, and of her daughter, Proserpina, the goddess of flowers and beautifying vegetation, as always young and happy, they found it hard to explain the barrenness of the winter months. Why should Ceres and Proserpina neglect the earth during a part of the year, so that it would bring forth nothing, no matter how much care was bestowed upon it?
We must remember that the people who invented these stories really believed that the earth produced grain and fruit because some goddess bestowed upon it her care. They even fancied, sometimes, as they entered their fields, that they saw Ceres, with her dragon-car and her crown of wheat ears, vanishing before them. And they did not say, during winter months, "The ground is hard and frozen, and thus cannot give food to the plants;" or, "The seed must lie underground for a time before it can send its roots down and its leaves up, and bring forth fruit." They said, "Mother Ceres is neglecting the earth."
What more natural, then, than that they should imagine that the earth goddess was mourning for the loss of something and refusing to attend to her duties? And since the flowers, the special care of Ceres's daughter, disappeared at the same time, it seemed most likely that it was this daughter who had disappeared, stolen and held captive underground. When, each year, the time of her captivity was at an end, Ceres went joyfully back to her work, the flowers and grass once more appeared— in a word, it was spring.
Looked at in a slightly different way, Proserpina represented the seed which is placed underground. For a time it is held there, apparently gone forever; but at last it appears above the earth in fresher, brighter guise, just as the daughter of Ceres reappeared.
It is held by some that this myth is a symbol or allegory of the death of man and his ultimate resurrection. That, however, does not seem extremely likely, as the ancients, although they believed in the life of the soul after death, conceived of that life as something far from pleasant, even for those who had led good lives.
The story of Proserpina has been used as a subject for many paintings. One of the best-known of these is Rosetti's "Persephone," which shows her as she stands, sad-eyed, with the bitten fruit in her hand.
ORIGIN OF THE OPAL
ADEWDROP came, with a spark of flame
The rose looked down, with a blush and frown;
But she smiled all at once, to view
Reflected back by the dew.
Then the stranger took a stolen look
At the sky, so soft and blue;
Was seen by the idler too.
A cold north wind, as he thus reclined,
Of a sudden raged around;
Next morning, an opal found.
IN TIMES SWING
By Lucy Larcom
FATHER TIME, your footsteps go
Swing me out, and swing me in!
Oh, the smell of sprouting grass!
Slower now, for at my side
They are gone; the golden-rod
Slower still! October weaves