Mythology is generally defined as the stories of gods and legends. Even though it’s mostly fiction, mythology had been the backbone of every culture and religion around the world. Why? Because mythology highlights all the social values, human qualities that a culture or religion appreciates. Characteristics such as honesty, patriotism, courage, etc. are exhibited by the characters in mythology.
It’s no surprise that mythology is a great source of literature inspiration. In this article, we’re going to look at 8 poems about mythology to see how the poets take inspiration from myths.
Forgotten, and all terror that may be,
Defied—no past is mine, no future: look at me!
In many myths and legends, darkness is associated with chaos and danger, while light represents order and safety. Robert Browning’s use of imagery of darkness and light can be seen as a metaphor for the struggle between good and evil, a common theme in many mythologies. In many myths, heroes must overcome their past traumas and fears in order to achieve greatness, and in the passage, the speaker wants to forget their past troubles and not be afraid of the future.
Eurydice to Orpheus is a powerful expression of the speaker’s deep longing for protection, security, and reassurance in an uncertain and dangerous world. The use of language and imagery is common in many mythologies such as the desire for protection and guidance from a divine being, the struggle between good and evil, and the hero’s journey.
Bacchus, let me drink no more!
Wild are seas that want a shore!
Robert Herrick begins with the speaker mentioning that the seas of drinking are wild and want a shore, indicating a sense of being out of control and overwhelmed by the act of drinking. The reference to “Thee, that great cup, Hercules” implies that Bacchus has a reputation for being a powerful and excessive drinker, and the speaker is asking to be released from this influence. The promise of “Daffadils giv’n up to thee” as a reward for stopping drinking implies that the speaker is willing to sacrifice something they find valuable in order to be released from Bacchus’ influence.
A Hymn To Bacchus addresses the speaker’s desire to stop drinking and be released from the influence of Bacchus. The poem aims to act as a caution of the risks associated with binge drinking, the power of addiction, and the importance of discipline.
(‘Twas all he could) and fawn’d and kiss’d his feet,
Seiz’d with dumb joy; then falling by his side,
Own’d his returning lord, look’d up, and died!
Argus tells the story of Ulysses, a hero of Greek mythology, who returns home after a long absence, during which he has been at war and on a journey. When Ulysses returns, he is old, poor, and disguised, and is unrecognizable to his friends and even his queen. However, the only one who recognizes him is his dog, Argus. Argus, who has been neglected and left to fend for himself, recognizes Ulysses and shows him affection and loyalty. The dog’s joy at seeing his master again is so great that he dies from it.
Alexander Pope highlights the themes of loyalty and the ingratitude of those who have been beneficiaries of Ulysses’ generosity and have now forgotten him. It serves as a reminder of the importance of loyalty and gratitude in relationships. Moreover, the poem also alludes to the theme of aging, and how it can change the way people are perceived and treated by others.
In sweet music is such art,
Killing care and grief of heart
Fall asleep, or hearing, die.
Orpheus illustrates the mythical figure of Orpheus and his ability to charm and captivate the natural world with his music. The poem describes how Orpheus, with his lute, could make the trees and mountain tops bow down to him when he sang. Orpheus’ music also had the power to make plants and flowers spring to life as if it were a permanent spring. This imagery is used to convey the idea that Orpheus’ music had the power to bring life and vitality to the world around him.
William Shakespeare illustrates the power of music to kill care and grief of the heart, and that it can bring sleep or even death to those who hear it. The poem is a celebration of the power and beauty of music, and it shows that music has the ability to touch and transform the world around us.
Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
The speaker in The Face That Launch’d A Thousand Ships is addressing Helen, describing her as the face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium, referring to the Trojan War which was fought over Helen’s beauty. The speaker expresses his desire to be immortalized by Helen’s kiss and describes her as the source of his soul. He compares her beauty to that of the evening air, stars, and Jupiter, and declares that she is his only love and paramour.
Through The Face That Launch’d A Thousand Ships, Christopher Marlow delves into the topics of beauty, desire, and sacrifice. The poem is a common motif in mythology, where heroes and gods are willing to make sacrifices for the greater good or for the ones they love. It is a powerful tribute to the enduring power and impact of beauty and desire in mythology, and how they shape the stories and actions of the characters.
Yet if over hill and hollow
Still it is your will to follow,
I am off;—to heel, Apollo!
Tithonus by Alfred, Lord Tennyson describes the mythological figure of Tithonus, who was granted immortality by the god Apollo, but not eternal youth. The speaker, Tithonus, is addressing someone who is following him, asking why they continue to do so since he is no longer youthful and can at any moment turn into a tree. He wants to become the tree since the person following him is no longer interested in him, as he is no longer youthful and attractive.
The poem serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of not being specific when making wishes and the consequences that can arise from immortality without eternal youth. The imagery of Tithonus turning into a tree indicates that immortality without youth is a curse, as he is now stuck in an unchanging state, unable to die but also unable to fully live. The poem highlights the importance of cherishing beauty and youth while they last and serves as a reminder to think ahead and consider the potential consequences when making decisions.
THIS is the glamour of the world antique:
The thyme-scents of Hymettus fill the air,
And in the grass narcissus-cups are fair.
Sibyl describes the figure of a Sibyl, a woman with the gift of prophecy in ancient times. John Howard Payne paints a picturesque scene of ancient Greece, with the thyme-scents of Hymettus filling the air and the sight of narcissus-cups in the grass. The imagery of the full brook wandering through the ferns, the amber haunts of bees and the soft hill with a gold-marged sky, creates a sense of serenity and peacefulness.
The Sibyl is portrayed as a dream from the past, standing on the peak of the hill, lost in her own world, with eyes full of dreams and the rustle of immortal wings in her ears. The speaker warns the reader not to entreat her as she is not of this world, she is not aware of their presence, and she is only listening to the songs and sounds of the past. The poem highlights the theme of time and how the past can be a source of inspiration and contemplation, and Sibyl as a figure who is able to connect to the past, and the mystical and spiritual aspects of it.
‘Twas the Greeks’ love of war
Turn’d Love into a boy,
And woman into a statue of stone–
And away fled every joy.
William Blake questions why the god of love, Cupid, is traditionally depicted as a boy, when the act of falling in love is associated with women. The speaker suggests that the traditional depiction of Cupid as a boy is a mocking plan by the Cupid girl, as men are not able to fully understand the complexities of love, and they are often pierced with cares and wounded with the “arrowy smarts” of love.
Why Was Cupid A Boy is a commentary on the nature of love and gender roles, it questions the traditional depiction of Cupid as a boy, and suggests that love is often associated with the female gaze. It also shows the power dynamics in relationships and the idea that the Greek’s love of war led to the suppression of female agency in relationships.
This collection of 8 poems explores the myths of various cultures and civilizations, delving into the tales of gods and goddesses, heroes, and monsters. From the home of the mighty god Asgard to the depths of the underworld, these poems transport readers to other realms and offer a glimpse into the stories that have shaped human history. Whether you’re a lover of mythology or simply looking for an engaging read, these poems are sure to delight and inspire.
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Thomas Dao is the guy who created Poem Home, a website where people can read about all things poetry related. When he’s not busy working on his next project, you can find him reading a good book or spending time with family and friends.