Contagious music

I have a serious ear worm in my head, Kate McGarrigle’s Proserpina as performed by her daughter Martha Wainwright soon after Kate’s death from clear cell sarcoma in 2010 when she was only 63.

The music refuses to leave me and I imagine if I share it here, you might catch some of it too and take it away from me.

I wake up these words, already in my head as if they never left before I fell asleep. I wake to the song, a variation on the life of Persephone, the goddess of spring, and in Roman known as Proserpina, the daughter of Demeter or Ceres depending on your Greek or Latin, the goddess of grain and agriculture, but at one point in the chorus referred to as Hera, Demeter’s sister and the goddess of women, perhaps because it fits into the rhythm better.

The song begins with a plea from mother to daughter:

Proserpina, Proserpina, come home to momma, words that repeat themselves over and over as if there is a mother out there desperately calling to her daughter, Come home to your mother. Come home to momma, now.

In the story Demeter’s grief is so great she brings forth the winter. Her daughter, stuck underground with Proserpina’s husband Pluto (Hades in Greek, and god of the underworld)  who wants her to stay with him forever.

The call to come home changes to a tirade, Demeter casting pestilence on the world:

I shall punish the earth

I shall turn down the heat

I shall take away every morsel to eat

I shall turn every field into stone

As I walk crying alone crying for Proserpina,

Proserpina come home to Momma.

Come home to momma now.

 And it goes on repeating, the same words the same pain, the angst of loss, the utter grief and you can sense the Martha Wainwright’s grief at losing her mother.

A friend who is suffering heart break put me onto this song, a dear friend and whenever the words repeat in my ears, I think of her sadness and of other losses and I wish I could unleash something of the keening within me for all the losses I’ve endured too but it will not come.

My own grief sits inside me, set aside like so much hardened concrete refusing to budge.

Maybe that’s the lot of writers to stand aside and observe not only the grief of others but their own grief, as though it belongs out there to someone else and they must keep a close eye on it so that it does not slip its moorings and infect them to the point they cannot function.

4 thoughts on “Contagious music”

  1. Where are you, Lis? Deep in grief and reliving loss. Just when I think I am moving forward, the smallest upset can pull me back to the past. Grieving doesn’t stop, it travels beside you.

    1. I saw a youtube clip doing the rounds which argues – and I’d agree – that our grief never leaves us entirely, Karen. It’s there in the centre, at first in dominant form, and then overtime, it doesn’t go away but other things in life surround it and give the illusion that it grows smaller, which in some sense it does. It grows smaller in our awareness but never goes away, not entirely. And then anniversaries and such like revive the feeling as if it started only yesterday. Thanks, Karen.

  2. You made a comment in you last post, “[G]rief never disappears however much as it might fade… And the more loved the less it fades.” I don’t know about that. I began writing ‘Left’ to explore my grief or, to be more precise, my apparent lack of it. I was sad when my parents died, I felt a sense of loss (that something was missing) but I this thing called “grief” of which others spoke seemed to pass me by. I dealt with the practicalities practically and then went back to my life. My father’s death caused the most inconvenience. He was no longer available to tend to the garden and that chore fell on me. Whereas Dad had phoned me every week on a Thursday evening it now fell to me to call Mum at the same time. Mum’s demise was a release from all that. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved my parents. They had faults (my father in particular (you don’t know the half of it)) but there was more than enough left to love. When you write, “My own grief sits inside me, set aside like so much hardened concrete refusing to budge,” I genuinely struggle to understand what that must be like. That’s why in the novel I decided to make Jen schizoid. She’s that part of me expanded to be a character in her own right in exactly the same way as Jonathan Payne and Jim Valentine are aspects of me given form and a voice. (In case you never noticed all my novels’ protagonists’ names begin with a J.) I’ve watched people grieve and I simply don’t get it. Does this mean I’m mentally ill? You’re the psychotherapist. You tell me. I don’t feel I’ve missed out on something. Grief sounds pretty horrible to be honest.

    1. Grief is painful, Jim, but I wouldn’t call it horrible. We might want to avoid it but I also reckon there’s something very cathartic about being able to grieve, to feel the pain of loss. I wouldn’t presume to say anything about why you find yourself out of tune with grief, maybe you just have a very particular way of dealing with loss such that the feelings don’t get through to you as they might with someone else. We all have different ways of coping with our feelings, some are more overt about it than others. Thanks, Jim.

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