ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE
Once Orpheus tried to reconstruct exactly what happened. He had no difficulty remembering the snakebite that sent his wife to the Underworld and the grief that drove him there in search of her. And no difficulty remembering how the song of his loss had so moved Hades with its anguish and its art that the tearful god allowed him to lead Eurydice back into the light, but with the warning she would vanish forever if he so much as glanced at her along the way. And how could he forget the anxious steps on the dim trail out of the world of death, since the sound of every pebble beneath their feet had echoed over and over in his mind through the years since? No, his difficulty came instead from the pat interpretations everyone who hadn’t been there offered of what happened, as if their unsought sympathy should have the power to console him. Did he really turn at the last moment, as so many thought, because he could no longer control a lover’s need? Or because, as others declared with equal self-assurance, his passion for Eurydice was already fated to end in eternal farewell: their private tragedy reduced to just another public sighing over death’s claim on all that lives? Orpheus couldn’t recognize himself in such tidy explanations and wondered how they could satisfy anyone. His turning around hadn’t been an impulsive lapse, nor the ironic end to a trite allegory of passion and art and death, nor a mythic illustration of the obvious about fate. Were these the limit of people’s understanding? Eurydice herself could not have failed to grasp why he’d turned towards her in that final moment. Surely she recognized why his heart overruled all else in pledging his love at its fullest. To lead her out into the daylight of common affection would stretch that moment as thin as air. And then what might another moment’s chance dimming of their love do to it, the merest slip from the burning devotion he could feel in her hand on his shoulder as they climbed through the dark chill? A devotion so great he’d realized he had no way to offer up the depth of his own but to turn full face at the very point nothing could ever be taken back. Nor ever surpassed. “Sorrow” was not a word equal to what he’d suffered since watching her fade away with a trailing gasp, but his embrace of that sorrow was the only testament left to his love. The measure of what he’d promised in that instant, an ardor that never would grow paunchy or sag as flesh inevitably must, never begin to walk with a domestic slouch nor doze off at midday—to fix that passionate vow at its height for eternity, what greater devotion could anyone have offered or received? As they both saw the light stream towards them from outside the Gates of Death and their final steps drew near, how could he dare hesitate any longer? And when he’d felt the tightening of Eurydice’s fingers, hadn’t it signaled her wish as well that he look back and see in her eyes a love no song of enchantment or lament could possibly express? Hadn’t it?
Copyright © 2007 by Geoffrey Grosshans