Part I. Emily, Time-Lost to Ægean Seas 

"Spring Spreads One Green Lap of Flowers," John William Waterhouse, 1910, Wikipedia photo. For this poem, Ismene, then and now.
“Spring Spreads One Green Lap of Flowers,” John William Waterhouse, 1910, Wikipedia photo. For this poem, Ismene, then and now.

My quiet Emily, are you forever lost? Rainy
Days in Newfoundland, reading old postcards
In our attic, light of water-streaked window
Panes, blankets and hot tea. We found you
Collapsed amongst scattered cards from
Greece, cursive handwriting, messages of
Love, collections of old postage stamps.

How we hoped images of ancient temples,
Fishing villages, and Ægean seascapes would
Occupy your day, reading grandpa’s cards,
Merchant steamer mate, navigating Greeks
Isles, winding ways along Mediterranean
Ports, six sea-months duty before returning
To St. John’s fog-shrouded harbour lights.

Afraid you were spider-bitten, Emily, we rushed
You to the doctor, our pre-teen daughter neither
Moving nor talking. When awakened by smelling
Salts, you uttered Greek, “Αθηνά, σώσε με από
μαίνεται θάλασσες.” “Athena, save me from raging
Seas.” We had lost you to Ismene, a fearful girl
Who spoke in Homer’s Ionic Greek.

Emily, we know not where you have faded, or
What ancient gates opened Ismene’s mind, who
Prefers scarf-laced sandals to fishing boots,
Makes burnt sacrifices of handpicked flowers
And leafed sprigs, and prays to Athena and Zeus
Upon craggy cliff-tops, having been so time-
Washed ashore on foreign new-found strands.

Yet, at times, Emily, I see you in her, or perhaps
We have always seen Ismene in thee, my lovely
Child who studied pensively ancient worlds,
Greek, Romans, and Egyptians. Ismene speaks
As Homer wrote: “All the day the silver foam we
Clave, Wind in the well-stretched canvas
Following free, Till sun stooped beneath the
Western waves, and darkness veiled the spaces
Of the sea.” O! What helm answers not upon
Subconscious seas that I would lose my Emily
For wistful Ismene? In my heart, I can love
You both, if two can live as one, my heart and
Soul, blood and bone, of ardent hopes and
Mother’s love, two daughters, hand and glove.

II. Ismene, Stranger-Guest in Newfoundland

"Ruins at Nimes," Robert Hubert, 18th century, Wikimedia photo.
“Ruins at Nimes,” Robert Hubert, 18th century, Wikimedia photo.

O! Athena from slumbering depths you sent,
To foggy Newfoundland rocky isle I went,
Your faithful servant I made daily prayers
And cast to ice-strewn seas I do despair,
Machinations, charioteers, and sleight of hand,
My arrival on purple cliffs by your command.
Amongst columned peristyles, azure Ægean seas
My family hailed, triremes sailed on ocean breeze.

Yet, to Father Zeus I pray for my home-return,
Ere long thine own experience shall discern,
Ethereal oarsmen my willing soul does churn,
Till my loving family and home I once regain,
Fight of winged ships I sail by heaving main,
Glad soundings I beseech this dire request,
O! Divine Athena, see thy way to usher best
My course from foreign lands distressed.

For I am to Emily’s family a stranger-guest,
Her weary mother tears at heart-felt breasts
To find her daughter hidden in my eye lights
Inconsolable she weeps in tortured nights.
By dawn of day, I promise helm to turn,
Searching heaven’s Lotus-eating realm,
Narcotic sleep of flower-distilled potions
To lose myself in tumbling ancient ruins.

This evening I make sacrifices, humbly pray,
My eventual home-return from freezing spray.
Fresh flowers burnt, gentle smoke up-rising,
To dream of marbled temples white-gleaming
My parents and siblings in uncertain waiting,
For I suspect Emily is time-turned with them,
Confused by a lost daughter fates condemned
Two displaced sea-souls adrift in straying winds.

III. Emily, Sea-Found Daughter

"Consulting the Oracle," John William Waterhouse, 1884, Wikipedia photo.
“Consulting the Oracle,” John William Waterhouse, 1884, Wikipedia photo.

Storm-swept from sailing ship, neither living
Nor dead, my consciousness resurrected, nude
Body clinging to obscure Ægean cay, too small
To inhabit, too distant to swim, secluded
Fishing boat anchorage on wind-quiet nights.
Potent drug or magic spell, I struggled half-
Drowned in heart-reviving warm sunlight.

Awakened from time-tumbled Athenian
Dreams, my plight realized when Greek
Fishers hailed to me, their sailboats swift
As chariot teams. News of shipwrecks two
Days prior, reward for sea-lost Ismene, they
Were mistaken, yet fishers insisted I was
This shipwrecked Athenian daughter.

My hair, height, and complexion wrong, I’m
Emily, a fair-skinned Newfoundland woman,
Not an olive-toned child of Greece. My days
Amongst protected family peristyles revered,
Pleasures of cerulean sea breezes, joyous
Absence of Avalon fog and rain, I pretended
No quake of fortunes actually occurred.

At an oracular temple my parents pleaded,
Offering sacrifices of burnt flowers and
Slaughtered pig, blood spilling over altar
Dishes, the liver deciphered for god-sighted
Visions. Priests knew no answers for I
Dared behave as Ismene would, singing
Praises to Athena in faithful obedience.

Clutching selfishly to my new-found life,
Flowing gowns and ocean villas o’erlooking
Boating quays, I resisted gods’ machinations
To reverse my fate by learning Greek and
Posing as this family’s sea-found daughter.
For all who cared, I am now Ismene, designs
Even Athenian gods failed to perceive.

Can Emily successfully deceive Ismene’s family and goddess Athena?

Derived from Homer’s “The Odyssey,” this poem follows the
1861 Spenserian stanza translation by Philip Stanhope Worsley.

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