Winter 1996 • Vol. XVIII No. 1 Orpheus. Descending. |

The Story of Poetry and Poets

for Charles Shepherdson   A man and a women have fallen in love. On the day of their wedding the woman dies and is led away into the land of the shades. Against all the stern counsel of the upper world, and armed only with the mournful power of his song, the man attempts what no other mortal has ever dared: to pursue his beloved into the deepest reaches of the underworld. And so begins the story of Orpheus and Eurydice—Western culture's formative myth of poetry and poets—a story whose characters set in motion a chain of events that come to suggest certain arcane truths which lie at the heart of poetry's art. At the crucial, decisive moments of its drama, this story looks inward on its own creators, and that painful self-reflexiveness reminds us of the two-fold nature of those truths. Most particularly, it brings to light poetry's deep-seated link to love and death and the erotic; but also, and no less significantly, it reveals how poetry is as much concerned with what it c

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