The Underworld

(A narrative poem based on Greek mythology)



With backward glance they slipped from his hand.
Like tears they fell, and lay on the sand
Piled in a mound above your head,
Over a coffin containing the dead.

He walks away, you are left alone,
Tender words on a cross made of stone;
Never again to see the sky,
Your body in its grave does lie.
So to The Underworld your soul must go
And be judged by The Three, who wait below.


Hermes is your guide appointed;
On wingèd feet you’ll be escorted
Swiftly from this mortal state,
Your transition he’ll facilitate.
But first, before he bears your soul in haste,
A coin upon your lips is placed,
Ensuring you can pay the toll
To the man with eyes as black as coal.

No returning is there now,
No final message be allowed.
Down winding paths and tunnels deep,
Along the way, you hear men weep.
Ghostly shapes ahead you see;
Gaunt faces stare vicariously
Through haunted eyes, abandoned years,
The endless crying of dry tears.
Dark clouds and thunder overhead;
You’ve reached the place where they greet the dead.
Your guide no further can proceed,
He’s not allowed to intercede.
Hermes leaves whilst you await
That fearful voyage your soul must take.


“You’ll receive no charity whilst down here,”
Charon the ferryman says without cheer.
With pole in hand, he stands in his boat,
“Your time has come to cross this moat.
Spit out the coin from between your lips,
If you want to be carried across the Stix,
Or wander in limbo twixt living and dead,
Forever on the banks of this riverbed.”

The toll is settled, the boat moves away;
Few are so foolish as not to pay.
The Stix is wide and uncontrolled;
Souls borne over since times of old.
Through blanketing mist and swirling fog,
You listen to Charon’s monologue . . .
“Cerberus the dog, guards the gate,
All worldly possessions he’ll confiscate.
Three heads he has but have no doubt,
He won’t be trying to keep you out.”
Charon’s face twists with a knowing grin,
“His sole intent is to keep you in!”

You disembark on a foreign shore,
The track you follow is well-worn.
Up ahead at the iron gates
Your journey briefly terminates
Whilst Cerberus sniffs the air
With all six nostrils wide aflair.
Eyes ablaze, mocking smile,
Insincere and drooling bile.
Extravagantly, he says to you,
“All are welcome, please enter through.
Many souls pass this way
But remain on the path and do not stray
Until a fork ahead you see,
Then stop to be judged, by the panel of three.”

Compliantly, you do as told;
Contorted branches crackle with cold.
Heart pounds fast as you try to stay strong,
The going is steep, twisting and long.
Abruptly you halt, as one path becomes two
And a glow on the left beckons to you.

With faltering steps you attempt to proceed
But your ankles are locked in a tight snarl of weed.
Dense black smoke descends like a screen
Too dark for the path on the right to be seen,
When a flash reveals cliffs that encase
A heaving dank chamber where souls are erased.

Out of the mist, three judges appear,
Countenance stern; no humour here.
Rhadamanthus, Minos, and Aeacus,
To begin your review, fair and judicious.

“We are charged to appraise your life above ground.
By the laws of Hades our king, we are bound
To seek honour and valour in the tales that you tell,
Or evermore in suspension you’ll dwell,
Existing in misery, your soul in disgrace,
Fading to nothing in a dark barren place.”

Aeacus raises his sceptical head,
The very sight of him fills one with dread.
Guardian of keys fixed to a chain,
Signify agony, horror and pain.
“Say what you’ve done to deserve our respect;
Answer with candour, don’t let us suspect
You are gilding the truth to disguise your fears
Or torment endure, for the rest of your years.
Dispensation was granted Persephone our queen
To leave in the spring and in meadows be seen,
But you for eternity, shall remain down here,
Accompanied by souls that do not reappear.”

In the stillness that follows, you shake with alarm,
Surely some way of avoiding this harm?
The judge on the left looks less severe,
You hope he finds your soul is sincere.
Rhadamanthus radiates an air of mystique
As you listen intently to hear him speak.
You can be spared from that joyless hell
By avoiding the pitfall others befell,
But first convince us before end of day,
If, in the Fields of Elysium you’ll play.
Happy and blessed would be your life,
Indulging in pleasure, free from all strife,
There in a heaven of blossom and trees,
Petals are carried on soft scented breeze,
Transforming in wonder that magically grow
Into fountains of flowers where waterfalls flow.
In this world of perpetual spring,
Music plays softly and songbirds sing,
So prove now your worth in a manner concise,
And be invited to Paradise.”

Your mind spins about, recalling the past,
Desperately grasping for what was the last
Good deed that you did, kind word that you said,
To remove this Damocles sword from your head.
Impassive the eyes of the judges remain
As you stammer and stutter whilst trying to explain
How sorry you are for hurt you have caused,
When without warning, the hearing is paused
By the hand of Minos, to signify
The judge’s decision is now to apply.

Rhadamanthus looks pleased, Aeacus is stern,
If the vote goes against you, in hell you would burn.
They cannot decide; it could go either way,
No further pleading, this judgement will sway.
The balance is primed, how will this resolve.
Should entry to heaven favour the bold?
Minos, the arbiter, must finally choose.
All ears strain to hear his views.

A bell tolls on a distant hill,
The portals to Paradise are open still.
Your fate is sealed, no more can be said,
The law is clear in this realm of the dead:
To accept without question where it will be . . . .

Elysian Fields  .  .  .  .


.  .  .  .  or Purgatory.