The Underworld

(A narrative poem based on Greek mythology)




As tearful mourners walked away,
They left you here alone today.
Nevermore 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.
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.


Your guide no further can proceed,
He’s not allowed to intercede.
Hermes leaves whilst you await
That fearful voyage your soul must take.
Dark clouds and thunder overhead;
You’ve reached the place where they greet the dead.
“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 trail 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.
Extravagantly he says to you,
“All are welcome; please pass through.
Many souls travel this way,
But remain on the path and do not stray
Until the fork ahead you see,
Then stop to be judged, by the panel of three.”


Compliantly, you do as told,
Naked branches crackle with cold;
Lightning illuminates cliffs that encase
A heaving dank chamber where souls are erased.
Then out of the mist, the 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 kindness 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, must 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’s aware you’re being sincere.
Rhadamanthus radiates an air of mystique
As you listen intently to hear him speak.
“Your soul can be spared from that joyless hell
By avoiding the arrogance others befell,
But you must convince us before end of day,
If, in the Fields of Elysium you’ll play.
For 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.
Happy and blessed would be your life,
Indulging in pleasure, free from all strife.
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.
Stalemate it is, so Minos must choose;
All ears strain to hear his views.


A bell tolls on a distant hill,
The portals to Paradise are open still.
But 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.