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Outdoors: Persephone and the return of spring

Some people refer to "Persephone" as Stravinsky’s "other Rite of Spring."

This musical work is a ballet, but it also includes narration and a chorus to tell the story (slightly revised by French poet André Gide) of the Greek myth explaining the origin of the seasons.

According to the myth, Persephone was the daughter of Zeus and Demeter.

The beautiful young woman was kidnapped, causing her mother, who happened to be the goddess of fertility, to become despondent.

Consequently, plants stopped germinating and mortals began to starve.

Meanwhile, Persephone became the wife of her abductor, Hades, making her the queen of the underworld.

She really wanted to return to Earth to be with her mother, but she had eaten a handful of pomegranate seeds, meaning she was forced to spend at least a part of each year with her husband.

But when she returned to her mother, she became the goddess of spring, and seeds again germinated, so crops, especially grains, grew in abundance.

In both mythology and the Stravinsky ballet, the resurrection of seeds took on special significance with religious overtones.

The work closes with the lyrics:

“If spring is to be reborn
The seed must die
Beneath the ground, to reappear
As a golden harvest in years to come.”

Lovely symbolism ... but not science.

My book club is reading “Lab Girl” by Hope Jahren, who wrote, “Every seed is alive while it waits. Every acorn is just as alive as the three hundred year old tree that towers over it. Each beginning is the end of waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Every tree was first a seed that waited.”

And seeds — seeds that have been waiting for who knows how long — will respond, not to Persephone’s return, but to the photoperiod, moisture and warmth that signal our long-awaited spring.

"Outdoors with Coggin Heeringa" can be heard every Wednesday on Classical IPR.