Penelope to Ulysses

Dear Ulysses,

you’re late.

Don’t worry about answering, just come home.
The enemy of Grecian wives has fallen,
but, honestly, Troy wasn’t worth it.

If only Paris had drowned
in some storm when he was heading for Sparta,
I wouldn’t lie frigid in my bed
or have to moan of tedious days
or pass my nights like some poor widow
at the loom’s dull web.

I mean, I know love makes me anxious
and my nightmares were excessive –
lurid scenarios; Trojans singling you out etc.
Hector’s name made me ashen.
When I heard he’d killed Antilochus,
I was a nervous mess.
Then Patroclus died, in borrowed armour,
so even cunning couldn’t guarantee success…
Each time Greek blood warmed spears
I was flooded with fear.

But someone must look out for couples:
Troy burnt and you survived.
Now soldiers slur victory songs;
smoke coils from altars laid with souvenirs;
admiration makes old men babble
as girls hang on tales from lovers’ lips.

The other night, one man mapped battles
in spilt wine, lightly tracing Troy:
‘The river was here; Priam’s palace,
Achilles’ tent, then Hector’s corpse…’

I sent our son to find you – he got the story:
how you, full of your daring – not caring about us –
stole into the Trojan camp at night
and just two of you slaughtered hundreds.
Sounds typically cautious and thoughtful.
Until I heard you’d ridden back, my heart
reared with fear at every word.

Anyway, you’ve razed Troy, but what does it matter
to me it’s been levelled?
I remain as I was while it remained –

by Clare Pollard

Clare Pollard is currently touring a staged version of Ovid’s Heroines, in which she reads, recites and performs her astonishing poems against a backdrop of Mediterranean light and sound. Produced by Jaybird Live Literature, the show visits the Burton Taylor Studio Theatre in Oxford on 9 July. For more details and for tickets, visit the Oxford Playhouse website.

As part of the MCS Arts Festival Oxford (20 June-5 July), the highly-acclaimed poet Roger McGough will be reading tomorrow evening (30 June). You can find more details on the festival site. Also tomorrow, Penny Boxhall will be leading an Illumination Poetry Workshop in the Old Library, University Church of St Mary the Virgin from 4.15pm.

‘Penelope to Ulysses’ is copyright © Clare Pollard. It is reprinted from Ovid’s Heroines (Bloodaxe Books, 2013) by permission of Bloodaxe Books.Notes from Jaybird Live Literature:

An extract of Penelope’s letter to Ulysses, one of Ovid’s Heroides, translated by Clare Pollard as Ovid’s Heroines. With this letter, Ovid puts a different perspective on Homer’s The Odyssey. The Trojan War has long been over, but the Greek war hero Ulysses has not returned to his wife Penelope in Ithaca. Whilst those who have read Homer will know this is because he has been waylaid by obstacles that include Gods, monsters, weather and the sorceress Circe, Penelope has heard nothing. Their son Telemachus has just returned from a fruitless trip to Pylos, where he was trying to find out what has happened to his father and was almost killed.

You can read more about Clare’s book here, and follow her work via her website and on Twitter.

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