Poem: The Deer Goddess (Artemis)
“The first person you fall in love with
will be a deer.” ― Kelli Russell Agodon, Dialogues with Rising Tides
Deer are so endearing. They represent innocence and bliss, often part of the lore that includes fairies, butterflies, flowers, sunshine, and blue skies. They are the children of spring.
In mythology, deer have played significant roles across the world — from being an object of worship to the reincarnation of deities, the object of heroic quests to magical disguise, from a curse for a princess to a pet. In some cultures, deer acts as the connection between this world and the other, a vehicle of transcendence.
Sarah Polyakov’s artwork, the Deer Goddess, is part of her mythological series, delving into Greek mythology in particular.
Poem: The Deer Goddess
PART — 1: BIRTH OF ARTEMIS
‘Are we divine, dear mother?’
Asked young Artemis, the virgin hunter.
Leto says — ‘Indeed we are, for we bless
Fortune and favors on the less.’
Artemis asks -‘That so, then why should I fear
As if we are just earthlings mere?’
Leto says ‘Oh my child, don’t you worry,
I shall tell you, your birth story.’
Sat straight her loving mother
A sip of wine, her voice high and hither
‘I birthed you on the island of Delos
And you helped me with Apollo’.
‘As I held you, my dear
How my heart did you win
For my first love was ever a deer
Despite your most handsome twin’
Her bosom heaved, eyes swelled with tears
‘Your father was the mighty Zeus, dear.’
‘He made love to me in the shade
In one of his myriad escapades.
In a twist of fate that was never fair
Hera discovered our amorous affair
Cursed me to slither away and disband
‘You shall never give birth on any land’.’
‘We are indeed divine my dear
In Delos, there is nothing to fear.
Even if I have become old and slow
I have you, dear Artemis and Apollo.’
With tears, Artemis’s eyes glistened
To the birth story, as she listened.
PART 2: THE BEAUTY OF ARTEMIS
Her marble eyes shine like the foliage green
Chestnut tresses and golden skin
Majestic branched out antlers two
Adorned with flowers white, rose, and blue.
Never can we tell her from the beautiful deer
Those who she loves and cherishes dear.
Beyond the realm of meaningless lust
Out of reach from the persistent Aphrodite
Men could never earn her willful trust
However harder and persistently, try they might
To win her heart and become her lovers
Chastely she holds on, like the unblemished flower.
PART 3: ARTEMIS — THE DEER GODDESS: THE CURSE OF ACTEON
Young and virile, boastful and brash
Acteon leads the party of hunters
Hunting with hounds, with his swords and lash
Chasing the deer, bellowing like thunder
Stumbles upon this serene lake
Sees a sight that makes his heartache.
Blemishless beauty bathing bare
The smitten hunter decides to dare
His eyes locked and his mouth dry
The surprised virgin lets out a cry
‘For your vile act of coming near
I curse you to become a deer.’
He backs out, shocked and humbled
His walk is unsteady, as he falls and stumbles
Reflects his face in the silent lake
Not a human, does his appearance make.
In moments, he hears the growling sounds
Mauled and torn apart by his bloody hounds.
A lesson for those who cross Artemis’s path
Keep away and escape her wrath.
PART 4: ARTEMIS — THE DEER GODDESS: THE SACRIFICE BY AGAMEMNON
‘It is time, let us sail to Troy’
Bellows the boastful Agamemnon
The servile captain shouts ‘Onward Ahoy!’
The revenge is well and truly on
Standing at the head of the mast
He feels proud of his armada vast.
Clear skies and calm seas
Favorable signs that Agamemnon sees
‘The Gods must be pleased, I am sure’
‘From the sacrifice, sacred and pure’
Yet suddenly, the captain blows the horn,
‘The sails are dead and the winds are gone.’
From the blue, appears the virgin hunter
In front of the baffled king, roaring like thunder
‘How dare you hunt and sacrifice my innocent deer
Are you such a vain coward filled with fear?’
Agamemnon says ‘What I followed are the rites
Sacrifices appease you Gods before our fights.’
Artemis says ‘Aggrieved I am, so I took wind of your sails
Repent, my blessings you shall avail.’
The warmongering king suddenly falls silent
Never has he seen a deity such violent.
He asks ‘What shall I do to conclude this matter?’
Artemis thunders, ‘Sacrifice to me, Iphegenia, your dear daughter.’
Born as a princess, a life of pomp and privilege,
The good-hearted daughter cannot bear sacrilege
Willingly heads towards the sacrificial altar
Artemis’s heart melts, her mind does alter,
She says ‘be my priestess, dear Iphegenia, you good soul’
‘You just changed my heart and cleared your father’s foul’.
She restores the wind behind Agamemnon’s sails
Wishes him well and in the battle, he shall prevail
Disappears the Deer Goddess angry once, merciful now
Has always won the hearts of the mortals below
Such is the story of the kind-hearted hunter
Who helps the Greek sailors return home in winter.
~Ashok Subramanian © 2022