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

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Ashok Subramanian

Ashok Subramanian

Poet and Author. Poetry and Book Reviews. Investment Banker. IIM C Alumni. Engineering Graduate.