Myths are rich in symbolisms and metaphors, both of which are important poetic devices. They are also sources of inspiration for poems, stories and everyday idioms and phrases!
In this post, we look at five myths from around the world to enrich our metaphor-dictionary. You may rewrite these legends in poetic form with a personal touch to it too.
As always, feel free to post your poems in Poetry Cove's Forum for feedback or for other poets to read and share their thoughts. If you want to post your poems on social media, make sure to tag us @poetrycove!
You may even consider submitting them to the Cove's Magazine. The submission guidelines are here.
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1. Greek Mythology - Medusa
I've seen many poems and stories that include metaphors or references to Medusa. One of Carol Ann Duffy's remarkable poems from The World's Wife is Medusa is written through the eyes of Medusa. One of my personal favourites is written by Louise Bogan, also titled Medusa, published in Body of this Death: Poems.
Here's a video that you could watch to familiarise yourself with the legend.
After watching this video, one thing to consider would be that Medusa was brutally punished for something that wasn't her fault. This form of victim-blaming is an ever prevalent issue in our society.
Another version of the story is that Athena transformed her so Medusa would never have another man treat her the same way Poseidon did. The 'curse' was indeed a 'blessing' and Medusa was not seen as a monster. She went on to become a fierce protector of women.
Explore these numerous ideas and incorporate them into your poems!
2. Norse Mythology - Fafnir
Fafnir was a dwarf skilled in making jewelery. After Loki killed Fafnir's brother Otr, Fafnir and his family demanded Loki to rescind their murder by compensating gold in the size of the dead brother. Loki ended up paying them with cursed gold. You can read a more elaborated narrative here.
Fafnir was overcome by voracity and restlessness at the sight of all the riches. Soon, his entire body began metamorphosing into that of an evil dragon. He breathed poison to keep away his brother from the treasures.
This could be perceived as a metaphor for how greed poisons our minds, turning humans into indescrutible beasts.
Stories of avarice and the ill effects that follow are a common theme in many cultures and their myths. Another popular story you may have heard of is that of King Midas. Craft a poem exploring your idea of greed with a modern twist. Consider including references about Fafnir.
3. Celtic Mythology - Cernunnos
Cernunnos literally translates to 'The Horned One'. The God was accompanied by a stag, a bull, a ram and a snake in his hands. He also carried a piece of jewerly, called a torc, in his other hand. This was seen as a symbol of status or immense mythical power.
Cernunnos was the God who protected animals, The Lord of Wild Things. He lived amidst the greenery along with the wilderness. He is often depicted with antlers in the head, sitting cross-legged with his animals beside him. Many people believe his antlers contained the powers of the solstice and that he would appear during Christmas asking people to give away their gifts to those in need.
There are several symbols associated with animals. Discover how you could relate those to this Celtic God, yourself, or any person you're writing a poem about. This could be a reference to our inner animal instincts. Here is a list of animal symbolisms to guide you.
4. Chinese Mythology - Sun Wukong
Sun Wukong was a trickster God. He was impertinent and disrespectful, something that eventually had him banished from heaven. His deeds may have been troublesome for the people around him and the other Gods but he is quite likable and clever.
Compare these two depictions of the trickster God. One is digital art, a conventional way of how this God is shown in popular culture. The second is from a more ancient source. How would you interpret this? We see him as a warrior with a murderous glint in his eyes while in the next, he is seen more calm and as though he's playing a prank. Even in our own lives, we are often many people within one body.
Craft a poem contrasting between the different 'people' within us. You can use the story for context or explore these images on your own.
5. Indian Mythology - Kannagi
Kannagi is a woman from Southern Indian mythology, who burnt down an entire city with her anger.
Kovalan, her husband and a merchant, was accused of stealing the Queen's anklets filled with pearls. He was however, selling Kannagi's anklets filled with rubies which were richer than the Queen's own! The King had Kovalan beheaded without trial.
Kannagi is said to have furiously stormed the palace of Madurai to prove her husband's innocence. The King was ashamed of his failure and commited suicide. Kannagi's wrath did not subside, and her anger burnt down the entire city, now in present day Madurai.
Try incorporating these anklets into a poem as a symbol for anger. Discover analogies for fury from within this epic or in other myths you are already familiar with. Use them in your poems too.
It is interesting to note that this epic was written in poetic form in akaval meter.
Excerpt translated in English:
We shall compose a poem, with songs,
To explain these truths: even kings, if they break
The law, have their necks wrung by dharma;
Great men everywhere commend
wife of renowned fame; and karma ever
Manifests itself, and is fulfilled. We shall call the poem
The Cilappatikāram, the epic of the anklet,
Since the anklet brings these truths to light.
Don't stop here.
Visit your favourite mythological tales or read legends from other parts of the world and write poems using references to those. Tell us who your favourite mythological character is in the comments. We'd love to know!