Vocabulary and Allusions
Line 1, Lethe: river in the underworld Hades in which souls about to be reborn bathed to forget the past; hence, river of forgetfulness.
Line 2, wolf's-bane: poison.
Line 4, nightshade: poison.
Proserpine: the queen of the underworld. Prosperpine was kidnapped by Pluto and taken to Hades, his kingdom. Her mother Demeter, the goddess of fertility and grain, grieved for her loss and the earth became sterile. Proserpine was returned to her mother for six months each year when Demester's joy is reflected in fertility and crops. Proserpine's story, with its connection to the change of the seasons, is appropriate for this poem.
Line 5, yew-berries: symbol of mourning. The yew is traditionally associated with mourning.
rosary: prayer beads.
Line 6, beetle: The Egyptians regarded the beetle as sacred; as a symbol of resurrection, a jewel-beetle or scarab was placed in tombs.
death-moth: the death's head moth, so called because its markings resemble a human skull.
Line 7, Psyche: in Greek, the soul or mind as well as butterfly (used as its emblem).
Line 8, mysteries: secret rites.