Ruth Barker

Orpheus and Eurydice

2009
Edinburgh Arts Festival
Studio recording

Orpheus and Eurydice was commissioned by the Edinburgh Arts Festival, to be released as a podcast audio recording of a live studio performance. 

The story can be listened to anywhere, but was composed around a particular walk alongside the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, starting at Stills Gallery on Cockburn Street (the Hub of the 2009 Edinburgh Arts Festival).

If you wish to listen to the performance while following the route suggested, first download the podcast from the Edinburgh Arts Festival website here: http://www.edinburghartfestival.com/uploads/podcasts/83f7fbfa5215501e25438b944d5400fb/Orpheus_and_Eurydice_Master.mp3 or go to http://www.edinburghartfestival.com/pocket-festival/ (and scroll down) and copy the file to an MP3 player.

Then start the podcast at Stills and, crossing Cockburn Street, enter Advocate’s Close and follow the stairs to the High Street (Royal Mile). Once on the Royal Mile, turn Right, and walk up the hill until you reach Wardrop’s Court (through the doorway on your right), the scene of Eurydice’s death. Listen to this part of the performance here, and exit when directed (at ‘I left this place’) through Lady Stair’s close, which is to the far left of the court as you enter. From here, cross the Royal Mile and turn Left to walk back down the hill for a few meters. Fisher’s Close is on your right hand side. Down Fisher’s Close, turn right to walk along Victoria Terrace, and follow the elevated street all the way to the end. Take the stairs down, and make your way onto Johnstone Terrace. Cross the road and turn left, down the hill. The story ends on the stairs at the side of Edinburgh Castle.


The walk takes around 16 minutes, the full duration of the text. Please note that the use of Edinburgh’s closes and steps means that this walk may not be suitable for people of reduced mobility. As an alternative, we recommend listening to the performance in Wardrop’s Court (Lady Stairs Court), which is just off the Royal Mile (at Lawnmarket), and home to the Scottish Writers Museum.

Image above shows (left) the work being recorded at Green Door analogue recording studio, Glasgow, image courtesy Niall Macdonald, and (right) the single tree in Wardrop's Court, Edinburgh, image courtesy of the artist.

 

 

Orpheus and Eurydice

 

 

Listen.

 

Listen.

 

Come out, where the light is, and the air,

And the breathing weather.

Come out where I can feel you

Fit against the street.

Come out where I can hear your bones

And your lungs.

Come out and walk

And make your blood sing a little faster.

 

Listen.

 

Listen.

 

Now I am voice, and voice only,

But once I was Eurydice,

And Queen to a song of low mourning.

 

Listen.

 

I am voice, and voice only,

But once I was Eurydice,

And Queen to a song of low mourning.

 

Listen.

 

Listen.

 

I was Eurydice.

I was Eurydice.

I was a low song for a fool in mourning.

I was Eurydice, which means: Wide Justice.

I was Wide Justice.

I was fat justice, broad justice, thick justice,

Fat justice, broad justice, thick justice,

Fat justice, broad justice, thick justice,

Justice expansive, justice ample and extensive

Across my one time bows;

I was Eurydice and I was All Woman.

I was Eurydice and I was All Woman.

I was Eurydice and I was All Woman to my man.

My poet.

My Orpheus.

Orpheus.

Orpheus.

Orpheus.

 

My Orpheus, whose name

Means nothing; repetition turned

To empty sound, so vacant now

And hollow. And yet, just as the wind

Pulls loud the hollow of a reed,

His name pulls me.

Pulls you.

And his name is not forgotten

Though his failure was immense.

And his name is not forgotten

Though his failure was immense.

 

I was Eurydice.

I was Eurydice.

I was Eurydice

And loss

And mourning.

And you climb, and hear me still

In the breeze.

Listen.

 

I loved my life,

Let’s make that clear at least.

I loved to live,

I loved to feel the earth push my breath as I walked,

I loved to feel the hardness of the stone under my feet,

The bright of the day

The arm of the wind

The shade

As I moved.

I loved to be in motion

Under the sky

Treading the sod

Where the worms

Grow.

 

But best of all I loved

The breath of bright blood in a crowd

On the street

In the square

In the city

With the shoving and the life and the

Skin and the shouting and the shit

And the colour and the pushing

And the hurry and the crush

And the fraught

Invisibility of many rather than

Of none,

As I am now. None. Alone

A shadow

Of a shade.

Unseemly.

 

 

Orpheus.

My Orpheus.

Orpheus

He loved me.

I was beautiful.

My face a side of beef,

My eyes were sinking ships.

My lips mouth, teeth,

Were pitch and pearls.

He loved me

More than the nymphs loved his long lyre.

I was the song to which

He had forgotten the words.

My lyrics were the greatest he had ever heard.

I loved him. He loved me

And when we kissed our faces overlapped,

My teeth hid behind his lips,

His cheek hung above my jaw.

He sang to me,

But I gave him his song.

Listen.

Listen.

 

He was

To meet me

Here.

Under the single tree

You see.

We had arranged.

You see.

My hair

Was arranged, you see.

My pose,

Thoughts,

Love, space, breath

Heat, was arranged, you see.

I waited.

I waited.

I waited.

 

But if every man contains within himself the possibility of rape

Then so must the body of every woman.

The one becomes, at base, potential weapon.

The other laid, splayed out, potential wound.

 

He came upon me while I was alone.

A man I knew.

His name escapes me.

His first advance it seemed

Quite innocent,

We spoke,

I smiled.

But in his coat he had a knife

He said

He had some problems in his life

He said

Some kind of Bad Patch with his wife

He said  

And I was standing feeling suddenly stupidly

I didn’t want to make a scene

But backing off still trying not

To seem too impolite

Until  

I saw he was in earnest now, with rape

And maybe murder on his mad turned mind.

 

His thick arms raised,

His heavy chest was blocking out the sun,

His head at least a head above my own

I knew I could not fight and win and so I ran,

Trying to turn my way away

To freedom and to safety.

But everywhere I span he got there first.

Omnipresent in his dogged chase, he kept

Restraining me, I kept

Outstepping him.

It seemed eternal.

For a short while.

 

Then.

instead.

A kind of substituted rape: I stepped

On death, it pierced me and I fell.

 

At the far side of the clearing.

Though bright,

I did not see.

Running from one fate,

I danced, sun blind, into another

That could not be escaped.

A viper, stretched on the stones,

The underlining of Necessity.

She bit me,

And I died.

 

Listen.

For a time I was aware of my dying.

For a time I was aware of my dying.

For a time I was aware of my dying.

That kind of truth that comes with clarity

When there is nothing one can do

But know.

 

I laid, splayed

By the hole in me.

I felt it deep, consuming

Gluttonous, its gulping thread

Of poison traced across

My bones

My blood

My brain.

I died.

I died.

I died, and died alone because that man had fled,

A coward in the face of death at last.

 

The world closed up,

The walls reached up and dark,

And cut me off.

I was collected.

And I left this place. The dead cannot bear to be here.

 

Listen.

The dead don’t wait.

Listen.

The dead don’t wait.

Listen.

The dead don’t wait.

I didn’t wait

I didn’t wait

I didn’t wait

For Orpheus,

My Orpheus.

His name flaked ash

Into my mouth. I could not speak.

Nor think,

Nor see.

 

The minds of the dead are dead

They have no memory.

The thoughts of the dead are dead

They have no grief.

The sorrow of the dead is dead

They shed no tears.

They do not wait, They do not remember,

I did not wait, I did not remember,

And Orpheus the man

I did not wait for.

 

Listen.

I did not know that he was grieving

But he was.

I did not know he had fallen out of himself

Like a hatchet blow to the stomach

But he had.

I did not know he fed his grief with bitter springs

Until he was hollow to the wind and the high places

But he did.

I did not know he took his loss to Hades

And the Underworld

But I knew

That Hades was the lord of my narrowest of houses.

 

I heard him.

The dead hear nothing,

But I heard him sing a song to end the memory of speech

To Hades, lord of death, to whom such loss is nothing

But his daily bread.

My Orpheus, poor Orpheus.

He never loved me quite enough to die and join me.

Instead he gave me back my memory,

A fatal gift,

And then he asked for me to follow.

 

And so,

To Hades, Orpheus sang light’s death beneath the heels of shadow

And moonlight’s death under the sun’s fingers,

And he made them be.

 

To Hades, Orpheus sang the death of breath

In the asthmatic,

The death of balance in the amputee,

And one fell and another choked.

 

To Hades, Orpheus sang the death of valour

In every soldier’s heart of hearts,

And the bright death of cowardice in childbirth,

And armies wheeled under leaden skies.

 

To Hades, Orpheus sang the last of all the songs in the world

His voice was sweet enough to empty deserts

And make the lord of my narrow house weep.

I wept.

We wept.

The shades of the world wept.

And we died a second time to hear him.

 

And so you know the deal they made, at last.

Some kind of bet between

My weak willed husband

And my lord.

That Orpheus should leave, walk out,

And I should follow – but: he must refrain

From checking I was there.

He could not turn.

He could not look.

He could not cast a glance

Behind till he had left foul Hades’ land

And sunlight touched us both again.

 

And so.

With deep misgiving I agreed,

Knowing it could never work

Because musicians are impulsive creatures.

 

Orpheus left, with the dark eyes of Hades

Upon him.

I followed.

Weighing my justice

Like a silent dog at my husband’s heels.

No step betrayed me.

No breath betrayed me.

No shift of cloth or brush of limb

Betrayed my presence. I was silent.

And yet I know he knew I was behind him.

The lord of death,

Whatever else he does,

He keeps his promises.

 

And so I followed. On and on

Bearing the grief of the dead,

Opened only by that song

By Orpheus, my Orpheus

As he launched the notes of his longing

That gave me back my memory

And robbed me of oblivion.

And so I followed. On and on

Bearing the grief of the dead,

Opened only by that song

By Orpheus, my Orpheus

Who walked like a man made of crystal,

Afraid that he may shatter.

 

Orpheus looked at nothing.

His head bowed down, he concentrated on the path.

And yet

We soon began to climb. Up

And up,

And up,

Through the lands that claimed me as a dead thing,

Past the dead fields waving yellow grasses

Saying, 'Wait, wait, wait.'

Saying, 'Wait, wait, wait.'

Saying, 'Why do you weep, Eurydice?'

 

We climbed the last rise before the end of my world.

We climbed the last rise before the end of my world.

I could feel him slowing down before me.

I could feel him pulling back.

I could feel him slowing down before me.

I could feel him pulling back.

 

And I saw Orpheus, my Orpheus nearing

The top of the climb, and pausing

And waiting and doubting and thinking

Of all he’d passed and had not seen,

In the whole wide land of the dead.

 

Listen: Behind him, I was nearly there.

I saw him turn his head.

My fury rose like bile.

He turned. He looked, he saw the vista of the world

Below him. Behind me. Perfect as a breath,

In hues of slate and cirrus blue.

 

And then he looked to me and smiled,

Though I was lost, already heading home.