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Recognizing Relationship Control Issues through A.E. Stallings’ “Hades Welcomes His Bride”

Above. A.E. Stallings reads her poem “Hades Welcomes His Bride” at Cornell University, October 29, 2012.

Valasandra Hightower, 27 June 2022

Stallings’ dramatic monologue “Hades Welcomes His Bride” is distinctive in that it empowers the reader to recognize controlling behavior in relationships through the use of mythological archetypes. In the title alone, the use of the word “His” sets the tone of the poem that follows, imbuing a sense of ownership instead of partnership. The first two lines, “Come now, child, adjust your eyes, for sight / Is here a lesser sense. Here you must learn,” (794) set a patronizing (“Come now, child”) as well as commanding (“you must learn”) precedent for the speaker’s (Hades) subsequent interactions with the auditor (his bride, Persephone). Although Hades admits that some adjustment will be necessary, he places that burden onto Persephone. At this point, the reader will already have the impression that this dialogue is not a conversation but rather an orientation.

This poem presents relationship issues in a mythological setting where several extreme examples of controlling behavior are depicted clearly enough for a reader to draw the connection from the archetypes in the poem to issues that might be present in contemporary relationships. The author makes it clear that Hades is assuming control over every aspect of Persephone’s life. This control is exhibited in several ways.

Hades isolates Persephone from others. Hades has selected three “friends” for her, “For you I chose those three thin shadows there, / And they shall be your friends and loyal maids,” (795). This form of compartmentalization not only removes Persephone from any previous friends she had but also replaces them with those selected by Hades. The speaker continues, “And do not fear from them such gossiping / As servants usually are wont. They have / Not mouth nor eyes and cannot thus speak ill / Of you.” (795). In these lines, Hades not only fails to make any distinction between friends and servants, but is potentially also projecting his fears onto Persephone. Not only are these maids unable to speak ill of Persephone, but they would also be unable to speak ill of Hades. In this, he reveals two important facts: first, his concept of loyalty means “unable to act against him,” and secondly, by equating friends and servants, he demonstrates that he does not understand friendship. Returning to the previous lines, who are these maids genuinely loyal to, Persephone or Hades? If this is the latter, it could be a further attempt to maintain control via the maids spying or snooping so that he always knows Persephone’s whereabouts.

A persistent theme throughout the poem is that Hades forces his beliefs on Persephone. Prior to her arrival, he has made several unilateral choices for her. First, “These thrones I have commissioned to be made / Are unlike any you imagined; they glow / Of deep-black diamonds and lead, subtler / And in better taste than gold.” (794). Taste is subjective, and it is clear from the words “unlike any you imagined” that not only did Hades choose something that satisfied his own tastes, he thinks he knows what Persephone is thinking (“able to imagine”). This behavior is again demonstrated in the bedroom, “This is the greatest room, / I had it specially made after great thought / So you would feel at home. I had the ceiling / Painted to recall some evening sky – / But without the garish stars and lurid moon” (795). Here, Hades admits that an alternative exists (with moon and stars) but he thinks his choice of an empty void is superior. In each case, he only considers two options, which is an indication that he thinks in absolutes (possibly mirroring life and death), so he feels that there must only be a binary choice in each case, there can be no in-between. This pattern of choosing for her without soliciting input or feedback rules out any possibility of compromise, while at the same time, Hades feels that he went out of his way to fulfill her needs (“I had it specially made after great thought”). In reality, these were false choices as he was only fulfilling his own needs and assuming those were close enough to Persephone’s to suffice.

As the tour continues, Hades makes it clear to Persephone that her independence is limited. “Here is a room / For your diversions. Here I’ve set a loom / And silk unraveled from the finest shrouds / And dyed the richest, rarest shades of black. / Such pictures you shall weave! Such tapestries!” (794-795). Not only has Hades selected the only form of entertainment for Persephone, but he has also further restricted it by supplying only black silk from burial shrouds. Through this introduction to her new life, Persephone is informed of what she is allowed to do in a restrictive way rather than a permissive way.

Does Hades truly believe that Persephone can be happy living in an environment created solely based upon his own limited perception of her needs?

As demonstrated above, the language used by Stallings suggests some amount of willful ignorance on the part of Hades (he knows alternatives to his choices exist) but also an equivalent amount of genuine ignorance (he does not know the definition of friendship, and he thinks he knows Persephone’s mind). Notably, there are no signs of cognitive dissonance in Hades. On the contrary, at one opportunity for self-awareness, he immediately has a seamless transition to a response that discounts any evidence which contradicts his own beliefs, as demonstrated by “No smile? / Well, some solemnity befits a queen” (794). Perhaps the first indication of a conflicting thought is hinted at in the last two lines, “Ah! Your hand is trembling! I fear / There is, as yet, too much pulse in it” (795).

Stallings only tells the first half of the story of Hades and Persephone ( The general outline of the remainder of the story is that Persephone is finally allowed to leave the underworld. However, before leaving, she is persuaded to eat a pomegranate seed, symbolizing that she must remain with Hades in the underworld. A compromise is eventually reached, allowing Persephone to return to Earth for most of the year but spend winters in the underworld. It is plausible that the line, “Sweet, that is to be our bed. Our bed.” (795) is a metaphor for the pomegranate.

Why did Stallings choose to end the story halfway through? In this monologue, Stallings places the reader into the driver’s seat of relationship control through the words of Hades. Hades may be unaware that he has control issues, but the reader is given an opportunity to play his role and recognize controlling behavior from the aggressor’s perspective. During the reading, one might ask themselves, “Have I done something like this in a relationship?” or, equally important, “Is this happening to me in a relationship?” Stallings ends the poem abruptly where the point of the climax in the full myth occurs. The story’s conclusion is left as an exercise to the reader, begging the question, “What will happen to Persephone?” If the story connects with the reader’s relationship, they might ask themselves, “What will happen to me or my partner?” Stallings’ engagement with the reader on this level could be interpreted as more than a mere commentary on unhealthy relationships, but perhaps an attempt to inform and educate.

Works Cited

Cornell University. “A.E. Stallings: Reading Poetry.” 29 October 2012.

Stallings, A.E. “Hades Welcomes His Bride.” The Norton Introduction to Literature, edited by Kelly J. Mays, shorter 14th ed., W.W. Norton, 2021, pp. 794-795., “Persephone”. April 7 2021. Accessed 27 June 2022.

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