Rule of Three


Two Sisters of Persephone

by Sylvia Plath

View an image of the poet

A woman is bound in a pitch-black room. Her sibling strays outside, stroked by sunlight, vitamin D sinking into her skin cells. While the indoor dweller’s seconds slip by in ‘dry ticks’, her gilded counterpart is hazily aware of ‘ticks blown gold / like pollen on bright air’. The adventuring sister spills poppy-petalled blood as she births a baby, while her moonlit twin stays ‘sallow as any lemon’, zesty pulp purportedly ‘laid waste’. But both are sprung from the same scarlet seed, and each is grounded by texture: one ‘root-pale’, the other ‘bronzed as earth’. Exaggerated distinctions between air and soil, chastity and experience, are presented as fallacy.

Words by Elizabeth Brown

The Lyre of Orpheus

by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

View the album cover

Orpheus sits bored in his garden shed. With nothing more than ‘a lump of wood and a piece of wire, a little pot of glue’, he crafts himself an instrument so beautiful that it pops his wife’s eyes from her sockets. As birds explode and rabbits lose their heads, God awakens from slumber, knocking the musician into Hell. Electric guitars squeal and squawk in angular dissonance, low tom-toms rumble, and Nick Cave’s inimitable, gravelly growl drips with malice. The repetitious structure ends each stanza with a cry of ‘Oh mama!’, in homage to Calliope, the muse and mother who taught Orpheus to write verse.

Words by John Wadsworth

Grim Fandango

developed by LucasArts
Video game

View a still from the game

While others celebrate the Day of the Dead, skeletal travel agent Manny Calavera is cooped up in his office, consigned to work until he repays his debt. His black cloak hangs in his locker; his foldable scythe is tucked into the pocket of his suit jacket. His clients all hope to make a swift journey to the Land of Eternal Rest, but only the most benevolent among them can upgrade to a speedier method of transport. When the seemingly spotless Meche Colomar is denied a seat on the Number Nine express train, Manny suspects foul play. In order to set things straight, he must solve puzzles, comb the environment for useful tools, and converse with fellow death-dwellers.

Words by John Wadsworth

Today's connection

Persephone is the queen of the underworld, Orpheus travels to the underworld, and the skeletons in Grim Fandango journey from the Land of the Dead to the underworld.

More to discover

Two Sisters of Persephone: You can read the poem here. Helen Vendler has written about the poem, along with others by Plath, for the New York Times.

The Lyre of Orpheus: You can listen to the song here.

Grim Fandango: You can view the trailer for the remastered version here, see a playthrough here, and watch a short ‘making-of’ documentary here. Mike Diver has interviewed Tim Schafer (the game’s project leader) for Vice.

Question of the day

Which artworks related to the word 'underworld' would you recommend?
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