Orpheus was a musician. He made songs. He knew mysteries. Everything animate and inanimate followed him.
He loved Euridice and they were married but their joy was brief. She was stung by a viper and she died.
He couldn’t withstand the grief. He went to the world of death and pleaded with the Gods to return his sweetheart to him.
His music was such that the Gods conceded.
They gave Eurydice to him but on one condition: that he would not look back at her as she followed him until they reached the upper world. So, they walked through the big gates and up and up the path that would take them out of the darkness. He knew she must be just behind him but longed unutterable to give a glance to make sure. They were almost there and the blackness was turning to gray. He stepped joyfully into the light and instantly turned around to see her but it was too soon. She was still in the cavern. He held out his arm but at that instant she was gone, receding back into the darkness.
He heard a faint ‘Farewell.”
He couldn’t help it. He looked back because he was only human.
This poem was written by Neil Gaiman when he lost a close friend:
(Do not look back. Do not look back.)
There was a girl, and he said she was his girl.
He followed her to Hell when she died. You could do that when your girlfriend dies: there are entrances to Hell in every major city: so many doors, who has time to look behind each one?
When Orpheus was young he got the girl back from Hell safely. That’s where the years came from. Euridice comes home from Hell and the flowers bloom and the world puddles and quickens, and it’s Spring.
But that was never good enough.
And before that Spring story, it was a life and death tale. We got a million of them. If he hadn’t looked back, if he just hadn’t looked back, then all the people would come back from the dead all the time, each of us, no more ghosts, no more darkness.
I would go to Hell to see you once more. There’s a door on the third floor of the New York Public Library, on the way to the men’s toilets, by the little Charles Addams gallery. It’s never locked. You just have to open it.
I would go to Hell for you. I would tell them stories that are not false and that are not true. I would tell them stories until they wept salt tears and gave you back to me and to the world.
It doesn’t have to be a year. I’d take a day. I’d take an hour. I’d walk in front of you to the light.
But I’d look back, wouldn’t I? We all would. The ones who can’t look back, who can only stare into the sunrise ahead of them, stare into the glorious future, those people don’t get to visit Hell.
So Orpheus came back and carried on, because he had to, and he made magic and sang songs. He taught that there was only truth in dreams. That was one of the mysteries: in dreams the veil was lifted and you could see so far forward you might as well have been looking back.
Some die in Washington DC or in London or in Mexico. They do not look forward to their deaths. They glance aside, or down, or they look back. Every hour wounds. That was what she told me. Every hour wounds, the last one kills.
I dreamed today of bone-white horses, stamping and nuzzling in the bright sunshine, and of orange poppies which swayed and danced in the spring wind.
(Do not look back.)