After Alcyon’s Dream [11']
Although the myth is older still, the myth of Ceyx and Alcyone was first recorded by Ovid, the Roman poet born in 43 B.C:
Ceyx and Alcyone were king and queen of Trachis. One night while her husband was away, Alcyone had a nightmare-premonition of her husband’s death in a violent storm at sea. From that night on, Alcyone slept on shore looking over the water hoping for Ceyx’s return. But one night, Alcyone half-woke on the shore to find her husband’s body washed up before her. Alcyone’s grief was so great and her desire to be with Ceyx so intense, that Alcyone threw herself into the sea to join Ceyx in death as she no longer could in life.
Out of compassion, the gods transformed both Alcyone and her beloved husband Ceyx into a pair of kingfishers so that they could always be together again, flying just above the water, rather than beneath it. And once a year, each spring ever since, they still nest and mate and have a chance to raise their young, as they did not have a chance to do in life.
Alcyone’s father—Aeolus or Neptune—decreed that, to protect the couple’s annual nest, the winds be forbidden to blow for a week before and after the winter solstice. So to this day, the brooding time of the kingfisher has been a time of calm seas; and those weeks just before and after the winter solstice are called the “Halcyon Days,” an expression which has come more generally to mean a peaceful time. Halcyon, itself, has come to mean tranquil and free from disturbance or care, prosperous and golden like those two tranquil weeks of winter, warm and welcoming in the midst of storms.
We all know that in some years a winter respite does not arrive at all; and in fact the kingfisher does not nest on the water at all – some species construct colonies of hanging basket nests in trees, while others typically dig nesting burrows with their long beaks.
But the story of Ceyx and Alcyone is a myth, and Joelle Wallach’s trio After Alcyon’s Dream takes us into a private mythological realm where serene communion comes regularly as balm for nightmarish loss.