The hymn begins with an epic invocation to the holy goddess, Demeter, and her daughter with the delicate ankles abducted by Hades. Persephone was playing with the daughters of Oceanus in a soft meadow when a narcissus appeared in front of her as a lure by Gaia according to the plans of Zeus. Kore reached out with both hands to take hold of the flowers whose sweet fragrance had filled the universe when the earth opened up under her, and Hades appeared riding on a golden chariot drawn by his immortal horses.
Her mother, Demeter, heard Persephone's distressed calls and dashed like a bird soaring over land and sea, looking for her daughter. Unfortunately, nobody seemed to know what had happened or at least nobody was willing to reveal the truth. Demeter wandered all over the earth for nine days, holding torches ablaze in her hands. She refused all ambrosia and nectar. Finally, Hekate appeared, holding a light flaming in her hands, on the tenth day. She told Demeter that someone had taken Persephone. They went to Helios, who informed the distraught mother about her daughter’s fate and Zeus’ role in the abduction.
Bitter with grief and anger, Demeter left Mount Olympus and began to visit the cities of humans looking like a long-suffering old woman. Eventually, she came to Eleusis and sat down to rest by the Parthenion well, where the citizens drew water. She was seen by the daughters of Celeus, king of Eleusis, and invited her to their father's well-built palace. At first, the goddess remained silent and immersed in grief until the trusted maid Iambe made her laugh with teasing and jokes. Next, Queen Metaneira offered her wine, but Demeter refused, asking instead for some barley, water, and delicate pennyroyal to prepare the kykeon.
Then Demeter began nourishing the younger child of Celeus and Metaneira. The goddess tried to make little Demophon immortal by concealing him like a smouldering log in the fire. Metaneira admired and wondered at her child’s unexpected growth, who came to look like a god without eating mortal food or breastfeeding. Then, she lurked in the evening and saw what the goddess was doing. She panicked and began screaming. The goddess became angry and revealed her true identity. Then, she ordered the Eleusinians to build “a great temple, with a great altar at its base...at the foot of the acropolis and its steep walls looming above the Kallichoron well on a prominent hill” where she would instruct them in the sacred rites with which they would appease her.
The people obeyed and did what the goddess ordered. Then, she remained alone in the temple and prevented the earth, the nurturer of many, from sending up any seed for a whole year. The bright grain of wheat fell into the ground, and the oxen dragged along the curved ploughs without result. The human race was on the verge of extinction, and the gods faced the loss of gifts and sacrifices they received from mortals. Zeus realised that he had to intervene. He invited Demeter to appear before him, but the distraught mother refused even to accept the gods, who came one after the other to ask her to give up her rage until she saw her beautiful daughter again. Faced with this impasse, Zeus was forced to send Hermes to the Underworld to order Hades to release Persephone. He obeyed the order but gave Kore to eat “the honey-sweet berry of the pomegranate” to prevent her from staying at the side of her honourable mother forever.
Guided by Hermes, Persephone climbed back into the golden chariot of Hades and ascended to earth. As soon as Demeter saw her approaching, “she rushed forth like a maenad down a wooded mountain slope” while Kore “when she saw her mother's beautiful eyes, leaving her horses and chariot, ran, and fell on her neck, embracing her". The happy reunion was mitigated by the knowledge that Persephone had tasted the pomegranate and had to return to the dark realm of Hades to spend a third portion of the year and the other two thirds in the company of her mother and the other immortals. Whenever the earth “starts blossoming with fragrant flowers of springtime, flowers of every sort”, then “a great thing of wonder to gods and mortal humans alike” will come up.
Zeus agreed to this time-sharing plan and sent Rhea to summon the two goddesses to Olympus. The messenger of the king of the gods landed at the Rharian field, an idle and barren piece of land, and delivered Zeus’ message. Demeter obeyed, but before leaving she taught the righteous kings of Eleusis, Triptolemus, the horseman Diocles, the mighty Eumolpus, and Celeus, the leader of the people, the sacred rites, and the rituals which “which it is not at all possible to ignore, to find out about, or to speak out” because “the great awe of the gods holds back any speaking out”. Then the vast earth was filled with leaves and flowers, and the fertile fields began to flourish with long ears of grain. So the two goddesses went to Mount Olympus and joined the other gods being holy and revered. As for the mortals they choose to favour, are blessed, and receive the riches offered by Plutus whom Demeter and Persephone send.