Daily Archives: May 13, 2008

Musings on the Muse

94stranger has replied with the following on my original post “The Muse”

hi Coleen,
I didn’t respond at once because I was – and am – thinking about it. It’s all making me feel slightly uncomfortable: because it’s well known, for example, that a scientist can worry about a problem to the nth degree and then get the solution in a dream: in fact the Naskapi Indians of Labrador, if my memory serves me correctly, used to use dreams systematically as direction-finders for hunting.
There’s no doubt that some poems, or sections of poems, ‘write themselves’ – in fact, I’ve written things which didn’t have any clear meaning for me and which, years later, I discovered what they had meant – yet my unconscious – or however you want to express this – knew what was going on all along.
I recently had a similar experience with the following poem: the first two lines came on their own; the next two almost at once, and the rest was a struggle to do something with what had arrived from ‘out there’. I don’t know what the references in those first lines are – but maybe one day I will.

I don’t know if this conversation of ours is going to go on: are you O.K. with me re-publishing it on my blog? In my experience, this is a subject which greatly interests the writing fraternity. Over to you!

I’m not sure why you feel uncomfortable. Is it that you think that muse-driven works are misappropriation or that inspiration may not come from the muse, or something else? If the first, I believe that if the muse visits, one is a fool not to use what’s given. If the second, well…a rose by any other name.

The muse may just be detaching the logical linear brain and letting randomness enter. Dreams are sometimes a processing of the day’s events and thoughts. Though for me I find my dreams are rarely mundane and take in other worlds, literally. But is that the muse or just my imagination, or both? When I’m working on a story and stuck I will often take a nap, going to sleep thinking of the story to see if I can jog the plot or conflict to its conclusion. Sometimes it works; often I struggle.

The muse could be completely outside of oneself too. I do believe in divine energy (god, gods, sprites, insert preferred term); that which is greater than me but can sometimes be used in some small portion. The muse, generic, as opposed to the muse specific (Calliope, Terpsichore, etc.) can just be that divine energy funneled into someone and tempered by their own life, events and personality to be shaped into a particular form of art.

Except for that rare exception of “The Fishwife,” where it sprung, like Athena, mostly full formed from my head, I think there is a blend of conscious and subconscious, linear and nonlinear that comes to play with art and inspiration. The use of archetypes is so universal that our cosmic consciousness, as Jung presented, does in fact flow through our processes sometimes at the same rate. I could even be picking up other peoples’ evolution of ideas.

As for your poem, I didn’t paste all of it here as I haven’t asked first to do so but I can tell you what I thought upon reading, besides that I like it very much and the images are crystal clear. You said you weren’t sure what the references were to these lines:

I shall ride high to meet

the lords of barley;

I shall ride by and parley

with the lords of wheat

One thought was of John Barleycorn, from a 16th century ballad. It has various versions, including Robbie Burns’. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Barleycorn

But beyond that, in centuries past there were grain goddesses such as Demeter and Ceres, but there were grain gods too. Lugh brought Lughnasa or Lammas to the Celtic lands and even earlier were the Sumerian and Babylonian tales of Inanna and Dumuzi, or Tammuz and how she sacrifices him to Erishkigal when he doesn’t honor her on her return from the underworld. Coincidentally the sacrifice of Dumuzi corresponds to the grain harvest, as does Lammas. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tammuz_%28deity%29

To me your poem hearkens obviously to Arthurian but older elements of the grain god, and the sacrifice. By “lords” instead of lord, I see that as the wheat fields but the raising of an army, a contention of sorts between the mighty who too will be cut down and sown again. I see the narrator as someone there to appreciate, partake of the natural world before the mighty bring war or strife or blood to that realm. That’s a pretty simplified version as there is a lot of depth in this poem.

I think it’s very strong and visceral. Now, was the muse the calling of your ancestors, your spiritual roots, your imagination, experiences and self-searching; a grain god/Arthurian archetype working through you, or all of the above?




Filed under Culture, fairy tales, fantasy, myth, poetry, spirituality, Writing