Poetry and the Muses Part 3

It has long been observed that while the ego is helpful in making everyday, ordinary decisions in our lives, it is less effective when it comes to larger issues; it is competitive by nature, and tends to subordinate the greater good to more immediate gains and gratifications. We also know that the ego is largely driven by the left hemisphere of the brain, which is rational and analytical; Once again, rationality and analysis are good, but taken to the extreme they have unfortunate side effects: namely, a longing for certainty, a rejection of ambiguity, a need to be right, a lack of openness, and a exclusion of reality. intuition and mysticism. dimension of the human being.

We learn from the research on this that techniques like meditation, for example, have a profoundly positive effect on the human psyche and even on lifespan, and that one aspect of meditation is the rebalancing of the left and right cerebral hemispheres. . So, just as the left hemisphere is related to reason, logic, numbers and more practical applications, the right brain is more concerned with images, feelings, intuitions and the mystical. In fact, as Lee Pulos says: “The right hemisphere is the decompression chamber of the subconscious.” It is important to say, however, that both are vital for the healthy functioning of the human being; but it is equally true to say that in the West, especially, an excessive reliance on left-brain activity and dominance has developed.

What does this have to do with poetry? All! For it was Maggie Ross who said, “The importance of poetry in restoring balance to the mind cannot be underestimated, as it draws on both aspects of knowledge simultaneously.” In other words, being in the ‘poetic’ state, that is the condition in which one can write poetry – listen to the Muse – means that the left and right brains are becoming more balanced – more coherent. We could almost say, but probably wouldn’t, that writing poetry can be an alternative to practicing meditation! I wouldn’t say it myself, but I see people for whom I think this is very true.

But either way, the benefits are clear. Meditation and poetry (and some other disciplines as well) balance and coordinate the two brains, synchronizing them and thereby providing a kind of harmony in which a deeper level of awareness, understanding and expression is possible. In fact, if we consider some elementary examples of how writing helps us, then we might begin to guess how powerful poetry is.

Most of us write shopping lists, for example; and it is remarkable when we think about it, how powerful a simple shopping list is: it makes us stop worrying about whether we are going to remember everything, it allows us to make the purchase in the most efficient way possible, and the act of writing also It stimulates us to take a broader view, not only of what we need now, but also of what we might need in the days to come. More powerful still is when we begin to write down our plans for the future: this ‘authorship’ means that we begin to manipulate our own future and exert a kind of control that is usually impossible without the act of writing. But clearly, shopping lists and life or business plans are invariably left-brain activities. But when we step up to write poetry, we get that added benefit that comes from right-brain activation: how much more powerful when the words aren’t lists or just memory aids, but active interpretations of our experiences and the meanings inherent in them? they? Furthermore, these meanings may be ones that you are fully aware of or, alternatively, that the writing process may reveal or uncover.

And this balance requires that we get into a peculiar mindset: one of relaxation, but total clarity and focus at the same time; and as I said before, the right hemisphere is the decompression chamber in our subconscious where we can access images and dreams, all of that drives all of our desires, which are of course the heart problems that poetry is and should be with more worried. .

Once the hemispheres are balanced, the magic begins. The magic of words. Adam and Eve’s God-given power to name animals: all the beasts we encounter, real and metaphorical. The magic? Ah, the magic of poetry – when poetry truly intoxicates. Here is a question: what is the most magical word in the English language? Think about it before you answer! We will all have our own views, and for some of us it will be a personal association, and there is nothing wrong with that. Perhaps the word ‘rose’ is magical to you; or maybe the word ‘love’, or maybe even someone’s name: Linda, my wife’s name is magical to me, or maybe a son or daughter’s name always lights you up when you hear that sound.

But here is perhaps the most purely magical word in the English language: abracadabra! Truly a magical word, and truly magical too in the sense that it invokes the whole process of Adam’s naming through the (originally Hebrew) letters of the alphabet: ABC D. There is one point to be understood about alphabets (note, also, the letters A and B). even in the alphabet of words): and it is that in the magic words the internal sound reflects the external reality: there is a consistency, and no discordance. In poetic jargon, this is onomatopoeia, or what we might call mimesis. The words are ‘true’, which is why children love them, nursery rhymes and all forms of puns, and when we’re uncorrupted we love them as adults too. The sheer fun of it; the plain truth of it.

To me the greatest example in the English language of a “magical” poem, and one which perfectly exemplifies the entire condition I have outlined for how poetry is written (albeit with one important caveat which I must mention shortly) is Coleridge’s “Kubla”. . Khan’. The final part of this poem says:

A maiden with a candy

In a vision I once saw:

She was an Abyssinian maiden,

And in his dulcéme he played,

Song of Mount Abora.

Could it live inside of me?

His symphony and song,

To a delight so deep I would win,

That with loud and long music,

I’d build that dome in the air,

That sunny dome! those ice caves!

And all who listened should see them there,

And everyone should shout, Watch out! Beware!

Her sparkling eyes, her flowing hair!

Weave a circle around it three times,

and close your eyes with holy fears,

For he has fed on honey dew,

And I drank the milk of Paradise.

This verse is intoxicating; almost childish, the almost too emphatic alliteration of damsel/sweetie, but sublime. What is she singing about? Mount Abora – A and B again, the alphabet – and she is ‘Abyssinia’ (A and B again!) and she is the Muse, of course, because Mount Helikon was sacred to the Muses, and a proposed etymology for ‘muse’ it is from a Proto-Indo-European root meaning ‘to think’ or ‘tower/mountain’. All the important cult centers of the Muses were on mountains or hills: in other words, a height, somewhere higher, heavenly, where the gods, the Muses, dwell.

But she is elusive. ‘Could revive within me…’ How in those simple words one feels the agony of wanting to return to her – to the good life – to ‘so deep delight’ (those delicious Ds again, picked up as a refrain) – and how hard it is. But, well, it is not good to complain; immediately Coleridge suddenly evokes the methodology to get there, and the verb has the force of an imperative:

‘Weave a circle around it three times,

And close your eyes with holy fear

The poet is a prophet (honeydew) – the outer eyes are closed (as often in prayer or meditation) so that the inner faculty can be harnessed, and there is a deep – ‘holy’ – reverence that allows the magic to overwhelm the poet. poet. And in that state we experience the ‘milk of paradise’. The word ‘drunk’ here has a double connotation: firstly, it means that one has literally drunk milk, but with the further suggestion that one is ‘drunk’ on this milk. In other words, that the mind itself is changed, transformed. We really are somewhere else.

Now my caveat about Coleridge’s experience stems from the fact that he was taking opium when he wrote the poem, and that opium helped him creatively (taking my note on debauchery made in Part 1 of this article). In almost every romantic there is a danger of “excess”, but granting that point and the danger, the larger one remains true: that the romantics explored more deeply than ever before the sources of inspiration and creativity.

One poem I like to put alongside Kubla Khan is the opening lines of John Keats’ revised Hyperion poem: The Fall of Hyperion.

Fans have their dreams, what do they knit with?

A paradise for a sect; the savage too?

From now on the highest form of your dream?

guesses in the sky; pity that these do not have?

Traced on vellum or wild leaves from India?

The shadows of the melodious pronunciation. ?

But bare of laurel they live, dream and die; ?

Because Poesy can only tell her dreams,?

With the fine spell of words can only be saved?

The imagination of the sand amulet?

and mute enchantment. Who alive can tell?

Aren’t you a poet? Can’t you count your dreams? ?

From every man whose soul is not a lump?

Does he have visions, and would he speak, if he had loved?

And well educated in their mother tongue. ?

If the dream now pretended to rehearse?

Will the poet or the fanatic be known?

When this warm type my hand is in the grave.

The awesomeness of this unfinished epic – and it is epic – is inexhaustible, but for now just note four words in this short excerpt: dreams, fabric, paradise Y enchantment. Ring a bell? Coleridge speaks of ‘vision’ but here Keats has ‘dreams’; but then the ‘knitting’ – the deep metaphor I see as the left and right brain combining – leads to ‘paradise’. It is a false paradise in Keats’s opening, but nonetheless the imagery is instructive – for only poetry can make the real leap across the abyss that is the ‘dumb enchantment’ – our muteness at existence, or our stupefaction when freezing before the gap of time.

Poetry, then, comes from the Muses and is a form of enchantment; we must be in a ‘holy’ state of mind to receive and process it. If we do, the result is transformational; we find our way back (and onward), however briefly, to paradise: a living harmony of the mind where the ‘milk’ of life nourishes us. We can enter that state artificially through narcotics and other means, but these approaches ultimately desecrate the Muses’ temple (and, by the way, temple refers to their sacred building, which are also the two sides of our brain), and there are consequences, as Coleridge discovered.

In Part 4 of this series of articles we will consider the language of poetry and incantation, the language before the fall of humanity or in the Golden Age, what it means to be a ‘living soul’ and how this relates to write poetry. Finally, I will explore what this means for our contemporary poetry scene.