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Muse-Goddess

By Annie Finch

inanna1
For my last post as a Harriet blogger, I wanted to give a shout-out to what makes it work for me. I could say the earth, spirit, guidance, love, chi, or justice— I can see all these as names for what I understand as the goddess, an immanent (not transcendent) spiritual principle, who gets me out of bed in the morning and keeps me reading, writing, loving, and thinking about poems. At first I wasn’t sure how, whether, or why to write this post, because it is not a comfortable subject. There are many stigmas attached to any kind of spirituality now, and pagan/earth/goddess-centered perspectives are particularly invisible (years ago at AWP, Renee Olander, Lucinda Roy, Tim Seibles, and I did a riotously-well-attended panel on the poetry of earth-centered spirituality at which everyone lamented that gatherings and collections of contemporary spiritual poetry routinely include only poets of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic line, and Buddhists.) But to me, there is a special connection between poetry and the goddess, and many wonderful thread comments here lately have made me feel comfortable “coming out” in a spiritual sense. So here is my farewell post, my shout-out to the idea or reality of the goddess, whatever your preference, in some of her many forms.

Years ago, I wrote the following story about the Muse:

. . .How did I come to think, as a young child who wanted to be a poet, that I had no Muse? The story rides on the kind of convoluted misunderstandings to which children are prone, yet in another sense its logic is impeccable. As far as I can reconstruct it, my reasoning used to go like this:

1. “A woman who concerns herself with poetry should . . . be a silent Muse and inspire the poets by her womanly presence,” wrote Robert Graves. I read this famous statement often enough, stated directly or indirectly, to absorb the idea that not only must Muses of course be female, but, more importantly for me, females must, presumably, be Muses.

2. Men, at least the men in my childhood Bible, Oscar Williams’ Immortal Poems of the English Language, address poems to women Muses. And they also address poems to women whose sexuality they desire or fear or admire. Therefore, according to my reasoning, male poets must have a heterosexual relationship with their Muses akin to the one they have with those other women who appear in their poems, Stella or Laura or Julia or Chloris or the Coy Mistress.

3. And therefore, the Muse must be a heterosexual, man-identified woman. Why should she be interested in women poets then? As feminist critics Gilbert and Gubar finally put it, years later, “is the pen a metaphorical penis?” No wonder the Muse was always hanging around male poets!

After I grew up and realized the Muse was still with me, I tried to find out more about this part of me that gave me poetry. The obvious turnabout was to look for a male muse. In Jungian therapy I uncovered my animus. Growing and writing and learning, I found the male side of myself, had long conversations with him, grew to love him. But though eventually I found him in many good forms—characters in my dreams, the wise man, Pan, the Green Man—he wasn’t where my poetic inspiration came from, but felt far from the place that is called, in Kundalini, “the empty-womb space where creation occurs.”

Inspired in part by my parents’ shared interest in the Goddess (they both took a class with the wonderful scholar Merlin Stone in the 1980s), by the Goddess movement in San Franciso where I was living, and by my interests in anthropology and feminism, I began to muse about and write poems about various goddesses, including Spider Woman, Aphrodite, Inanna, Coatlique, and others, for my book Eve. I forgot about the Muse for a while. . . until one day when I was reading The Muse Strikes Back, Katherine McAlpine and Gail White’s anthology of the poems women have written in response to male poets over the centuries. There suddenly I found her shimmering among all those challenges to the male appropriation of creative literary power. I found the Muse in the seam that links the voices and the answering voices of Meleager and H.D., Homer and Margaret Atwood, John Donne and Mary Holtby, Jonathan Swift and Louise Bogan. I could hear how fundamentally the halves of those dialogues were linked, and it was at last utterly clear to me that the same force had been inspiring the women and the men through all those centuries. The Muse’s voice is strong in the women’s poems. I recognize her tone.

Harriet commenter Terreson tells me that legend says Sappho was walking on the beach when Orpheus’ severed head washed up near her—still singing, inspiring her to be a poet and found her school. They sang to the same Muse. I’ve been calling her the Goddess. To paraphrase Ntozake Shange, “I found the Muse in myself. And I loved Her fiercely.”

But not only is my Muse my Goddess; my Goddess is my Muse. I began to understand this when I wrote he title essay to The Body of Poetry. Living with, and meditating on, the idea of the Goddess as immanent spriritual force brought together ideas I thought had been separate, from sentimentism to the postmodern poetess to metrical diversity to multiformalism (and just last week, in an interview with Tom Cable for the Robert Fitzgerald Award ceremony at the West Chester Poetry Conference, I understood how the metrical code is part of the same overall approach). Still, though, the spiritual aspect of my Goddess occupied one part of me, while my Muse, even though I thought of her in a similar way, was confined to artistic realms. It is only very recently—perhaps only tonight, as I write this final post for Harriet— that I realize that the truth is more demanding. My Goddess is my Muse, there’s no hiding from her, and she wants me to write poems.

As it turns out, the earliest poems ever known to have been written down were about the goddess Inanna, by her priestess Enheduanna. Diane Wolkstein collected these poems and assembled them into a remarkable epic story, Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth (the basis for Alice Notley’s epic The Descent of Inanna.) Reading this book feels like standing in the Museum of Heraklion in Crete (home of the famed Ring of Minos, as far as I know the only place on earth where one can be surrounded by many rooms of artifacts not created under patriarchy, or matriarchy for that matter, but under the system of female-led equal partnership between the sexes that Riane Eisler in her book The Chalice and the Blade calls gylandry. It is mind-blowingly different, in terms of gender dynamics and entire outlook, than anything created in the West in the last four thousand years. One of my favorite passages from the epic is the wildly erotic love dialogue between Inanna and her husband Dumuzi (scroll down a bit to get to the good parts).

It may seem that there is not much blatantly goddess-oriented poetry in the world, but because the goddess’s nature is not to transcend the world but to inhabit it, actually the goddess has a way of appearing everywhere in poetry. Like the sound of a meter with which one has been unfamiliar until recently, she may be hard to recognize at first, and you may think she’s not there, but once you get to know her and get in the habit of noticing, you’ll find her everywhere and in all kinds of poets. Hopkins’ “Binsey Poplars,” Crane’s “Proem,” Spenser, and early Yeats are infused with it, not to mention many ancient poets, and mystical and rhapsodic poets of all traditions from Rumi to Elytis.

And the goddess can be found everywhere nowadays, from the candles section of Wal-Mart to the remarkable hints pages of Women’s World magazine at the supermarket. I have been meeting with a group started by some young mothers in my neighborhood, one of a huge growing worldwide movement based on Sharon McCarlane’s book The Grandmothers Speak. What strikes me about this group is that it is not explicitly pagan or goddess-worshipping or shamanic in the sense of the various groups and people I’ve learned from for decades now. Instead, this new movement is extraordinarily simple, inclusive of any spiritual or healing path, so that one woman shares a peace pipe ceremony in which she was initiated by Native American elders, another talks about herbs, another about new ideas of Jesus, another about Mayan prophecy, another about minerals, and yet all of them are on some level talking about the Goddess in the simplest way: as female energy. The Grandmothers message for July says,

“We, the Great Council of the Grandmothers, are calling you to work with us in order to return your planet to balance. We are calling women to step into the power of the great yin and we are calling men to support them as they do this. All life on earth will benefit from the work we will do together. . .We have told you many times that for the world to return to balance, women must lead. It can be no other way. The earth must once be filled again with the energy of yin that is presently dangerously depleted. And to this end we have come to empower women and confirm men.”

Married to an environmentalist, I think about the current state of the planet often. A fundamental shift is taking place, very quickly, in the way all of us think about our earth and other people and creatures. This can lead to backlash and fear, but the overall movement is unmistakable. The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice. In spiritual terms, we can see the movement towards self-determination and civil rights, on the part of all creatures and people, as the goddess in action: the honoring of immanent power. How could poetry not reflect all of this? The next time I go to the Grandmothers Speak group, I will talk about the Muse.

PS I am looking forward to a trip into wolf-dens with a biologist in Montana this fall to begin a poetry project about <a href=” wolves“>wolves (an animal long associated with the goddess). Wolves are under attack and you can help them <a href=” wolves“>here. Thank you dear Harrietteers for a wonderful visit here!

Comments (37)

  • On July 1, 2009 at 12:42 am duane sosseur wrote:

    sunshine of the yin to be, glimmers on the shore….
    thanx for a cool blog annie!

  • On July 1, 2009 at 6:47 am suzanne wrote:

    I, too rise awake
    and sleep in the arms
    of the Goddess by all her ten thousand names

    I have an in-dwelling tribe of Muses
    all of them women

    they are as unruly
    as the sirenic crone
    in whom they dwell

  • On July 1, 2009 at 12:32 pm thomas brady wrote:

    Annie,

    Women poets who envy male poets their muses miss the point.

    Muses are NOT women who inspire male poets, and if painters or philosophers have depicted muses that way, or if male poets throughout history have spoken of their ‘woman, their muse,’ this is nothing more that artistic color, philosophical flourish, or simple biographical fact, and has nothing to do with poetry, per se.

    Surely in this scientific age, we can put away such tomfoolery!

    As Poe says in “The Philosophy of Composition,” poets find it advantageous to pretend they compose from a “fine frenzy” of inspiration, since this idea deflects sober judgment, and there is nothing your average poet fears more than sober judgment! Almost every poet feels they are not worthy in some way. Here is why a scientific poet like Poe is resented: “Hey! Don’t encourage scientific judgment in poetry audiences! Jeez, our job is difficult enough!” Magic is more successful if the audiences don’t understand the tricks, and poets are like magicians, or seducers (same deal) or salesmen (same deal): “Mr. Poe! Kindly don’t reveal every little aspect of what I’m selling, thanks.” I’m sure you’ve heard it many times before, “That’s not how you wrote the ‘Raven!’” For the salesmen, the less information out there, the better.

    So this ‘Muse idea’ is nothing more than a coloring of this ‘fine frenzy of inspiration’ idea, an Argument the poet uses, in many guises, all the time, to convince audiences that Something Big or Something Important or Something Beyond Their Control or Something Grounded in Real Experience is shaping their product; such advertising may be a preface to a ballad, a manifesto to a song, an essay to a rhapsody, or a criticism (old or New) to a modernism, but it’s all the same thing, and poets who make a great show of arguing for poems, or for poetry, should always be viewed with suspicion.

    If the great poets like Homer, Virgil, Dante, Milton, and Shakespeare have invoked the Muse, the Muse is not some female ‘waiting in the wings’ but is the very ‘speaking’ of the poem itself, the embodiment of the poem, the poem itself—and, in this dynamic, nothing more than a self-consciousness without substance or form—only a childish mind would think the muse really exists ‘as a muse.’ When Virgil says, “Muse, relate…” the speech is being asked to speak, and, when the poet is as good as Virgil—‘she’ does.

    Thomas

    • On July 1, 2009 at 3:10 pm Annie Finch wrote:

      The muse does speak to me, Tom, and it’s not unusual for poets to hear their poems come in inner voices. Have you read Julian Jaynes, or Judith Weissman’s book Of Two Minds? I wouldn’t be surprised if Millay, whom you appreciate so much, hadn’t l heard the muse literally as an inner voice as well—”Renascence,” for one, certainly has that quality.

      It’s not a matter of envy, btw, but of recognizing that, in my case (I’m not speaking for anyone else, mind) the goddess and the muse are one–and it makes me happy to think so many male poets I admire were honoring the goddess in the guise of the muse, sometimes without even knowing it…

      I’ve never pretended not to have a childish mind in some ways (I think it’s safe to admit that, now that I’m two decades out of my PhD and have won a scholarly award). I consider it a poetic asset.

      I notice that when Christopher Hitchens and the other current crop of atheists knock religion it’s usually not for its apparent silliness (who would bother) but for its ill effects, the pain and torture and exile and genocide it causes. Paganism and goddess religion are not interested in converts and don’t bother anyone, so it’s probably not worth insulting them. There are plenty of other religions that could use some criticism if you’re in that mood.

      (and if you have aspirations as a poet, which I think you do, it might be wise not to refer to the muse as “some female” (-:

      • On July 1, 2009 at 3:28 pm Matt wrote:

        Oh, I definitely knock religion for its silliness…

        • On July 1, 2009 at 3:34 pm Annie FInch wrote:

          Is literal-mindedness of much use to poetry?

  • On July 1, 2009 at 1:09 pm Jeff Gundy wrote:

    Even as somebody too deeply entangled with Jesus and Yahweh ever to fully extricate myself, Annie, I’m with you on much of what you say. Reading your post I thought at once of this poem from my last book, Spoken among the Trees.

    Some Things of This World

    Hemlock Ravine filled with beeches
    slate deerflies ferns spicebush

    two big battered red maples lean
    like a couple married 60 years
    40 of them happy

    Horsefly whose life work is to chase walkers
    off the bridge

    The perfect web could be a target
    or a trail marker but notice
    the genius pulsing at its center

    There are ghosts older than the wisest tree
    quicker than the shyest bird
    more remote than the last leaf on the highest limb
    closer than the shoots pushing brave and bedraggled
    from a root in the middle of the trail

    How many intricate tons of matter
    raised up by sunlight into sunlight
    how many more breathing and working in the dirt

    Lilies tread water
    dreaming of boats
    deerfly bites my left arm
    bullfrog dives

    Beloved
    just off the trail
    where the white sun was firing a young beech
    I saw you

    • On July 1, 2009 at 1:58 pm Robin Kemp wrote:

      Perhaps one of these days, we won’t see ourselves as having stereotypically “male” or “female” aspects, but merely human ones. We tend to associate assertion, action, and power with being male. It just now strikes me that Jung’s interpretation, although revolutionary in its time and unquestioningly helpful, falls in line with these stereotypical attributions of gender to action/behavior. I think women can own their power, as the saying goes, without attributing it to the province of masculinity–just as men can identify with their nurturing and creative impulses without ascribing those to femininity. Everyone has both creative and destructive impulses in different combinations at different moments. It’s all in how we use them.

      • On July 1, 2009 at 3:23 pm Annie Finch wrote:

        Very true, Robin. I agree. Jung’s breakthrough was in recognizing that everyone has all of these aspects. Females in our society are conditioned to make some of these qualities more conscious than others, and males to make the opposite set of qualities more conscious. But a balanced person makes all their qualities conscious.

        Jung’s gender stereotyping re the unconscious has often been criticized, including often by me over many years. For some reason now things are somewhat changed for me, and these images now have become more like doorways for me than like walls. Still, I totally understand how you could find them restrictive.

    • On July 1, 2009 at 3:12 pm Annie Finch wrote:

      beautiful!

      There are ghosts older than the wisest tree
      quicker than the shyest bird

      and the last three stanzas..

      Thank you Jeff.

  • On July 1, 2009 at 2:00 pm Robin Kemp wrote:

    sub “unquestionably” for “unquestioningly,” sorry–too fast on the trigger!

    • On July 1, 2009 at 3:24 pm Annie Finch wrote:

      “unquestioningly” seems quite accurate as well. and illuminating ( :

  • On July 1, 2009 at 2:12 pm Jagadish Mohanty wrote:

    I want to draw the attention of readers to Sarojini Sahoo’s blog SENSE & SENSUALITY , where the Indian feminist writer has described in detail about these Goddessess of different cultures in her blog Mythical Sexual Politics on March 24 .2009. This can be viewed at http://sarojinisahoo.blogspot.com/2009/03/ishtar-goddess-of-love-and-war-in.html
    The above article can also be as reade from her regular column at Indian AGE I a printed journal from India) , in its July 2009 issue. This can also be read from the pdf file at http://www.indianage.net/catalogue/catalogue.pdf
    Readers may find a compatibility in ideas of Sarojini and Annie.

    • On July 1, 2009 at 3:33 pm Annie FInch wrote:

      Jagadish, thanks for this link. Sahoo’s blog is important, and this paragraph is very useful for this conversation and for poetic thinking in general:

      Paul Veyne writes: “Myth is truthful, but figuratively so. It is not historical truth mixed with lies; it is a high philosophical teaching that is entirely true, on the condition that, instead of taking it literally, one sees in it an allegory.”

  • On July 1, 2009 at 4:05 pm thomas brady wrote:

    But the shadow was vague, and formless, and indefinite, and was the shadow neither of man nor God — neither God of Greece, nor God of Chaldæa, nor any Egyptian God. And the shadow rested upon the brazen doorway, and under the arch of the entablature of the door, and moved not, nor spoke any word, but there became stationary and remained. And the door whereupon the shadow rested was, if I remember aright, over against the feet of the young Zoilus enshrouded. But we, the seven there assembled, having seen the shadow as it came out from among the draperies, dared not steadily behold it, but cast down our eyes, and gazed continually into the depths of the mirror of ebony. And at length I, Oinos, speaking some low words, demanded of the shadow its dwelling and its appellation. And the shadow answered, “I am SHADOW, and my dwelling is near to the Catacombs of Ptolemais, and hard by those dim plains of Helusion which border upon the foul Charonian canal.” And then did we, the seven, start from our seats in horror, and stand trembling, and shuddering, and aghast: for the tones in the voice of the shadow were not the tones of any one being, but of a multitude of beings, and, varying in their cadences from syllable to syllable, fell duskily upon our ears in the well remembered and familiar accents of many thousand departed friends.

  • On July 1, 2009 at 8:31 pm Terreson wrote:

    Good on you, Annie Finch. I think you just crossed your own Rubicon. I admire that.

    Speaking as a Goddess worshipper also, don’t you find the world richer, more in-formed and from the inside out, immanent as you say? Speaking as a poet also don’t you find the same?

    Terreson

    • On July 1, 2009 at 8:57 pm Annie FInch wrote:

      Yes!

  • On July 1, 2009 at 9:13 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

    The Muse as a projection works to draw attention from our small-minded scientific brain where all we survey is under the illusion of control. For similar reasons Jack Spicer insisted that poetry comes from Outside and compared the poet to a radio receiving messages from outer space.

    • On July 1, 2009 at 9:37 pm thomas brady wrote:

      I think I’m picking up something on Jack Spicer’s radio–some static…but…I can make out a voice…

      If we ascend an ordinary mountain and look around us from its summit, we behold a landscape stretching, say forty miles, in every direction; forming a circle two hundred and fifty miles in circumference; and including an area of five thousand square miles. The extent of such a prospect, on account of the successiveness with which its portions necessarily present themselves to view, can be only very feebly and very partially appreciated; yet the entire panorama would comprehend no more than one forty-thousandth part of the mere surface of our globe. Were this panorama, then, to be succeeded, after the lapse of an hour, by another of equal extent; this again by a third, after the lapse of another hour; this again by a fourth, after lapse of another hour — and so on, until the scenery of the whole Earth were exhausted; and were we to be engaged in examining these various panoramas for twelve hours of every day; we should nevertheless, be nine years and forty-eight days in completing the general survey.

      But if the mere surface of the Earth eludes the grasp of the imagination, what are we to think of its cubical contents? It embraces a mass of matter equal in weight to at least two sextillions, two hundred quintillions of tons. Let us suppose it in a state of quiescence; and now let us endeavor to conceive a mechanical force sufficient to set it in motion! Not the strength of all the myriads of beings whom we may conclude to inhabit the planetary worlds of our system, not the combined physical strength of all these beings — even admitting all to be more powerful than man — would avail to stir the ponderous mass a single inch from its position.

      What are we to understand, then, of the force which, under similar circumstances, would be required to move the largest of our planets, Jupiter? This is eighty-six thousand miles in diameter, and would include within its surface more than a thousand orbs of the magnitude of our own. Yet this stupendous body is actually flying around the Sun at the rate of twenty-nine thousand miles an hour. The thought of such a phenomenon cannot well be said to startle the mind; it palsies and appalls it. Not unfrequently we task our imagination in picturing the capacities of an angel. Let us fancy such a being at a distance of some hundred miles from Jupiter, a close eye-witness of this planet as it speeds on its annual revolution. Now can we, I demand, fashion for ourselves any conception so distinct of this ideal being’s spiritual exaltation, as that involved in the supposition that, even by this immeasurable mass of matter whirled immediately before her eyes, with a velocity so unutterable, she — an angel — angelic though she be — is not at once struck into nothingness and overwhelmed?

      • On July 1, 2009 at 9:54 pm John Oliver Simon wrote:

        Put down the scissors, very slowly, Tom. Take your fingers out of the glue-pot. You can stop cutting and pasting now.

        • On July 1, 2009 at 11:30 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

          PLEASE IGNORE MY NEXT THREE POSTS–I’M IN THE WRONG THREAD! THEY GO WITH THE FISH II.

        • On July 2, 2009 at 5:52 am thomas brady wrote:

          My pot of glue is my muse. My pot of glue works to (wait a minute) “draw attention from my small-minded scientific brain where all I survey is under the illusion of control.”

          Have you ever tried to control a pot of glue? It can’t be done.

          Look, I’m going to glue Jack Spicer to the wall…

          And I got glue on myself!

          And now my pants, which are quite glue-y, are receiving messages from outer space…

          Don’t worry about me, John!

          I’m fine.

          Thomas

  • On July 1, 2009 at 10:21 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    HIGH WINDOWS

    When I see a couple of kids
    And guess he’s fucking her and she’s
    Taking pills or wearing a diaphragm,
    I know this is paradise

    Everyone old has dreamed of all their lives—
    Bonds and gestures pushed to one side
    Like an outdated combine harvester,
    And everyone young going down the long slide

    To happiness, endlessly. I wonder if
    Anyone looked at me, forty years back,
    And thought, That’ll be the life;
    No God any more, or sweating in the dark

    About hell and that, or having to hide
    What you think of the priest. He
    And his lot will all go down the long slide
    Like free bloody birds.
    And immediately

    Rather than words comes the thought of high windows:
    The sun-comprehending glass,
    And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
    Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

    Philip Larkin

  • On July 1, 2009 at 11:16 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    I guess what I worry about, Martin, is that the search for an epiphanic structure, as you call it, may distract us from the things a particular poem does that no other poem has ever done before. Indeed, the search for any sort of pre-ordained structure can stack the deck against the particularity of a poem, and force the poem to participate in a game with a conclusion that’s rigged.

    Like “High Windows,” how easy it would be to describe what happens at the end of this odd, quirky poem as an “epiphany”—whereas it’s so much richer if the poem can be allowed to conjure up its own, private critical apparatus to suit it’s intimate dynamics. It would be like calling High Windows a “mystical vision,” which would make poor Philip Larkin turn in his grave, of course. “This poem’s a mystical vision, class,” and that’s so good and such a relief for the class that it turns away from its much more urgent, more visceral concern with the pills and the diaphragm, and it forgets what matters. Or for more mature students, the terrifying image of the “outdated combine harvester,” for example. Or for readers that are reading the poem because their life depends upon it what the final image actually describes–which is not easy, because it doesn’t go to heaven or make any escape. It just doesn’t.

    In all the posts above, which I have read several times now, I still see no real interest in what this particular poem, The Fish, actually does. When I say the fish is not a gamefish or a trophy, I still haven’t mentioned the fact that the fish didn’t even fight. It’s just hanging there over the side “a grunting weight.” Horrible, a grunting weight (some of those grouper type fish do grunt, though of course that isn’t what the image has to mean).

    So what’s the victory? Why the rainbow? Why the release? And above all, what’s the feeling?

    Indeed, I would say that if this poem is an example of “epiphanic structure,” then you’re quite right, Martin, it is a failure—and I can understand why it wasn’t a comfortable poem for you to teach in class. It just wouldn’t work that way.

    But what if you remove the label and with it the expectation, does that free it up? Does it allow you to consider other dimensions and mechanisms that you might not have had the critical space for before?

    Same with High Windows.

    And this is a good argument too, because I have no idea really whether I’m right or wrong. The point is the poem is expanding, that it’s still fresh—even for those of us who have known it for 30 years!

    Christopher

  • On July 1, 2009 at 11:26 pm Christopher Woodman wrote:

    You know, Martin, I think one of the problems with the whole concept of “epiphany” is that it did come from Joyce, who of course employed it in a very particular way and always with great tact and delicacy. Araby, for example—my God, what’s that about? Or even the Portrait epiphany–which if you’d just read all the critical hoopla and not the passage itself would probably come as a terrible disappointment when you did!

    So it’s Joyce’s term, and is most useful in terms of his particular art.

    Perhaps it should be made to carry a warning label!

  • On July 2, 2009 at 4:14 am Tim Upperton wrote:

    ‘The muse as a projection’ – yes, I guess so. But so many poets have described it otherwise – think of the Romantics’ Aeolian harp; Blake’s admission about his poems, ‘Tho’ I call them mine, I know that they are not mine’; Lawrence’s ‘Not I, but the wind that blows through me’; Spicer… I like to think they knew what they were talking about.

    • On July 4, 2009 at 3:36 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

      ah, sorry to appear to merely repeat your mention of Lawrence, Tim, I just saw that; though,Frieda used that phrase as title to her own 1934 (fictionalized) memoir–& it takes on a different meaning, for all the (her) reasons.
      m

  • On July 4, 2009 at 3:25 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

    Been thinking on this more, Annie. Isn’t it Jung, who saw all archtypes, mythos, dreams,even whispers–as aspects of self? Does it matter more if she be internal or external? In such a sense, honoring the wings, as you’ve written of them, of instinct and consciousness, lets the inner muse lift off to fly us, fly for us, perform for us. I love the notion of muse, in the sense that she becomes a concrete-ization, a manifesting of many layers of consciousness–see through layers, even transparent, and still present for the creative need. And, that she may remain a whisper. Or a shout. Then again, I suddenly remember a Frieda Lawrence title, “Not I But the Wind.”

    & still musing in it,
    margo

  • On July 4, 2009 at 7:15 pm Terreson wrote:

    Margo Berdeshevsky, I read your latest post earlier. An hour or so ago it brought to mind a couple of stories the Irish Nationalist, Maud Gonne, tells in her autobiography, “In the Service of the Queen.” She explains the title of her book in an early, short chapter called “I Saw The Queen.” She was returning to Dublin from Mayo by train where she had faught to stave off a famine in the countryside. This is what she said she saw:

    “Tired but glowing I looked out the window of the train at the dark bog land where now only the tiny lakes gleamed in the fading light. Then I saw a tall beautiful woman with dark hair blown on the wind and I knew it was Cathleen ni Houlihan. She was crossing the bog towards the hills, springing from stone to stone over the treacherous surface,and the little white stones shone, marking a path behind her, then faded into the darkness. I heard a voice say: ‘You are one of the little stones on which the feet of the Queen have rested on her way to Freedom.’ The sadness of the night took hold of me and I cried; it seemed so lonely just to be one of those little stones left behind on the path.

    “Being old now and not triumphant I know the blessedness of having been ‘one of those little stones’ on the path to Freedom.”

    She also tells the story about a “beautiful dark woman with the sorrowful eyes” she had seen since childhood. The woman would occasionally visit her at night, bending over her bed. She knew the woman belonged to the borderland between the living and the dead. And so she decided once to start evoking the woman as means for working her (political) will. But the more she evoked her the stronger and happier the woman became until finally there was a clash of wills between them and Gonne decided to banish her. A third story she tells of a mysterious woman coming to a village in which the inhabitants are being evicted en masse. The woman brings with her good luck and Gonne and others are able to reverse the evictions. She calls the woman “the woman of the Sidhe.”

    The fun part of all this is that, while Gonne was slightly interested in the occult, would follow Willie Yeats’ lead and knew some of the people involved in the Order of the Golden Dawn, she was a very pragmatic, hard-headed, no nonsense political activist and intriguer whose driving passion was Irish Nationalism and the pull down of the British Empire. (The British even suspected her of being a spy working against them during WW 1, the likelihood of which is reasonably high.)

    Muse? Goddess? A psychologically interiorized situation? Anyway, the women were real enough for Maud Gonne.

    Terreson

    • On July 5, 2009 at 4:50 am Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

      Terreson, these are wonderful tellings. Thank you. And they bring another culture’s goddess to mind: in the Hawaiian lands, the goddess of all that pertains to fire in the mythos of the Pacific, Pele, is often seeing on dark roads, accompanied by a small white dog. Sometimes the woman is a hag with ashen coils of hair, sometimes she is a powerful beauty. Sometimes she stops cars. Sometimes she saves one house in the path of a new volcanic flow and lets its neighbor burn. It’s said she keeps her family, her believers safe…and inspires chants,to this day.

      And your re-telling of Maud Gonne’s little stones to freedom, (o, lovely, lovely–that brings a real shiver to me. To be “one little stone”on a such a path is worth more to me than a sky of July 4th invocations!Even as I’m trying to reconsider freedom in Joel Brouwer’s neighboring Harriet post.) Am I rambling? Forgive me.

      Your post also brings me to another Hawaiian telling.(I lived in those islands once, long enough to learn its visions.) The last reigning queen there, Liliu’o'kalani, imprisoned in her own palace by desirous-for-land American business men– told her people to “eat stones.” In other words, it was the land that would feed them. Not greed.

      This queen is both role model and muse for young activists, there. Pele is protectress and muse for her believers. In my much shorter post above, I was only pausing to see that it matters less to me if the inspiration is “real” or interior, or exterior.We are wealthy for each presence, each inspiration, yes? The wind would be so empty, maybe, without them.

      margo

    • On July 5, 2009 at 10:11 am thomas brady wrote:

      I suspect Yeats was a counter-spy for the British Empire in his insistent wooing of Gonne (and later her daughter!); after all, Ford Madox Ford, the leader of the reactionary-modernist ring which included Yeats, Pound, American-turned-Brit TS Eliot, the Agrarian, ‘Old South’ defenders/Fugitives/New Critics who included the crackpot Robert Graves (and friends British Empire warrior TE Lawrence and ‘doors of perception’ occultist Aldous Huxley) who were so anxious to hate the Irish-American Poe, worked for the British War Propaganda Office. Gonne was serious about Irish politics; the occultist Yeats was more into the Irish as sprites and fairies.

  • On July 5, 2009 at 12:53 pm Terreson wrote:

    Well, Margo Berdeshevsky, thanks for more than returning the favor. I suspect these stories, always unverifiable in a delightful sort of way, are world wide. Sort of like the mysterious appearance of the many Black Madonnas in 12th C European cathedrals. And you are right. The provenance of the experience or vision matters much less than the experience itself. All musers and children know as much, right?

    By the way, at the expense of cross-pollinating blogs, you just answered your own Jeffers quandry: “In other words, it was the land that would feed them. Not greed.” This was Jeffers belief too. This and that humanistic solipsism, as he called it, was the greatest danger to the planet. I know a historian who once told me that, in America, the only freedom left is the choice of which brand names to buy. I suspect Jeffers, were he living today, would come to much the same.

    Terreson

    • On July 5, 2009 at 1:27 pm Margo Berdeshevsky wrote:

      Yes, I see how the threads are braiding, Terreson. (Maybe a muse is to blame. She may like such images as stone & fire & hunger & ash; I do. ) And I do see how Jeffers would stand with the eaters of stone rather than the merchants or merchandizers. But the rest of that poem still rankles without hope. Meet you in the other cave, perhaps, eventually.

      margo

  • On July 5, 2009 at 11:21 pm Ellen Moody wrote:

    Sorry you’re retiring from Harriet Blog. I’ll miss you. I read blogs for specific authors far more than for the content and as I’ve not found anyone who compels me here, I’ll probably not read this blog regularly any more.

    Ellen

  • On July 6, 2009 at 12:14 am Christopher Woodman wrote:

    I read Harriet for just the opposite reason, because nobody compels me. There’s such a rich variety of voices, viewpoints, and vocations I’m thrilled every visit, and even though I don’t know anybody in the circle, and have never been near any of the places, I feel right at home.

    I will miss Annie Finch as well, Ellen, but I will miss you too. Because don’t worry, I noticed!

    Christopher

  • On July 7, 2009 at 8:06 pm Desmond Swords wrote:

    ANTI-POETS: SCROLL PAST. SERIOUS IRISH MYTHOLOGICAL MUSE THE FRUITS OF 8 YEARS STUDY – FREE TO READ HERE NOW WOW INNIT FAB !!

    Larkin my arse, but what a way to go, collapsing in the bog with your gob pressed against the hot pipes and then your last words to one of the three women you’re juggling, *shred the diaries.*

    ~

    Before i go onto the Muse proper, i feel a need to give the full background to it, in the tradition i centre my theatrics in, otherwise the full of it is lost and i cannot honestly proceed gettiong on the wick of others.

    ~

    What is the Muse but Memory of a great tradition, Finnegas and Finn McCool speaking what’s what vis a vis poetry per se, as in the meaning of *éces* – which the modern Irish word for poetry, éigse* routes to.

    Éces is an Old Irish word which the word *poetry* as we understand it today doesn’t really capture. In the most basic of sense it means the nuts and bolts of knowledge.

    ~

    Mnemosyne, the original Greek muse, the etymology rooting to house of moon, its essential meaning: Memory.

    Her pool in Hades was the opposite of Lethe, which was the pool/river of forgetfulness the dead drank from so they would not remember their past life when being re-incarnated.

    The Orphic Mystery rites had initiates drink from Mnemosyne’s pool so they would acquire omniscience and instead of being re-born, go onto the Elysian Fields, which Hesiod in Works and Days refers to as the Isles of the Blessed, far to the west and which in Celtic Mythology are Tír na nÓg, (land of the ever young) the most popular of several Celtic otherworlds in which all is fab – another one called the Isle of Happy is where happiness is found, similar to Avalon.

    The poetic Tradition of Gaelic poetry, is called *on coimgne* – which Kuno Meyer translated as *historical knowlege*. Meyer was an early 20C Celticist who, along with Rudolph Thurneyson, Osborn Bergin, D.A. Binchy (uncle of Maeve) and others, first translated Gaelic manuscript and were part of the Dublin milleau of Yeats and his cronies.

    On Coimgne breaks down into 350 tales, 250 primary and 100 secondary. Secondary ones were never written down and only learned from grade four cano (whelp) up to seven ollamh (poetry professor), passed from lip to ear.

    A list of 187 primary tales in 16 genres appear on folio 189b of the 12C Book of Leinster: Do nemthigud filed, a translation of which is here Of the Qualifications of a Poet.

    Destructions (9), and Preyings (11), and Courtships (14), and Battles (9), and Caves (11), and Navigations (7), and Tragedies (13), and Feats (17) and Sieges (9) and Adventures (14) and Elopements (12) and Massacres (38) and Eruptions (2) and Visions (7) and Expeditions (4), and Marches (13).

    The maxim following this primer reads: “(s)he is no poet who does not synchronize and harmonize on coimgne” the great knowledge.

    ~

    Which brings us to the Muse in Gaelic poetry.

    The otherworldly omphalos, the wet muse of Irish myth, is known by a variety of names: the Well of Segais, Sidhe Nechtan and Connla’s Well.

    The mythology surrounding the well states it is a still-pool source of the Boyne river, and informs us how only Nechtan and his three cupbearers were allowed in the vicinity of the well, to perform magical rites, walking round it clockwise and no doubt muttering holy mumbo jumbo to invoke a supreme intelligence they hoped would deal favourably with their wants and wishes.

    One day Nechtan’s wife Boand (who gave her name to the river Boyne) broke the taboo or *geisa* of not going near the well, and walked round it counter-clockwise, causing it to erupt in fury and bring the river Boyne into being, whilst scattering Boand’s limb and body parts in places whose toponyms etymologically route to her name and are recorded in another body of lore the poet need learn to qualify, the Dindsenchas.

    The dindsenchas are 176 poems and prose commentaries which recount how places got their name. The 23 stanza poem of the dindsenchas which tells how the Boyne got hers, is at the link.

    ~

    The well is surrounded by nine hazel trees, and each nut contains total poetic wisdom, and these nuts are known as *the nuts of knowledge* — cnó coill hEolas which (according the Cauldron of Poesy:

    “…cast themselves in great quantities like a ram’s fleece upon the ridges of the Boyne, moving against the stream swifter than racehorses driven in the middle-month on the magnificent day every seven years.

    ~

    Unlike the fruit on the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden, there is no sense of the forbidden about them, (indeed they are greatly prized if highly elusive) and the short-cut way to get instantly cleverer than one’s rivals and dispense with the 12 difficult years of hard graft in the bardic curriculum, is to catch a Salmon of Knowledge who has fed on the nuts in the well and eat it, thereby ingesting the full of poetic wisdom seciond hand. The earliest name for the Salmon of wisodm/knowledge is eo fis and the modern name is bradán feasa.

    A Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn son of Cumhaill) tale encapsulates this poetic of getting it all at once by eating the Salmon of Knowledge, which appears in the body of lore known as The Boyood Deeds of Finn McCool, found in the Fenian Cycle of Irish myth and which there is some debate as to the era the tales where set in, but in the centuries around the time of Christ, and these started getting written down in the 7C.

    There are four cycles in Irish myth, the other three being:

    2 – Mythological Cycle – detailing the pagan invasion mythology and featuring a cast
    from six races of gods who fight amongst themselves for control of the island.

    3 – Historical Cycle – cycle of kings detailing tales of legendary kings

    4 – Ulster Cycle set ion the time of king Conchobar mac Nessa, in the time Pliny was writing around the time of Christ and detailing the adventures and battles of of the Uliad and their hero Cúchulainn, with ther rivals in Connacht, led by Maeve and the prime tale being Táin Bó Cúailnge – cattle raid of Cooley.

    ~

    Finn McCool is the name of a person whose birth-name was Demne: (finn means *fair, bright, shining* and with a positive charge on fair) a poet-warrior who was the last chief of the fianna in Irish mythology. The fianna were independant aristocratic bands of young men who lived outside of society and were called upon by various petty kings in times of war to fight their battles amongst themselves, and who went raiding across the sea for thralls and spoil.

    Finn’s father Cumhaill, was also a chief of the fianna, killed by his rival for the leadership, Goll mac Morna (goll meaning one eyed, which came about his fight with Cool senior). The fight came about because Cool had abducted Muireann Muncháem (“beautiful neck”) the daughter of Kildare druid Tadg mac Nuadat (Tadg son of Nuada), who appealed to High King Conn Cétchathach (“Con of the Hundred Battles”) who outlawed mister Cool and gave his rivals the perfect excuse to do away with him.

    ha ha ha ha ha

    But Muireann was already pregnant by Cool by the time they got her back, and her father didn’t want to know after this, so baby Finn — who, remember, at this time was known by his birth name of Demne – was put into the care of his father’s sister, the druidess Bodhmall, and her female warrior companion Liath Luachra, who raised him in the forests of the Slieve Bloom Mountains in Offally and Laois (pron. leesh)

    He got the nick-name of Finn in childhood by some boys seeing him swim in the river, because of his pale hair glinting in the sun.

    He was brought up trained in the art of warriorship and druidry, andas a youth, entered the service of a number of local kings in the midlands incognito, but such was his skill his true identity was always discovered and he was sent packing because it was too politically sensitive for a minor king to be having the son of Cool in his camp.

    At the age of 15, he fell into with Finn Éces, or Finnegas the druid, who had his nemeton (druidic grove) by the banks of the river Boyne, where he had set up hoping to catch a Salmon of Knowledge, and took Finn in as his pupil, teaching him in the poetic craft.

    Finnegas is obviously a cipher for bright, good, positive (finn) knowledge Finn Éces, and Finnegas had been told a prophesy, that though he would indeed catch one of the fabled Salmon of Knowledge, but alas he Finnegas would not get to profit intellectually and magically from the nuts of knowledge the fish had feasted on at Segias, as another person, someone called Fionn, would instead.

    Now, this tale already has two people called Finn, one of whom is going by a nom de plume and with a real name of Demne and Finn Éces being the original name of Finnegas.

    One day after seven yrs waiting by the bank and practicing druidry whilst also instructing his pupil Demne, (seven years being the time it took to enter the ollamh zone) Finnegas caught the fabled fish and naturally, remembering the prophecy – that not he but a person called Finn would get his mind altered by it, recieving the source of all poetry — Finnegas would have no doubt had a look around, checking that no likely candidtae was about for the fish to fall into their hands. Giving the fish to Demne he told him to cook it, but on no account eat any of it, not even a crumb, as the deal was s/he who had the first taste, got the poetic gift all at once.

    Demne/Finn was cooking it, and some fish fat accidently splashed onto his thumb, and instinctively sticking it in his mouth, the knowledge from the nuts of wisdom, instantly infused him and when Finnegas came back to the cooking area, could tell straight away by the look on Finn’s face, what had happened.

    ~

    So before i go to part two and talk about the muse of Segais in real terms, that’s the background we need know, in all seriousess, if we are to be a proper bore others moan about for hogging the binary data bits in cyberville mohn..

  • On July 9, 2009 at 10:25 am Gail White wrote:

    I do believe that we all have, as Socrates did, our “little voices” or daimons. Mine happens to be
    cynical, most of the time.

    A prophet once remarked that the wind blows where it will and you hear the sound, but can’t tell where it comes from or where it goes… And so is everyone who is born of the wind.

    Poets are born of the wind, I think.

    Enjoyed the blog, Annie! See you back at Wom-Po.


Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, June 30th, 2009 by Annie Finch.