myth and poetry

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Death As Muse Part Two:
The Midnight Kiss
by stephanie pope published 07-11-08

midnight kissThe image at work in part one, kissing the mouth of Death, is to be worked in part two. To do this I must now ask myself the same question I asked of Ms Bennett's poetic relationship with Death-as-fireworksMuse in part one. So what is my poetic relationship with imaginal Death right now and how does it speak to me en poieses?

I don't really have an answer. Grief comes to mind. But, before this let me begin with an image that popped into my head the other day.

This past Friday was July 4th and I had tickets to the Arizona Diamondback's baseball game. After the game there was one of the most beautiful firework displays I’ve ever seen. The ballpark was darkened and the roof opened for the after-game event at Chase Field. The firework presentation was set to music. As the fireworks set the night horizon on fire it set a few hearts on fire around me and I began to see couples embrace each other with a kiss. The fireworks set to music brought people face to face and lip to lip in an exchange of breaths.

Now I have a poetizing disposition. It goes into the poetic character in the business it is about and invokes a making of new images from its common life and common love in a not so common loving way.  You will have to bear with me just a bit.

The term, ‘psyche’ comes from Latin psukhe and Greek psuchê and means life breath. Apuleius was the first to give us what many believe to be our mythic pattern for modernity in a love story from a Latin epic of the second century C. E.. In this story the breathless life, Psyche and the life breath, Love or Eros or Cupid become intertwined as lovers.

It always seemed funny to me that Psyche came to mean life breath when what she really personified was Death. In the myth of Psyche and Eros, Psyche is condemned to death. What saves her ‘death’ is what she really grows to love. Psyche encounters Love itself as that possibility of breathless life taking on the breath of life distinctly as that which distinguishes her own unique style of fate. When Psyche sees Eros she makes a wild discovery. The fate of this Psyche is beautiful. 

But also in the moment Psyche sees her lover is divine Love, the lover himself disappears. It is as if to say love comes to life psychologically in us through the absence of whom or what we love. That sounds to me like death talking. When someone you love dies and in the absence of this other person, what happens in your own psyche?  I will try to look at this phenomenon of soul shortly.

At the same time in the myth that this loving manner is on fire in Psyche, this fire works (pun intended) in the very kiss of death to transform Psyche in a not so common loving way. Psyche, James Hillman suggests, has a special relationship to death. In The Myth of Analysis, Hillman delineates what parents depth perspective and psychological creativity is this mythic pattern in the Psyche-Eros Tale whose aim in psychological life is to bring love to psyche. Death as Muse brings love to psychic life in an imaginal way from within psychological depths. Uncommon love is neither blind, nor full of compulsivity nor does it have to end in tragedy as Freud’s notion of oedipal love would suggest. The Eros-Psyche Tale conveys the darkness in depths is haunted with loving soul.

Let me stop here. The yawning darkness, the musing mouth of Death, possesses a haunting loveliness, the soul of which is love itself. Greg Mogenson will write in the introduction to Greeting The Angels: An Imaginal View of the Mourning Process, “From the imaginal point of view the end of life is not the end of soul.” (xi)  Likewise will the myth say Psyche is condemned by the goddess of Beauty, Aphrodite to fall in love with the ugliest of faces and I presume by this the myth has meant this as the face of Death. My poetic image, ‘kissing the mouth of Death’ fits nicely here.

In this moment just as Psyche is stricken with grief over her fate, the myth tells us it is Love’s shadow which overtakes her, lifts her and betroths itself to her. Psychological life, struck by the lost face of loveliness in a moment of loss, mourns and in coincidence Love, itself, seems stricken hauntingly by the loving soul.

Funny how poetizing language has this ability to play between mythic beats and leave me a sense for mourning and love lifted from what seems most mine, most personal and most privately interior in a way which no longer seems at all to belong in loveliness solely to me! This kind of playfulness has a way of shattering every reading to form what deviates and twists a new line in breach of old forms. Poetizing makes meanings possible in new ways or where none have existed before. From an imaginal perspective this seems an ungraspable and composite loveliness belonging to psyche’s interior darkness lit through and through with Eros.

Love’s darkness haunts soul-making. Soul-making amplifies felt-sense in a darkening loveliness. To see through an image in soul-making is to see lit with interior’s lighting set to interior’s music. However, this interiority is set in so impersonal a manner as death that psyche can also be conceived as transcending what you or I will make of it in our own lifetimes. James Hillman states something like this in Myths of Analysis (20-31). In this I can furthermore suppose Death comes to life wherever psyche-making is required and such soul-making is required wherever Love’s vessel is too small to contain psyche’s depth and breadth and titanic reach.

An imaginal perspective shifts vocality to soul’s point of view. This view operates from many sides to form a graveyard vision, a cemetery through which wounded images come to life and haunt. So to view life from wounded sides means to see with a perspective for soul that darkens soul.  A darkness possessed with inner beauty is a seeing through of something haunted by an interior, subtle body ghosting in the seen. Or as JH elaborates what Hereclitus once suggested, soulful loveliness will see through all things non-substantially to the forms of things unknown in what it Psyche & Amore Antonio Canovaexpresses.

Where Soul Meets Soul

Soul meets soul on Lover’s lips
               ............ –Shelley,
The Moon, Act IV,  Prometheus Unbound 1818-19

In antiquity across Europe, Asia and Africa there arose a notion that bringing faces together in a kiss brought spiritual union. Furthermore, since exhalation can be likened to the soul leaving the body as occurs in Death, to be kissed by a god as was
Psyche in that moment kissed meant a divine exchange of soul
occurred between Psyche and Eros that immortalized itself in
psychological life. An interiorized knowing is a silent exchange - Antonio Canova, Eros & Psyche, 1820
through which the sharing of a kiss comes to signify. Where
soul meets soul, says Shelly, are “Lover’s lips” i.e. meaning the lips of a divine desire. It is not difficult to understand how a kiss has come to signify a union of love in wedding divinity soul to soul and why a marriage kiss would come at the end of a wedding ceremony whose troth is pledged “till Death do us part.” It is as if we already know the Gustav Dore The Judas Kissmoment Death parts us will be the same moment we fulfill the character that brought us alive in what will have already found us and loved us throughout our life and well beyond it.

The symbolic nature of the kiss as a kiss of life in the kiss of death shows it carries where soul meets soul a deeply religious value wedded to an erotic one. There is also this darkening notion in the work that suggests for love to fulfill itself Death must fulfill itself, too. I am thinking now of the betrayal of Love by Psyche in the myth. For soul-making to occur psyche must betray the vow she gives never to look upon Eros. She carries with her a determination to know what her deepest love is and bends to kiss Love’s lips upon seeing Eros for the first time. Just then some wax from the light she carries drips on Eros. He wakes, discovers her betrayal and vanishes. For Love to fulfill itself Death will have fulfilled itself, too.

The theme of the kiss of betrayal plays throughout Christic mysticism in the Judas kiss. Judas betrays the Christ in a kiss thusly bringing to the divine life its human sufferer through the character of a unique fate. By bringing to the soul of the divinity of love an experience of deathly treachery, love lifts the human soul through the opening of departing life to an experience of divine status.

Work Cited

Hillman, James. The Myth of Analysis. Harper Colophon: New York, 1978.

Mogenson, Greg. Greeting The Angels: An Imaginal View of the Mourning Process. Baywood: New York, 1992.  

Death As Muse Series

Part One
mythopoetics mythopoesis
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