myth and poetry

Mythopoetics -posted 31 August, 2007

The Muse: Part 4: Poetic Experience
........................................................-by Stephanie Pope
   celestial fairyUnder the pen, the anatomy of syllables slowly unfolds
....................................................................... -Gaston Bachelard
                                                   Fairy Alphabet ...................................................................

-You Tube

winged muse
For most of my own life I have wanted to forget writing poetry. But, poetry happened to me and how it happened occurred in third grade. The lesson for language arts was poetry and the assignment, given late one Friday afternoon, was to pick a color and write a poem on this color. The assignment was due the following Monday.

I say I wanted to forget poetry. Poetry’s logos burned flow already flesh, into words. Poetry happened in an ‘other’
softly irrational way. Its language personified thinking. -Plate 53, winged muse William Blake 1804-1820
It both happened someplace else and it never happened. It also didn’t seem to fit in well with the rest of everyday life. No matter. I still fell into poetic experience and whenever I did, I tried to forget everything I knew and remember something else.

When poetry uses words a poem seems to masquerade, like James Hillman writes, behind a fiction deeply psychological and dramatic in tensions. And then, the event I experience as poetic hides in the full power of the soul’s unreason my fear of the story that never happened. This is right where my third-grader's poem on color happens. It operates between the interpersonal and the intrapsychic dread where an image in the soul—an angel—lives all too real.gorse

The poem is the worst and the best at work at once but, always, poetry is the one at work in the words that work me. This may be because every word behaves a memory that is not historical fact; every word possesses a forgotten history in something wanting re-membered again in time. (Healing Fiction, 40)

Hereclitus knew how well-lit words already were. The logos flows, he said. It is as good as gold, “as goods are for gold and gold for goods.” (Fragment 90) Poetic words turn nothing in a way that really is something. All poetic things turn no things sooner than later.

From the first I wanted to forget my story, that it wasn’t mine at all but the story into which I came to be. I knew something dark and unlit, a kind of death where I could bee-live what lived before the story itself. So, I wanted to be undone and to sink below childhood. I wanted to get as near to nothing as I could, be less than next to new and old like the past. From the first, something in me wanted the prickly word that mused.
O dreary would the world be,
With everyone grown cold
Forlorn as prickly bushes
Without their fairy gold!
-The Song of the Gorse Fairies, Cicely Mary Barker

Desire, I mean really deep desire, had to do with listening for the early movements stirring a sleepless and metaphoric heart living in verse, inverse and invisible. Within and without thinking, somehow (without “knowing” just how anyone even a third grader could) I should be able to give utterance to it alone. It may have been something like a creative emotion uttered I heard and re-membered that Sunday evening. It may have sounded like a cow or a cat. But, I think the oooo came first and the silence that was all around it made me wonder at eight if the muse was an angel lowing. Along the back stretch I connected to nature and something wild. It could have been Paradise. But, I had school the next day and such a thin thing would have had to keep.

James Hillman calls logos a fundamental say-so; it is “the insighting power of a mind to create a cosmos and give sense to it. Each god will have had his logos.” (40) This seems to say something numinous, a demon, a mythical animal or an angel already lives inside our words. Our words are not our own. That Sunday night long ago I began to know this through my own poetic experience within the habit of some of these wordy natures already at work.
The numinosum, upon which an unknown subjectivity is founded right where it remains hidden in the story in the poem, behaves a poet in the person of the word. That may be the word behind words who is the real subject in a sentence talking. Archetypal psychology will establish such an image as the true iconoclast and this power as inherent in the poetic capacity of personification itself. Again, Hillman: “words are angels” and the mother of musing recovers (and is it also re-covers?) “the angel aspect in the word.” Images transcend mere nominalism, he thinks. Underneath words are persons. (Re-Visioning, 8-9) Like angels, words are messengers telling of the nearness of the gods to the myths that teach us how to remake our stories. Looking through the eyes of the angel re-visions a story and revises it against itself. This is what mythopoetics is all about. The poetic experience retells rather than repeats the words.

A poem reveals to me the image in the heart of the fictional account really is the truth. The image in the word reveals the power personifying will have in creating a history and the power words will have had over me. The poetic image is the deep story to which I belong but which belongs to more than just me. For most of my life I have been struggling with a personal poetic, a muse, an angelos. It has been the bearer and barer of my fiction. For most of my life that has been a terrifying thing and also a relief.

Like most young ones of my day, I did not sit down to do this important homework till after dinner that Sunday.That was when I met up with my first experience having to do with the soul in words. This Sunday evening was the moment I recognized I understood innately what I still understand. Words dream like people dream.  Words live like third graders live, “syllable by syllable”, as Bachelard says, “as if they have a right to be young.” (17)   

This particular Sunday the animal syllable is nocturnal, poetic and lowing too close to bedtime. The living room lamp is lit with the word naming itself while woolen night reforms both dreamer and world wrapped in it like bunting skin. The young color dances where I had no thoughts before toward writing it and is quickly penned to the blank page.  It begins the poem and the poem, too, begins dripping. In between the binding of the black and white composition book, when the pen finally stops dripping, the color poem drenches three full pages.

It is a reverie that weaves the dream caught in the pen in the web of the word that night. In the beginning it was a word the small hand will not ever forget because the word was a whole world and a way of knowing.

The word knew something Jacques Maritain will call connaturality. Bachelard will say this word knew its encounter with reverie as it really was, a ‘binding,’ that in the strictest sense of the term, “poetized the dreamer.” (16)  In other words, the word revealed its fire and behaved its soul to me.

Somewhere along the way I decided Hereclitus was right about the logos. It was made and unmade through fire. Most people would not like my poetry I decided. It could not be understood because it did not mean anything. The words belonged to the soft dance of the dimly lit inner sky whose movements were strangely fleet like the breast of birds shaping nests to the curve of their own person. Compelled to press into words a poem, I turned my three page poem in the following Monday no matter how I felt about it. 

On Tuesday I was sent to the principal’s office. The principal was a very tall, thin, holy Catholic nun. “Did you write this poem?” She peered over her glasses darkly and considered me carefully. “Yes,” I said meekly. She left the room for at least a century. I think I petrified while waiting for her to return. But, not before I promised myself I would never show my poems to anyone. I would give them back to the fire. And for years and years afterward that is just what I did. Hereclitus really was right. All things are an equal exchange for fire and fire for all things, as goods are for gold and gold for goods.

Sometimes, the vitality of the logos having turned toward the substance of the soul like a bow bent back, like a lyre strung through and stung pole to pole, the vitality passes
fairyback into the graspable and a remnant remains of the in-visible left there in verse.  An equal exchange, although a mere fragment now, the poetic image bares and bears a fleet felt-sense remembering in an art of memory the story that gave to it its own validity and truth.

A fragment of the original poem has survived the years of fire. I found it one day in an envelope along with a holy card and my grade school report cards. The principal came back that day and gave this card to me. “You may go back to your classroom, Stephanie,” she said.  I flipped the card over as I walked away and I read “Keep writing. One day you may be a great poetess.”

Our current kind of 'spectacle' culture throws this last notion of poetic greatness as an important personal achievement into eclipse. And still the soft lowing animal continues to operate, to hide and to bear nocturnal making, poetry good as gold.

gold is the color of risen sun         
a word of joy in anyone                       
gold is a feeling you get inside             
when you know you are satisfied 
gold is happiness gold is love
gold are the stars in skies above
while deep in a dream as you quietly lay                                                                                             lives a longing as gold as yesterday    

 - the first sun-flower, poem fragment, 1960

 - for the sun-flower now see Sunday Poetry, Ghost Flowers, ©2004 Like a Woman Falling

Works Cited

Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Reverie: Childhood, Language and the Cosmos. Beacon Press: Boston, 1971.

Heraclitus. Fragments: Fragment 90, Plutarch., 8/15/07.

Hillman, James. Healing Fiction. Spring: Connecticut, 1983.
                           Re-Visioning Psychology. Harper Perennial: New York, 1992.

Maritain, Jacques. “Poetic Experience”, The Review of Politics Vol 6, No 4 October, 1944,  pp387-402., 8/14/07.

Related Poetry

holiday bird

The Felt Sense of Birds see A Hudson International Poetry Digest, vol 4 num 4 winter, 2009 p18 and Literary House, November, 2009 pp. 13-14

A Few Things She Noticed

Additional Links

Jacques Maritain on Poetic Experience

William Blake - Ah! SunFlower

Allen Ginsberg - Sunflower Sutra, Berkley, 1955

Allen Ginsberg on the image

The Art of Cicely Mary Barker

Essay Archives

The Muse Essay Series

Pt 1 A Planting Song
Pt 2 Fountain of Youth
Pt 3 Font of Birds
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