Levertov Week: To the Muse

To the Muse

I have heard it said,
and by a wise man,
that you are not one who comes and goes

but having chosen
you remain in your human house,
and walk

in its garden for air and the delights
of weather and seasons.

Who builds
a good fire in his hearth
shall find you at it
with shining eyes and a ready tongue.

Who shares
even water and dry bread with you
will not eat without joy

and wife or husband
who does not lock the door of the marriage
against you, finds you

not as unwelcome third in the room, but as
the light of the moon on flesh and hair.

He told me, that wise man,
that when it seemed the house was
empty of you,

the fire crackling for no one,
the bread hard to swallow in solitude,
the gardens a tedious maze,

you were not gone away
but hiding yourself in secret rooms.
The house is no cottage, it seems,

it has stairways, corridors, cellars,
a tower perhaps,
unknown to the host.

The host, the housekeeper, it is
who fails you.  He had forgotten

to make room for you at the hearth
or set a place for you at the table
or leave the doors unlocked for you.

Noticing you are not there
(when did he last see you?)
he cries out you are faithless,

have failed him,
writes you stormy letters demanding you return
it is intolerable

to maintain this great barracks without your presence,
it is too big, it is too small, the walls
menace him, the fire smokes

and gives off no heat.  But to what address
can he mail the letters?
And all the while

you are indwelling,
a gold ring lost in the house.
A gold ring lost in the house.
You are in the house!

Then what to do to find the room where you are?
Deep cave of obsidian glowing with red, with green, with black light,
high room in the lost tower where you sit spinning,

crack in the floor where the gold ring
waits to be found?

                                No more rage but a calm face,
trim the fire, lay the table, find some
flowers for it: is that the way?
Be ready with quick sight to catch
a gleam between the floorboards,

there, where he had looked
a thousand times and seen nothing?
                                              Light of the house,

the wise man spoke
words of comfort.  You are near,
perhaps you are sleeping and don’t hear.

Not even a wise man
can say, do thus and thus, that presence
will be restored.

a becoming aware a door is swinging, as if
someone had passed through the room a moment ago – perhaps
looking down, the sight
of the ring back on its finger?

How heartening this is, even though inspiration is never guaranteed.  Keep turning ideas over in your head, and beauty in your eyes, and words in your mouth.  Go about your day, keep at your work, show up on time and make sure the muse knows where to find you: thread-worn but intact advice.

It reassures me in other directions as well.  “When it seemed…the fire [was] crackling for no one, / the bread hard to swallow in solitude, / the gardens a tedious maze,” the muse is still there.  When I am only writing to myself, when I set out my thoughts and no one engages with them, that act of utterance remains needful for me and beneficial to all conversations that come later.

The conceit of the soul-house, particularly the difficulty of maintaining the ‘great barracks’ without assistance, rather reminds me of David Wilcox’s “That’s What the Lonely is For.”  In both cases, one finds that the house is more extensive than anticipated: initially inconvenient, but not without design.

Should you be seeking a muse to sing to you, I hope you find that ring on your own finger.

Alphabooks: Q is for Quote

Q: Quote From a Book That Inspires You / Gives You Feels

I think it would be fair to say that feels have been dealt with at least once or twice before, leaving me pondering what book quotation or quotations inspire me.  What words quicken me?

Paradoxically, perhaps, this triad of Anglo-Saxon lines (which I read in Bradley and Fulk, though both are just the presentation of an anonymous poet’s work):

Sare ic wæs mid sorgum gedrefed,   hnag ic hwæðre þam secgum to handa,   eaðmod elne mycle.
Sorely I was with sorrows afflicted,   but I bowed to the hands of the men,   submissive with great zeal.
– “The Dream of the Rood

Þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg.
That was overcome; so might this be.
– “Deor

Wel bið þam þe him are seceð,   frofre to Fæder on heofonum,   þær us eal seo fæstnung stondeð.
Well it is for him who seeks mercy, comfort from the Father in heaven, where all our fastness (security) stands.
– “The Wanderer

These might not look like the stuff of great inspiration; it’s no St. Crispin’s Day speech, no Shakespearian exhortation unto the breach once more, much less a modern approach to exhortation a la Carnegie, Peale, Carlson, or Covey.

But together, these words exhort me to go and meet the daily slings and arrows. The Rood-Tree is an example of zealously submitting oneself to suffering and sorrow: an approach almost as paradoxical as the crucifixion itself, a victory that so resembled defeat. Deor indicates that whether life is full of delight or dejection, it will pass. And then the Wanderer takes that a step further: he recites all that he’s suffered (anxiety, loneliness, loss of his kin, loss of his lord and his lord’s protection) and ponders how everything – wealth, friends, kin, merriment – is lent to us, is passing, is transitory. The whole foundation of the earth shall stand empty but the one who seeks mercy (or grace, or peace, or honor) should find comfort in our heavenly Father. That is the one place of rest that endures.  And so I keep going, persevering until I reach it.

Literary Liturgical Litany

Having been inspired by Thalia’s Blog Birthday post, I put together this litany for writers.  Its format follows the Great Litany of the Episcopal Church.  No disrespect is intended; rather, I hope that we all might seek the aid of the Author of Life as we set out to write.

O God the Father, whose name precedes all discussion of existence; who spoke all things that are into being; who orders the cosmos with a word,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Son, the Word made flesh who dwelt among us; the author and perfecter of our faith; whose words will never pass away,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Holy Spirit, who spoke by the prophets; who sunders speech and melds it anew into coherence; who intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express,
Have mercy upon us.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God, who has given the scriptures by inspiration for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness,
Have mercy upon us.

Remember not, Lord Christ, our first drafts, nor our long-disposed outlines; neither reward us according to our wordcraft.  Spare us, good Lord, spare thy creatures, for whom thou hast poured out the treasure of thy precious blood: the Word become flesh, the myth become fact, the sinless become sin for our sake.  By thy mercy preserve us, for ever.
Spare us, good Lord.

From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice; and from all want of charity,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From all false doctrine, heresy, and schism; from hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word and commandment,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From tepidity of convictions and weakness of thought, reason, and diction,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From vacuity of substance and fatuous compositions,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From misuse of our time and distractions in our research; from antipathy for labor and the soul-weight of sloth,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From needless verbiage which obscures truth and sense,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From incorrect data, false testimony, skewed perspectives, incomplete citations, and misleading rhetoric,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From disorganized ideas; from overused tropes and clichéd plots; from plot holes and inconsistencies,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From paper-destroying fire and flood; from battery failure, power outages, viruses, frozen screens, unsaved documents, and all other complications,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From writer’s cramp and carpal tunnel syndrome; from smudged ink; from an illegible hand,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From poor grammar and careless editing; from conflation of similar terms and confusion of homophones; from the run-on sentence and typo,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From the evils of comma abuse, apostrophe neglect, and subject-verb disagreement,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From confusion of tense, voice, and mood,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From all kinds of aphasia and dullness of expression,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From unconstructive, vicious reviews; from careless readership,
Good Lord, deliver us.

From fear of honest writing and the perils of self-doubt,
Good Lord, deliver us.

In all instances of writer’s block; in all time of springing words; in the hour of editing, and in the day of publishing,
Good Lord, deliver us.

We writers do beseech thee to hear us, O Lord God; and that it may please thee to govern our hearts to glorify you in our writing,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to illumine our minds as we put words to the page,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to breathe into our spirits your life-giving word, and sustain us when fainting,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to inspire us, in our several callings, to do the work which thou givest us to do with singleness of heart as thy servants, and for the common good,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

That it may please thee to grant that, in the fellowship of Francis de Sales and all the saints, we may attain to thy heavenly kingdom,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

Son of God, we beseech thee to hear us.
Son of God, we beseech thee to hear us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
Grant us thy peace.

O Christ, hear us.
O Christ, hear us.

Kyrie eleison.
Christe eleison.
Kyrie eleison.

Let us pray.

We humbly beseech thee, O Father, mercifully to look upon our infirmities; and, for the glory of your Name, turn from us all those evils that we most justly have deserved; and grant that in all our troubles we may put our whole trust and confidence in thy mercy, and evermore serve thee in holiness and pureness of living, to thy honor and glory; through our only Mediator and Advocate, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore.

Avoiding Caffeinated Squirrel Syndrome

Sometimes I wish that once I got an idea, I wouldn’t get another one until I’d dealt with or otherwise finished with the first.

I keep getting project ideas and they all seem worthy of pursuit (but, of course, only when I’m at home and in a time and place to Do Something with them).  And so I have a heap of projects that I count and recount but don’t work with, like a miser and his gold.

In preparation for Book Group Thing tonight (“Rangers, Wizards, Hobbits, and Lions: Finding Christ, Finding Ourselves”), I was pondering different ways of regarding Christ.  The translation of Dream of the Rood which I did for my Anglo-Saxon class – and which I pull out every Lent, to reflect on Christ as our conquering hero, saving us from sin – came to mind.  It occurred to me that I might work on some kind of text-driven artwork, some silhouette of Golgotha with Anglo-Saxon text twined around it:
Syllic wæs se sigebeam,   ond ic synnum fah,  forwunded mid wommum …
Gestah he on gealgan heanne, modig on manigra gesyhðe,   þa he wolde mancyn lysan…
Weop eal gesceaft,   cwiðdon cyninges fyll; Crist wæs on rode. 

And then I thought “It could be my banner picture for Lent.  And I could make another for Easter that says Christos Surrexit! or something.  That would be cool!  It’d really go with the plans I had with Michelle to create some Vasty Tomes of Excellence.”

Which would be lovely if I weren’t already trying to figure out how to fit in the crafting of said Vasty Tomes, choir practice, reading, writing, reading about writing and writing about reading, tax filing, car buying, trip taking, house cleaning, food cooking, and other gerunds.

I suppose learning to say no to myself just as I’d decline invitations to overmany social events is the thing to do.  How do you approach this?  How do you keep yourself from running after every potential project that comes into your head?

The lovely Em has already suggested the following approaches to Getting Stuff Done:
– Order them according to urgency and ease of completion; similar to the Focus Snowball of Resolutions Past;
– Hang them on a mirror/dashboard/other visible place
– Make a list of Necessary Life Tasks and another list of Fun Idea/Tasks; accomplish a thing from the first list before working on its respective liberal labour.  Alternating should make the tasks feel less servile in nature, but also prevent the lists from burgeoning into an Overwhelming Weight.

Have you a particular approach to pursuing or completing your aims?

Tuesday with Thalia: She’s. Back.

Well hello, friends!

I’ve discovered the secret to getting things done. It’s not going to make you happy, because it is the same thing that your mama has been saying, but it does work. Have a schedule, give it a chance to settle, and you will find you have lots of time, get lots done and suddenly find that you are oddly full of ideas. Turns out, work does preceed inspiration. It’s very peculiar, and it’s only a step or two ahead, but it is actually true. Start doing the drudge work around you, and I bet within 45 minutes or so, you’ll have a brilliant idea. (or at least an idea…) Lots of people have remarked about this, actually. Agatha Christie said that she got her best ideas while washing dishes. Stravinsky said right out that work doesn’t just help inspiration, it breeds it. (Oh, stop whining. My pronouns arn’t that tangled. Former/Latter. It/It. Work/Inspiration.)

I have now too many ideas to share all today, so I am reinstating my Tuesday with Thalia posts so that I can schedule my ideas. Otherwise I know they’ll slip away! So today, since I’m talking up work and inspiration, I decided I would share with you a 30 minute lecture on creativity. It’s tremendously insightful. When I tell you that it is given by John Cleese, you will recognize your old friend the Dead Parrot. So clearly it is creative! But I urge you to spend the 30 minutes and listen to this lecture. It is broad enough in its spectrum to speak to every possible discipline and art. What I gained from it two weeks ago may not be what will strike you. Please do watch it for yourself. (and oh, enjoy the subtitles.)

(“Ipswich. Bolton. It’s a pun. No, it’s a palindrome.” ”  No, that’s not possible. The palindrome of Bolton is Notlob.”)

Go forth. Work. Think. Create!

Sonnet Duel: Spendthrift


The spring has been a brief one, and a hot-
A spendthrift thief of subtle season’s change.
Flowers not yet meant to bloom are caught
Within the raging torrent- and the range
Of Summer’s rate proceeds immoderate
Without the ordered, dignified procession
Of seemly grace. Thus in my mind’s estate
Such prodigality of contemplation
Is displayed, that all my thoughts have bloomed,
And prematurely blows the seeded breeze.
And I am left to mow the leaves and sneeze
And burn my compost thought ‘til all’s consumed.
But hope in this; though now the seeds are Sorrow
Still yet they sow another Spring tomorrow.


It would seem that the Muse is absent right now, and the Dusty Thane has an excuse. He is in Greece. Silly man…visiting his in-laws… Before he left he wrote about a lack of inspiration due to looming vacationing. It is clever and lovely. But I too was seeking inspiration and finding it not. Last night, over the G&T’s you see below, the plan was to write about seeking the Juniper Muse, but the poem had other plans for itself.