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.
                            Perhaps

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.

Obedience to Beauty

I’ve not read much by Hans Urs Von Balthasar, but came across this quotation and thought it worth rumination.  Mention of the inexorable Muse induced me to share it here.

If faith is the attunement and adaptation of the whole of existence to God, then we could just as well call faith obedience, for such indeed it is. But let us not forget the strict obedience exacted even by worldly beauty both from the creating artist and from the re-creating admirer who contemplates and enjoys it.

The artist has an idea which must be realized and which accepts no excuses until the creator has expended his last energies in the service of this coming-into-reality. Service of the beautiful can constitute the hardest kind of asceticism, and so it has been with all the greatest creators.

But all the vital acts of renunciation demanded by the inexorable Muse were directed by the enrapturing impulse to help her enter visibility… In faith, man is at one and the same time artist and artifact. Thus, obedience is not opposed to the beautiful.

– Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Glory of the Lord I, “The Experience of Faith”

It’s been a long, grey, quiet while since I’ve encountered (been inspired by? been driven by) an idea, a picture, a Muse which stood unbending until I did the vision justice in my execution.

Reflections on an Anniversary(ish)

2 years ago, Melpomene and I were on gchat, and my sistermuse idly mentioned that she thought she might like to blog, as it would be a forum for continuing to write in a semi-deliberate fashion. It was a very quiet night at my former job, so I set up an account with wordpress, and sent Mel the joint passwords. I chose my name, and hers… with the idea of highlighting our rather opposite natures, but I confess that I was afraid she’d hate the name I gave her. After all, the first time you look “Melpomene” squarely in its Greek face, it is a bit of a shock.

I am so glad that Melpomene leaped aboard and took hold of the tragic muse blithely. I delight in the company of the muses who have joined us since. I hope soon to welcome one more. I wiggle with the satisfaction of a child who performed a ‘sucessful’ puppet show when you, our readers, express delight with the thoughts of these, our not so humble egotists. God grant us all the continuation of this great venture, by nursing our creativity and whetting all ya’ll’s’s appetite for this blog’s peculiar brand of thought provoking hilarity and hijinks.

Now may he also preserve us from run on sentences, and forthwith, with my love, Good Night