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Understanding the awesome power of the Muse

September 5, 2018

Re: “Unwelcome inspiration; Women recount disturbing encounters with S.A.’s ‘muse poet,’” front page, Aug. 19:

Lauren Caruba’s article refers to the governing metaphor common among artists — namely, the Muse.

To those unfamiliar with the Muse allusion, it’s important to understand the inherent power of creativity associated with it. As a controlling metaphor it can be a spiritual force, a tangible reality or both. In fact, poets and artists are part of that notorious company of travelers bound for Parnassus, the mythic home of the Nine Muses associated with the arts, particularly dance, comedy, history, astronomy, music, tragedy, idyllic and erotic poetry, epic and lyric poetry, and sacred hymns.

The burden of responsibility, therefore, is great because the artist, either consciously or subconsciously, realizes the burden of carrying the sacred fire of inspiration required for the work of the arts — regardless of discipline. It is historically and metaphorically an ancient source of inspiration and, if I may, propose a holy vocation.

Wield its power foolishly or recklessly, and the Muse can unleash serious and irreversible damage to the artist and those around its sphere of influence. The literary record contains copious accounts of poets, artists, musicians and writers who have met dire consequences after having misappropriated the gift.

While some do succeed. Many fail. But inevitably all pay a price.

That energy some call “the Muse” has many names, for it is impossible to be so casual as to think one can give it a simplistic label. That tangible-intangible force overflowing with inspiration led the Irish poet W.B. Yeats to proclaim, “I went out into the hazel wood/because a fire was in my head” in his “The Song of Wandering Aengus.” It haunted him so profoundly and majestically that solitude became his flame of inspiration.

Robert Graves, in his seminal book “The White Goddess,” asserts that “true or pure” poetry is inextricably bound to the ancient Western cult-ritual of the White Goddess. He delineates its historical context, its archaic origins and its divine manifestations through the language of poetic myth.

Aside from its derivative gender, Graves was careful to ascribe respect and temperament toward summoning her powers because such force would likely turn against the poet.

The Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca clearly understood this. He referred to true poetry as having duende, a dark energy interpreted as demon, daemon or even that impish spark of inspiration Lorca so purposefully expounded on and sought to capture in his own poems.

So how can these sources help readers understand the creative forces at work in this vocation called “poetry”? For one thing, the growth and exponential rate of its popularity has exploded over social media and publishing outlets across our nation. For the common reader, the Muse and its corollary, poetry, have become a fad and consequentially a cliché largely misunderstood.

Yet how many working poets have little or no knowledge of its underlying power and traditionally profound origins?

Poetry and the Muse combined can become a religious experience, and certainly a spiritual one. Its language has the power to build up and to tear down. Having the Muse is a gift — and those who brandish its might would do well to remember the awesome responsibility of respecting the temperament of the Muse.

Edward Hirsch in his book “The Demon and the Angel” notes that Edgar Allen Poe referred to that invisible force as “imp of the perverse” that suddenly propels one to do something puzzling and often unconscionable, to stare down into the abyss and, instead of backing off, plunge impulsively over the edge. That ever-present duende awaiting its summoner.

Fernando Esteban Flores is the author of “Ragged Borders, Red Accordion Blues, and BloodSongs” (Hijo Del Sol Press). He is the founder of Voces Cósmicas, an eclectic group of seasoned and emerging San Antonio poets. Visit his webpage, www.madwarbler.com.

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