When I was a kid I used to walk on railings, ledges, and the high, narrow walls of bridges over railway tracks. The lure was for the high and the narrow. Cycling without holding on to the handlebars was another favourite. In both cases, the attraction lay in the difficulty. The harder the better.
Is it any wonder I became a writer?
If it’s a challenge you want, you’ll find nothing more dangerous than sitting at the laptop (notebook, typewriter) and trying to spin words for a living.
There is a dark and mysterious power to writing and I’m not sure any of us really knows how we do it. Sure, we can make all the right noises when people ask us about plotting, character creation and so forth, but the actual placing of one word after another is as unfathomable as alchemy. No wonder, then, that so many writers seek ways to woo the creative spirit, encourage her to whisper her secrets into our ears. This isn’t new. Homer started the Iliad and the Odyssey with an invocation to the Muse. Virgil, Catullus, Dante, Chaucer, and even Shakespeare have evoked Her Mysterious Majesty in their work.
There are many different translations of Homer’s invocation, but as a writer, this one from Robert Fitzgerald is my favourite:
“Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending,
the wanderer, harried for years on end,
after he plundered the stronghold
on the proud height of Troy.
He saw the townlands
and learned the minds of many distant men,
and weathered many bitter nights and days
in his deep heart at sea, while he fought only
to save his life, to bring his shipmates home.
But not by will nor valor could he save them,
for their own recklessness destroyed them all –
children and fools, they killed and feasted on
the cattle of Lord Helios, the Sun,
and he who moves all day through heaven
took from their eyes the dawn of their return.
Of these adventures, Muse, daughter of Zeus,
tell us in our time, lift the great song again.”
I love the idea of the writer being the vessel through which the muse works. Isn’t it fascinating to see how Homer isn’t relying on his own talents to tell the tale, but instead relies on the Muse to do her work through him?
Catullus was succinct in his invocation in Carmen 1:
“And so, have them for yourself, whatever kind of book it is,
and whatever sort, oh patron Muse
let it last for more than one generation, eternally.”
Dante uses his invocation in The Inferno, (Canto II) more as a literary device:
”O Muses, O high genius, aid me now!
O memory that engraved the things I saw,
Here shall your worth be manifest to all!”
Now, I’m not saying I believe in the Muse as a svelte young thing frolicking in the laurel grove, but I do believe there is some sort of creative force that we can tap into. Finding ways of connecting with that force can’t hurt; many have found it helpful. And, hey, if you want to think of her as a nubile young thing well, no judgement here. Well, not much…
Of course, lighting candles and dancing around your garden in a toga while you recite Homeric verses may raise some eyebrows. Not to mention telephones as your neighbours call the local looney bin. But there are things you can do to connect with that powerful force.
If your religious beliefs run to the more traditional, you can offer prayers to the Deity of your choice. Alternatively, you can write your own invocation.
This isn’t too difficult. Start by asking for what you need. Be specific. You may opt for imagination, for direction, for courage – maybe all three and more besides. If you want to light candles, set your plea to music, or add some visual art to the proceedings, good on you. There are no rules.
Even if you don’t believe in the spiritual side of such a request, putting your thoughts in order so you focus your goals on any given day isn’t a bad thing to do. Give it a try. You may find your work enhanced by the effort.
Next week I’ll be covering some events at the Dublin Writers’ Festival and posting on their blog, so I’ll be back here in two weeks. I hope to see you at the Fest. It should be great craic!