Erato, Muse of Poetry by Sir Edward John Poynter, 1870
My Muse is fickle – she takes three-martini lunches and heads to the south of France for months at a time – which means that I don’t write as often as I’d like. My "fickle muse" has become a bit of a joke for me, but I do sometimes reflect upon where poems originate, how they develop, and what their various sources of inspiration might be. Have you ever thought about what drives you to write poems? Is there a clear moment of inspiration? Do you begin with an image or two? Does something sensory generate an idea for a poem? Is memory a deciding factor in some of your poems?
In Greek mythology, the Muses, in ancient Greek αἱ μοῦσαι (hai moũsai), were minor goddesses, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, believed to inspire music, song, dance, and poetry. At some point, nine Muses were assigned to specific arts: Kalliope, epic poetry; Kleio, history; Ourania, astronomy; Thaleia, comedy; Melpomene, tragedy; Polyhymnia, religious hymns; Erato, erotic poetry; Euterpe, lyric poetry; and Terpsikhore, choral song and dance. On Mount Helicon, home to the Muses, were two sacred springs: the Aganippe and the Hippocrene. The Hippocrene spring (Ἱππου κρήνης) was considered a source of poetic inspiration (Tennyson referred to it in his poem “Ode to a Nightengale,” and Longfellow mentions it in “Goblet of Life”).
That little pre-ramble introduces an inspiration poem for this week’s prompt: William Stafford’s “When I Met My Muse.”
When I Met My Muse
I glanced at her and took my glasses
off – they were still singing. They buzzed
like a locust on the coffee table and then
ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the
sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and
knew that nails up there took a new grip
on whatever they touched. "I am your own
way of looking at things," she said. "When
you allow me to live with you, every
glance at the world around you will be
a sort of salvation." And I took her hand.
The key notion of this poem is one of self-awareness and our ability to express individual ways of seeing things. Stafford speaks to the importance of accepting who we most truly are. To live with your Muse, then, is to live comfortably with yourself.
Before writing, let’s “muse” this week on what inspires us. What inspires you to write poetry? What’s your Muse like? Is she ever-present or does she favor three martini lunches and long vacations in the south of France? In what kind of surroundings or landscapes do you find your Hippocrene spring? When you first started writing poetry, what inspired you? What inspires you now? Is there a person or place from which you draw inspiration? An emotion? Are you inspired by other poets? A particular poet? Is there a spiritual “place” to which you return repeatedly for inspiration?
Let your musings and Stafford’s poem serve as inspiration for this week’s poem. Take the cues from your Muse and choose one of the following:
1. Write a poem about your Muse (serious or funny).
2. Write a poem about your “Hippocrene Spring” (your best source of inspiration – one to which you return often in your poems: memory, experience, faith, relationships, etc.).
3. Ray Bradbury wrote, “In a lifetime we stuff ourselves with sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and textures of people, animals, landscapes, events, large and small. We stuff ourselves with these impressions and experiences and our reaction to them. These are the stuffs, the foods, on which The Muse grows.” Write a poem about the ways in which you “feed” your Muse.
4. Write a poem about living comfortably (or uncomfortably) with yourself.
“A Muse” by Reginald Shepherd