I got to thinking about the muse after reading Stephen Pressfield’s excellent “The War of Art” book. He talks about every day when he sits down to write he invokes his muse by reciting the opening of Homer’s Odyssy. A passage called, the invocation of the muse, aptly enough. I’ll post that invocation at the bottom of this entry. It’s beautiful, but I wonder if it might have more meaning for a writer to write their own invocation of the muse. After all, I believe that every writer has their own personal version of the muse. That is, the muse comes to each of us in a different guise.
We talk of being inspired by the muse, because the best creativity feels like it comes from somewhere else. Inspire once met: to breath into, the original usage meant it was as though the poet’s words were breathed into them by someone else—the muse.
Stephen King describes his fecund muse as being like a plumber.
“He’s a basement kind of guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you. Do you think it’s fair? I think it’s fair. He may not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist, but he’s got inspiration.”
Shakespeare describes a real give and take relationship with his muse, as in come here dammit, if you know what’s good for you.
“Where art thou, Muse, that thou forget’st so long
To speak of that which gives thee all thy might?”
And here is a great quote by Tom Robbins about making sure your muse knows just where to find you:
“I show up in my writing room at approximately 10 a.m. every morning without fail. Sometimes my muse sees fit to join me there, sometimes she doesn’t, but she always knows where I’ll be.”
And for the terrific history writer Barbara Tuchman the muse is a place. (By the way you should read her excellent and true book on the history of France in the medieval; A Distant Mirror. It makes Game of Thrones look like the muppets.)
“To a historian libraries are food, shelter, and even muse.”
Finally, here is the T.E. Lawrence translation of Homer’s invocation of the muse:
O Divine Poesy
Goddess-daughter of Zeus,
Sustain for me
This song of the various-minded man,
Who after he had plundered
The innermost citadel of hallowed Troy
Was made to stray grievously
About the coasts of men,
The sport of their customs good or bad,
While his heart
Through all the seafaring
Ached in an agony to redeem himself
And bring his company safe home.
Vain hope – for them!
For his fellows he strove in vain,
Their own witlessness cast them away;
To destroy for meat
The oxen of the most exalted sun!
Wherefore the sun-god blotted out
The day of their return.
Make the tale live for us
In all its many bearings,