I've been studying English literature this semester. We just finished discussing John Milton's, Paradise Lost, which was intended to be seventeenth century England's greatest epic. The text broke away from the conventional rhyme of iambic pentameter and introduced enjambment- a technique which permitted the lines of the text to bleed from one verse to the next. Milton's lines also had clauses that would modify two or more nouns instead of the typical one, thus making for a much denser read. And if that weren't difficult enough, he drew upon numerous references from the Bible and mythology. Needless to say, I wasn't comprehending even half of what Milton was trying to convey despite the one "Love and Erotism in the Middle Ages" class I took about twenty years ago that touched on some classic mythology. Thankfully our professor understood that her students would have a difficult time with the text and compassionately instructed us on how to decipher it all.
However, I bring up Milton to simply explain how brilliant he was (while in school he felt the education he was receiving at Cambridge was subpar) and point out an interesting little footnote I came across while trying to machete through his masterpiece as found in Book 9, line 22:
Of my celestial patroness, who deigns
Her nightly visitation unimplored,
And dictates to me slumb'ring, or inspires
Easy my unpremeditated verse:
- Norton Anthology, pg.1974
Milton's nephew claimed that his uncle John had a muse. She'd visit him in the night and when he arose in the morning, lines of poetry would be fully formed in his head, ready for dictation.
This really peaked my curiosity especially considering that earlier this week, while reading Julia Cameron's, The Right to Write, one of her chapters touched on this subject. She explained in her chapter entitled, "On Being an Open Channel", that many artists subscribed to the belief in a muse as well.
The following are Julia's examples:
"The music of this opera (Madam Butterfly) was dictated to me by God. I was merely instrumental in getting it on paper and communicating it to the public".- Giacomo Puccini
"Straightaway the ideas flow in upon me, directly from God"- Johannes Brahms
"The position of the artist is humble. he is essentiallly a channel." - Piet Mondrian
"I myself do nothing. The Holy Spirit Himself accomplishes all through me."- William Blake
Interesting, don't you think?
And then a few months ago, I came across this you-tube video in which Elizabeth Gilbert shares at a TED Conference the visit she had with Ruth Stone and what Ruth had to say to her about her own muse:
(I highly recommend the rest of Gilbert's talk if you have the time)
All of this leads me to wonder, if these great artists had pretty substantiated beliefs that they were simply channels into their genius, instead of the creators of it, couldn't anyone else use this tool, as well?
Think of the courage such a thought would instill in anyone who wished to have a dance with their creative self. Think of the risk a person might be willing to take on him or herself because they knew that they wouldn't have to go it alone. The mother of three little ones next door might finally decide to get out her paintbrushes that have been collecting dust and put something down on canvas. The young boy who'd always wanted to write a novel about the Zombie Apocalypse might take a deep breath and sign up for the Nanowrimo event after all, and get that much closer to his goal. Or the forty-year-old homemaker might summon up her courage to enroll in the adult ballet class she's always dreamt about taking.
There's power in this way of thinking. And I'd love to hear what you have to say about this.