"Through night to light - in every stage,
From childhood's morn to hoary age
What shall illume the pilgrimage?
By mortals trod
There is a pure and heavenly ray.
That brightest shines in darkest day"

 

 

 

 

Milton and The Muse
The Anchorage of the Muse

"There is a pure and heavenly ray"

For centuries bards and poets have begun their stories with an invocation to the Muse of the great and holy mountain of Helicon. The Muses, the daughters of Zeus and Memory, sang of all things in heaven and earth. It was believed that when they honored and beheld someone at birth they poured sweet dew upon their tongue and thereby destined them to become lovers of wisdom and beauty.


A true votary of the Muse was someone who has vowed to be at his or her service, a devoted follower and advocate. It was someone who believed in the power of the Muse to illumine them, to loose a stream of swiftly flowing words. The votary of the Muse recognized that she was the spring of inspiration who had the power to feed the soul, fire the imagination and facilitate the expression of strong feelings and emotions. They knew that she could cleanse the inner eye, permit a mortal to view the ageless mystic truth.

The Muse was not just the guardian of all wisdom and memory; she was a creature of power and mystery. The Muse could well have died at much the same time as Pan, but when she suffered the one thousand cuts of hatred and indifference she simply went into hiding. She was marginalized by thinkers, like Thomas Hobbes who subjected her to rational scrutiny. These thinkers discredited the Muse on coolly considered, intellectual grounds and encouraged Christians to forget the names of their gods and muses, which were 'but devils and damned creatures borne of Satan'.

When the Muse went underground she took with her a means for the multitudes to understand the arts and literature and to bear witness to the events in their lives. When the Muse, who had been used to inspire fresh creative efforts retired she took with her power, the beauty and the majesty that had haunted the valleys of Mount Helicon. Her well worn route of escape, the paths she had forged for believers to escape the drabness of daily life, that took even humble shepherds away from the day to day grind of tending sheep, were overgrown. Gone were the words that breathed and 'wrought with human hands the creed of creeds' , that were the spirit and life itself. Within her kingdom the veil of sleep descended, sleep that could never be broken by rationalists or thinkers. Now educators and thinkers mourn declining standards and look toward the family, teachers and culture to lay the blame. They are obtuse. They do not understand that creative genius is available to the multitude and that it is not the exclusive realm of a talented few? They think that creativity is limited by genetic composition and it never occurs to them that it might in man's nature to be inventive.


Having long dismissed the power of the heathen Muse, they can only speculate about mankind's latent creative potential and the reality that little separates Einstein from a ten-year-old child. When the Muse is present language is enriched and the walls of silence crumble and fall.


To demonstrate this we need simply turn back time and look at the work of the brilliant writer, and votary of the Muse, John Milton. When E.R.Gregory made a study of John Milton in his book 'Milton and The Muse', he analyzed the roles of tradition and individual talent in shaping him. He found that this great poet was a part of an educational system that even by our standards was incredibly rigid, prescriptive, dull, and irrelevant. What was the source from which Milton drew his symbols and images? Why was he able to express, at the tender age of nineteen, such elaborate poetic structure, while his peers struggled with mechanical reproductions? Where did he gain his poise, his insight into the human psyche?

Gregory reveals that Milton himself did not think much of his education, yet he became an intensely personal poet, whose voice lives on today. Why? Milton "reverenced workmanship, and insisted upon method" but he attributed his inspiration and spontaneity to the Muses, who he believed to be the goddesses of creative inventiveness, poetic inspiration and memory. At around six or seven musa, - ae was one of the first Latin words Milton learned. From that time until the end of his life the Muses were never far from his consciousness. His teacher, Thomas Young," led the way for me, when I first traversed Aonia's retreats and the holy greensward of the twice-cleft ridge, he led the way for me when I drank Pieria's waters, and, favored by Clio, I thrice sprinkled my happy lips with Castalia's wine"

When Thomas Young took Milton to traverse Aonia's retreats, to drink from Pieria's waters, he introduced him to the power and mystery of the Muse and filled his impressionable students mind with a wreath of vibrant images that sustained him throughout his writing life. When Milton met Clio she introduced him to the glories of learning and taught him that words, divorced from language and the need to communicate strong feelings and emotions, were dead things. She said that words only exist separately in the minds of scholars, etymologists and philosophers. For his part Young, a true votary of the Muse, did not make his students spend all their time practicing exercises in imitation. He went well beyond the popular device of filling up his student's time with tasks that required stultifying and mechanical reproductions of images and phrases from the great masters. Young helped Milton to perceive, apprehend, analyze, synthesize, categorize, inform, and articulate all at once. He taught him that language was something beyond words that it was the means by which people have communicated since antiquity.

With the help of Clio Milton found his own unique voice. As he sipped Castalia's wine he was filled with passion. As he lay by her waters he learned to use language for the practical purpose of writing hymns, prayers and supplications. Clio showed Milton how language could be used to record stories for people who were deeply interested in the achievements of their ancestors. She provided Milton with a means to celebrate glory, victory, a way for him to unburden himself of intense loves and hate, to come to grips with his belief about God. Awakened from slumber the Muse came into Young's classroom and breathed imagination into Milton, adding a powerful dimension to his intellectual life. She bought with her the writing of Plato and pointed to the'Phaedrus' in which Socrates described the "madness of which the Muses are the source" and the passage in 'Ion' dilating on the power of the Muse: "She first makes men inspired, and then through these inspired ones others share in the enthusiasm, and a chain is formed, for epic poets, all good ones, have their excellence, not from art, but are inspired, possessed, and thus they utter all these admirable poems." She reinforced that "it is god himself who speaks" through the poet, a view espoused by Jesus of Nazareth who said "the words that I speak unto you, they are the spirit and they are life." St John 6:63..

We can learn from Milton. The Muse is very much alive and well. She did not die, but worked underground with a resistance army of artists and writers who believed in her. All we need to do is call her name and she will come. We need only walk the sacred pathway, sip the waters of the Castalian springs and believe in her power and her mystery. We can join her in the 'House of the Muse' if we are just prepared to seek it out. The Muse helps writers and artists alike to understand that there are at least two of us in each of us and that it is a good idea to maintain a relationship with that other person inside. Once we attend to the Muse within we attend to ourselves and find not just a strong ally, but our authentic voice as well. When we hear the sound of our voice it is like a bell tolling. We come to believe that they can learn, see ourselves in a positive light and our self-esteem grows. It is by working with the subconscious, via the Muse, that we can change our beliefs about learning and engage in successful literary experiences.

 


House of the Muse
Soul Food Cafe


 

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Heather Blakey asserts the right to be identified as the author of this work