The Princess and the Muse

by Heather Blakey

"Where art thou, Muse, that thou forget'st so long
To speak of that which gives thee all thy might?
Spend'st thou thy fury on some worthless song,
Darkening thy power to lend base subjects light?
Return, forgetful Muse, and straight redeem
In gentle numbers time so idly spent; Sing to the ear that doth thy lays esteem
And gives thy pen both skill and argument.
Rise, resty Muse, my love's sweet face survey,
If Time have any wrinkle graven there; If any, be a satire to decay,
And make Time's spoils despised every where.
Give my love fame faster than
Time wastes life;
So thou prevent'st his scythe and crooked knife."
~~William Shakespeare

The birth of a Princess was cause for great celebration in the kingdom. Eight of the nine elegant muses, who presided over literature, art and science, gathered around the Queen as she held her baby lovingly in her arms. The King's heart swelled with pride at the birth of their first child. The Muses had all come to impart their gifts and to present the imprint of human destiny. Everyone was laughing and happy, cheerfully admiring the new babe.

One Muse stepped forward and bestowed the art of dancing, the second gave a poets staff. The third said that the child would sing like a nightingale, the fourth promised that the infant would be able to play any musical instrument she chose while the fifth offered her strength with the pen. The sixth provided inspiration, the seventh bestowed creative flair and granted moments of solitude, the eighth whispered that the child would be blessed with the ability to play joyfully and would be endowed with a rich imagination. The Muses bore fine gifts indeed.

Alas one creature had his nose well and truly out of joint. A very bad tempered troll, named Descartes, who was slighted because he was not invited to attend the birth, stomped into the room. He stood up in the midst of all the celebration and good will pointed a bony finger and screeched that at the end of childhood, the child would have endured such criticism, that she would doubt her potential. Thwarted, her creative flame would be all but extinguished and her imagination would be turned to stone. She would be a rational being.

A gasp of horror ran through the room. Luckily Calliope, the ninth Muse who was unavoidably late, appeared at the doorway with her gift. Realising the gravity of the moment she had just witnessed, she had to think quickly to save the situation She had to call upon all of her creative inventiveness. She told the King and Queen that she did not have the power to undo the evil spell. At the age of twelve the child's imagination would be blocked, the creative flame would be all but extinguished and the child would be bereft of all creative passion, for many, many, years. However Calliope's gift was this. She would act as a guardian and protect the creative flame, thus ensuring that it remained alight. An ember, a pilot light if you like, would remain deep within and when the child spoke her secret words, upon entering her temple, the flame would ignite, and creativity would be rekindled. At this moment the child would remember how very talented she was - that she had a special destiny to fulfil.

With that the beautiful Muse leant over the baby and whispered, for a long time, in her ear.

The frightened parents closeted their child from the criticism the troll spoke of, read books, sang, danced, played, carefully restricted visitors and kept telling the infant how clever she was. Soon everyone in the palace was happy and the wicked troll's spell was quite forgotten.

Years passed and, from an early age the tiny Princess took up the constant round duties that were expected of her with vigour. She met the public obligations in her dominion graciously, for she was a well-trained Princess. After her seventh birthday the Princess started school with a tutor who came to the palace claiming to have great knowledge. The courtiers taught her about royal protocol. Sometimes she met with other children who came from the right families to her parties. One day her parents bought a television and a Nintendo entertainment system from a pedlar.... ... By her twelfth birthday a great change had taken place in the Princess.

The Princes grew to be very beautiful and regal and during her adolescent years began to travel, with her parents, on Royal Tours of the Kingdom. The Princess met and married a handsome man of good stock and gave birth to beautiful children. She met the public obligations in her dominion graciously, for she was a well-trained Princess who was a perfect ambassador, wife and mother. She journeyed and travelled and worked tirelessly with the officials of the land.

Yet, although she was greatly loved, and her life seemed perfect, she felt sad. She felt that there was something else that she had been destined to do. No one understood her bursts of depression.

One spring day, not long after her return from a tiring round of public engagements, the Princess, weary of her lady in waiting's endless gossip, suddenly had an urge to go to the deserted nursery in an old wing of the palace that had long since been shut up. As she entered the doorway of her old nursery she was startled to see a small child playing alone. The child was singing a song and repeating a chant.

The Princess moved closer to listen, but suddenly the light went out and she could see nothing. She felt frightened but then rays of light from the old projectionist's room beamed onto a tiny screen and a very old film began to play. Familiar scenes from her infancy appeared before her. Mesmerised she watched the pretty, happy, carefree child living in a magical fairytale kingdom of imagination. "Oh that I may become the girl I was" she sighed. "It takes no imagination to be a Princess."

No sooner had she uttered these words than she found herself sitting with the child in the palace grounds, their mother, the young Queen, by her side. She was making afternoon tea for the beautiful Calliope who came to visit each day to write stories for the young princess. After reuniting with the beautiful Muse the Princess promised to contact her regularly. She resumed her round of duties with vigour but found time, each day to wander into the old nursery. She redecorated it with things from her childhood and set up a desk for writing and an easel for painting - something she remembered she had always loved.

As time passed the Princess gained strength from the solitude she found in the nursery, and, while no one could quite work out why it was so, every one in the palace knew that their beloved Princess was happy again.

The Princess and The Muse - An Analysis

by Heather Blakey

"Who shall assuage thy griefs, 'thou tempest-toss'd
And speak of comfort, 'comfortless! to thee? -Emily Taylor
"Tis Reason's part
To govern and to guard the heart;
To lull the wayward soul to rest,
When hopes and fears distract the breast." - Cotton.

Despite quantum leaps in technological advancement and material comfort humankind, as it faces the new millennium, seems to have been plunged into what can only be described as mental darkness. Stripped as it has been, of faith, rites and ceremony, creed and religion the multitudes have been deserted, left tempest toss'd with comfortless, cold dogma and reason. Naked and weaponless we are once more at the mercy of powerful forces beyond our control. In these conditions it takes little imagination to hear the dolorous cry of our ancestors vibrating within the walls of our heart or to feel the anguish they felt in the face of an unforgiving, merciless world. In these conditions any illusion of control evaporates.

The Princess experienced a depression. Our society is currently faced with a multitude of symptoms of social decay. Youth suicide, addiction to prosaic, drugs and alcohol are all crushing evidence of the effect of abandoning the world of imagination and its associated rituals for capitalist ideals and monotheist dogma. The Princess began to feel sad. Artists and writers who are made to feel worthless because they do not earn enough money, whom are forced to relinquish their creativity or create in stolen time, suffer similarly. Mental darkness has crept upon us gradually and unobtrusively. We have been subject to a slow process of pasteurisation and calcification with rationalists systematically purifying the irrational, the primitive and the unwanted raw emotions. Our fast, industrialised world of information technology and mutant industrialisation numbs most of these sensations by insisting that we behave like locomotives. We are asked to go faster and faster and to adapt to keep up with the constant change. One only needs to read the latest corporate mission statement to realise that we have replaced old gods with new tyrannical ones, ones preaching unfeeling dogma and providing little comfort in times of need.

But do not be mistaken! Mental darkness is not a new phenonomen. In 'The Merchant of Venice' we see how Portia's father devised a lottery in which three chests of gold silver and lead, - where-of who chooses his meaning, chooses you (Portia). Portia's many suitors are put to a test to determine if they are indeed worthy of her. Only one of the casks contains Portia's picture, and with it, consent to marry her.

The Prince of Morocco who has long suffered from mental darkness is not prepared to hazard all for lead. He reasons that he has status and is entitled to gold, that he deserves all that gold can bring. He chooses the gold cask. As he unlocks the golden casket he cries out

"Oh hell!
What have we here?
A carrion Death, within whose empty eye."
He reads the scroll and learns that
'All that glistens is not gold Often have you heard that told:
Many a man his life hath sold
But my outside to behold:
Gilded tombs do worms infold.
Had you been as wise as bold,
Young in limbs, in judgement old
Your answer had not been inscroll'd
Fare you well; your suit is gold'

The Prince of Arragon, chooses silver, rather than jump with common spirits who would choose gold. But he is no more successful, for he also tries to apply learning and reason. It is only Bassanio who is wise enough to trust his intuition. He begins in song 'Tell me where is fancy bred, Or in the heart or in the head?" and chooses the lead cask 'whose paleness moves' him. Bassanio was undoubtedly a man of intelligence, whose thinking abilities had been as fully developed as the Princes of Arragon and Morocco, yet he chooses to sing, thus compensating for his intellect. In cultivating his irrational feeling qualities through song, by lyrically asking his inner muse how fancy is begot and nourished, Bassanio frees himself of reason. In doing so he is successful at gaining the hand of the fair and virtuous Portia.

The challenge for us, as we seek to escape from the mental darkness that has engulfed us, and find comfort in a seemingly comfortless world, is to be like Bassanio and trust our senses. Only when we do this can we break down the walls that have been built up by a succession of thinkers, and pack off the troopers who have worked so steadfastly to govern and guard the head from the heart.

A courageous group of Australian Aboriginal women, upon seeing the impact of white society on their children, after witnessing abusive behaviour, gathered their clan together and took them back to their homelands to teach them the old ways, to reinforce their law and warm their spirits. This is hardly an option for western society, yet we, who have discarded so many creeds and cosmology's need something to exalt us and lift us out of mental darkness.

The Princess was courageous. Rather than walk about in a continual state of depression and submit to the round of duties, she takes action. When she wanders into the nursery and begins to redecorate her nursery and reclaim it as creative space she becomes a creative person. It would seem that the depression, the upheaval from outside, was essential for her to get into a state where she could create. She obviously needed 'an abaissement du niveau mental' to bring out her creative work. She needed the counterbalance of depression to break down the collective view about how she should live. She needed a catalyst in order to open the doorway for an influx of creativity.

In the same way many of us who have denied our urge to live a creative life need a jolt. We need to feel the pain before we can sit with the pain, name it and courageously act to do something about it. When the wounds appear, when we feel the inexplicable symptoms, we know that we need to transform. Victor Frankl discovered during his dark years of suffering in the Nazi death camps that "The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world may still know bliss, be it only for a brief moment in contemplation of his beloved."

Sometimes we have to be at our lowest ebb before we can enter into a special creative process. We may only have wished that things could be different; yearned to re-enter the 'Garden of Eden'; expressed our dissatisfaction with our current working life or we may have felt so terribly stuck that we have suffered dramatic physical and emotional symptoms. Either way our feelings are a sign for us to shift our priorities and refocus. When the Princess re-enters her old nursery she makes a step forward.

Having been responsive to her inexplicable depression the Princess stands to benefit from her newly found solitude. It will be the Princess, rather than her courtiers, who directs how she spends her time in the nursery, and it will be the Princess who decides how to express her unique talent. In so doing she runs the risk of eventually retiring from royal duties to focus on her art, but no doubt a younger, energetic soul will be quick to replace her.

Happily, although we may not live in a castle or have an old nursery to wander into and redecorate, it takes a minimum of effort to carve a creative space for ourselves. As the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius points out "People seek retreats for themselves in the countryside, by the seashore, in the hills, and you too have made it your habit to yearn for such things with your heart. But this is altogether unphilosophical, when it is possible to retreat into yourself at any hour you please; for nowhere can one retreat into greater calm and freedom from care than within one's soul".

Once we have this space we are freed to be with our Muse and rekindle the creative spark that she has so faithfully guarded for almost two thousand years. When we go into the mansion of the psyche to be with our muse we reap rich harvests that fill us with a renewed sense of power over our lives.

'Sing O Muse,
Sing to us of the glorious gods,
Who ruled the land and sea.
And tell us
Of the fair beauty of the goddesses
Who dwell in Eternal Olympus.'
'Sing to us, O Muse: Of Ages that has come to past,
Of those mighty warriors
Wielding their dreaded spears, From the lores Of our Timeless Myths.' - From Unknown Bard.

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