Mythology can serve several functions in poetry. Myths are interesting in their own right as culturally resonant, compelling, amusing, frightening, or just intriguing stories, an engaging realm to explore. They are a reservoir of cultural knowledge, hopes, fears, and passions, of archetypal figures and situations, an inexhaustibly rich lode of charged materials that each poetic generation can mine and remake. Much of Western literature is built on allusions to mythology, particularly to Classical mythology and to Judaeo-Christian mythology, and much of it doesn’t make sense without knowledge of those myths. Myth can also be used to place one’s own experiences, thoughts, and feelings in a larger context, opening them up to realms beyond the individual, making them less purely personal and idiosyncratic, as Louise Glück does in Meadowlands, in which she treats her own divorce in the terms of the myth of Odysseus. One may not have access to Glück’s personal experience, or even care about it, but anyone has access to the stories in which she couches that experience in that book, and the myth opens up beyond the merely private.
Mythology presents gods and demigods and heroes who are projections and embodiments of human fears and desires and primal impulses. While we introject these feelings and experiences and call them, among things, the unconscious, the ancient Greeks, for example, projected them outward into figures and stories that enacted and embodied them. When one was in love, one was possessed by Aphrodite; when one was wise, one was being whispered to by Athene. The world of Greek myth is very plastic and capacious, but at the same time it has a great formal elegance. It is based not on ethical precepts or prescriptions but on the proper relations to power and desire, to forces that (like the forces of nature) are, in Nietzsche’s phrase, beyond good and evil, but which are always beautiful (keeping in mind that beauty can be both terrible and strange, that beauty is a danger as well as a seduction, and often both at once).
That combination of elasticity and capaciousness of emotional and intellectual content with shapeliness, that containment of force within form (what I have elsewhere called the confluence of glory and catastrophe), can serve as a model for what the poem should be and do. Myth is also similar to poetry in its formal operations. Myth is essentially metaphorical: like poetry, it translates “feelings” in the sense of emotions and thoughts into “feelings” in the sense of physical sensations; it takes the intangible and makes it palpable, embodying rage and anger in the figure of Ares, and for that matter embodying poetry’s transformations and seductions in the figure of Apollo, poetry’s patron god.
We should also remember that “mythology” doesn’t just mean ancient Greek or Roman stories, tales from ancient Egypt or the times of the Vikings. Anthropologically, the stories of the Judaeo-Christian tradition—the creation of human beings and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt (including the ten plagues and the parting of the Red Sea) and Moses’ delivery of the Ten Commandments from atop Mount Sinai, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the lives of the saints and their legends—are all myths. And these myths do the same things for past and current believers that they did for various ancient peoples: they make sense of a world that is rarely reliably or securely in our control, they reconcile us to tragedy and other painful events, they help us to deal with the intractable fact of death, and they project human fears, hopes, and desires outward into shapely figures and coherent narratives.
There are three main ways in which writers engage with myth, though of course these modes aren’t mutually exclusive, and all can overlap with one another. A writer can retell the myth, staying within the terms of the myth and basically giving another version of what’s already been written and handed down. This is, from my perspective, the least interesting way to approach myth—it adds little new, doesn’t explore very much or investigate or question. A writer can relive the myth, entering into it to explore a moment or a character, perhaps opening up an underdeveloped element in the myth, while still accepting the overall terms of the myth. Or a writer can revise the myth, questioning its terms, bringing out what it represses or excludes, giving voice to those whom it silences, giving presence to those it makes invisible. The German critic Walter Benjamin called this reading against the grain. This approach has been especially popular with women writers exploring and interrogating the role of women in classical myth, who are so often objects but not subjects of desire, spoken of endlessly but rarely getting to speak on their own behalf.
I never turned anyone into a pig.
Some people are pigs; I make them
Look like pigs.
I’m sick of your world
That lets the outside disguise the inside. Your men weren’t bad men;
Did that to them. As pigs,
Under the care of
Me and my ladies, they
Sweetened right up.
Then I reversed the spell, showing you my goodness
As well as my power. I saw
We could be happy here,
As men and women are
When their needs are simple. In the same breath,
I foresaw your departure,
Your men with my help braving
The crying and pounding sea. You think
A few tears upset me? My friend,
Every sorceress is
A pragmatist at heart; nobody sees essence who can’t
Face limitation. If I wanted only to hold you
I could hold you prisoner.
I have a fish’s tail, so I’m not qualified to love you.
But I do. Pale as an August sky, pale as flour milled
a thousand times, pale as the icebergs I have never seen,
and twice as numb—my skin is such a contrast to the rough
rocks I lie on, that from far away it looks like I’m a baby
riding a dinosaur. The turn of centuries or the turn
of a page means the same to me, little or nothing.
I have teeth in places you’d never suspect. Come. Kiss me
and die soon. I slap my tail in the shallows—which is to say
I appreciate nature. You see my sisters and me perched
on rocks and tiny islands here and there for miles:
untangling our hair with our fingers, eating seaweed.
Ulysses on the Way Back From Troy
Further west there was the bee-buzz of Sirens
impassioned like the jobless.
Already gone were the thick shoes
on the shore-rock as they changed to hooves.
Gone as well all souls
puffing behind the ship
like an ash-cloud in a slow wind.
Everything had come to be nude:
the voices munching in me like a riddle,
the women, the stones stripped
from the glue of snails.
But I chose them all and their opposites
while others take one and swear at life.
The god didn’t care. He let his hair
float up like seaweed, a magistrate
of water haunting his own country.
Friday, August 17, 2007
Mythology in Poetry
Posted by Reginald Shepherd at 8:34 AM
Labels: Amy Gerstler, Louis Gluck, mythology, Zona Teti
Subscribe to: Post Comments (Atom)
Dear Reginald, I've enjoyed all your recent essays.
One aspect of myth in poetic use,not mentioned in this article, is its form as a concrete esoteric language. I can not say if you would agree with me on this assumption,but it seems that the whole of poetry to some degree contains and is defined by this observable tendency. It may be that this can only be learned and yet if the experience were not irresistably compelling it would be undeserving of being a great part of oral and written tradition. A conversant metaphoric language powerfully invokes unconscious association and supra-conscious apprehension. These days we wonder why poetry in a large part is overlooked by present culture. I observe that many modern poets have not given much thought and even less effort at any attempt to write and speak in a way that shows this type of unity. SPh
Thanks Reginald! Something, too, about giving voices to the "un-voiced" in mythology/folk tales is very satisfying.
I finally had time to read this and loved every morsil. I think I'd like to explore this on my on blog and will encourage readers to read this piece. Thanks, Reginald.
Day night,gold für wow the moon or on world of warcraft gold the tree,cheap wow gold Hao Jie pouring down the moonlight, as if accompanied by Xiaotu Feifei enter sweet dreams. In the dream, a dream Feifei about his sister to the moon night. Will open the door,wow gold kaufen go down the moon sister.mesos Xiaochanzouxia take is that they did not see the moon sister. At that time, anchored at the tree on the moon sister saw Xiaochan, they yelled loudly: "Feifei, Feifei, I tree, the tree, I." Xiaochan sit at the moon to his sister, who Daizhaoxiaochan came wow geld to the beautiful pond. Only, water,maple story mesos everywhere in the lush leaves and beautiful flowers.maple story items A frog squatting lotus leaf, see Xiaochan, surprised and said: "Xiaochan,wow gold farmen you can even sit on the moon. You simply It's amazing!maple story money I am sure that you are the first animals to the moon by the animal. good,wow leveling I envy you!Maple Story Accounts "Xiaotu listening, happy to smile. Then, with the moon sister Xiaotu to its home.powerlevel Only, the moon sister's home stars are everywhere. The eyes of a star a Zha Zha,world of warcraft power leveling like Xiaotu greeted the arrival of a mouth, like: "Xiaochan, Hello, we at the Moon Palace waiting for your arrival."maple story powerleveling Xiaotu listened,archlord gold smiling all of the 1930. Finally, the moon Xiaotu sister back home, also pleased to Xiaochan said goodbye. Xiaochan also pleased to the moon sister said: "The Moon sister Goodbye! You bring me to this night. Dainiqu next time I visit some of ourforests."
Once I played 2moons, I did not know how to get strong, someone told me that you must have 2moons dil. He gave me some 2moons gold, he said that I could buy 2moons dil, but I did not have money, then I played it all my spare time. From then on, I got some 2moon dil, if I did not continue to play it, I can sell cheap 2moons gold to anyone who want.
Once I played 9Dragons, I did not know how to get strong, someone told me that you must have 9Dragons gold. That he gave me some 9 Dragons gold, and then he said that I could buy 9 Dragons gold, but I did not have so much money, and then I played it in all my spare time. From then on, I have got a lot of cheap 9Dragons gold, if I did not continue to play it, I can sell 9Dragons money to anyone who want.
well mythology is a pretty common motif you can find when reading poetry, I have found it many times since I read a lot of poetry, it is my passion, the other day I was reading a poem called Sildenafil Citrate and I found an allusion to the Greek mythology!
How do I submit a poem? My name is Wayne Calahan. My E-mail address is
email@example.com. The name of my poem is "Unicorn". Do you accept attachments or would you rather the poem written out in the E-mail. I am offering this poem for free. I enjoyed the poems I read on your site.
I can't find the words to express how I feel about Handwriting expert But your little paragraph really said what I can't. I am a HUGE fanatic of Handwriting analyst experts preferably from ancestors and it's always a treat when one is found that is Handwriting analysis . Those I cherish the most. They are priceless.
Forged documents | Forgery
The christian louboutin store was designed for the ladies. Since the pumps was born, the ladies life become colorful. The christian louboutin evening pumps are the god's masterwork. Who invited thechristian louboutin pumps? Seldom people knew, but I think every lady would be grateful for him. Among the countless pumps, the christian louboutin peep toe is the most outstanding ones. The elegant pattern, the delicate style all mold the ladies perfect leg profile. Flowers in the spring of 2011 creeping, up from hair to clothes continue to footwear, have had a brilliant up. In such a glamor, spring and summer flowers now here. Romance is a woman's mood, exquisite flowers just right of expression in our gestures, the woman, how can we not love the romantic temperament so that they distributed the flowers do? 2011 flowers bloom will enjoy different poses! The Christian Louboutin 2011 Sandals also can adds the hright of the ladies, it bring surprise to the short lady. Especially the red sole of the louboutin heels, magic and sexy, many ladies are crazy. The red sole, the first feature of the Christian Louboutin stroe.
London escorts directory London Crumpet is created to expose Independent escorts and escort agencies in London. Everybody can post their advert on this directory for FREE.
Thanku for sharing this
Its really good
She is really hot
Best London Escorts
Post a Comment