17 December 2007

Sans Merci

This wintry, chilly weather makes me think of one of my favorite poems, by Robert Graves:

She tells her love while half asleep,
In the dark hours
With half-words whispered low
As Earth stirs in her winter sleep
And puts out grass and flowers
Despite the snow,
Despite the falling snow.

Graves wrote the poem for Beryl Graves, his wife and muse. I have often mused (no pun intended) about what it would be like to be that source of inspiration, that outside impulse that caused the artistic fountain to flow. Grave's words have such intimacy-- for Beryl he felt words weren't necessary, sentiment in that space of a small bed on a frozen night would be almost tactile. "Half-words" and drowsy murmurs while "half asleep" were enough, enough to cause blooming from covered, snowy ground. It is not often that one feels beyond words with someone, or furthermore, like someone else inspires you to be your best self and produce your best art.
I have felt this way once before, and that feeling was exhilarating and frightening all at once. The love of this person created art in the everyday for me-- I would walk down the street and the colors of the flowers, the architecture of the buildings, the sights and smells would converge into a source of bliss and enchantment. I did feel like the best me I could possibly be-- but how healthy is it to feel that way because of another person? In a way it was parasitic, instead of symbiotic. What does the artist do when the muse is busy, or away, or fades out of one's life? Replacing the muse with another is an option that many artists do: Andy Warhol with Nico, for instance, when he ceased to be enamored with Edie. It's also an option that many people indulge in relationships.
The other trouble with musehood is being trapped into an unrealistic, simplified version of oneself. You are frozen. You are framed. You are Gatsby-fied (remember Daisy's voice? Gatsby wanted to freeze that essence into that image of a kiss that he held in his ghostly heart). Robert Browning was fascinated with this paradigm. Tennyson explored it in "The Lady of Shalott"-- why do you think she couldn't go out of her bower and was continually "half sick of shadows"?
It's an interesting dilemma. On one hand, you can have "half-words" and cause someone to achieve their greatest potential. You can have an intimacy beyond speech. But, on the other hand, you can be "half sick of shadows"-- you realize the shadow of musehood is empowering and great, but you know that in one way or another you will be hideen in that penumbra... And how can a shadow exist without the object which casts the shadow?
But the idea of being a muse is just so ROMANTIC! Maybe I will just have to settle for having it as a nickname...which I have, for many years now!

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