Sunday, October 11, 2009

In which I start a "mythic" poem

Joseph Campbell defined myth as "That which is beyond even the concept of reality, that which transcends all thought. The myth puts you there all the time, gives you a line to connect with that mystery which you are. Shakespeare said that art is a mirror held up to nature. And that’s what it is. The nature is your nature, and all of these wonderful poetic images of mythology are referring to something in you. When your mind is simply trapped by the image out there so that you never make the reference to yourself, you have misread the image."

Flashy, attention-getting imagery, Campbell says, is not mythic. It's those images that give us the "shock of recognition."

1. Mythic images echo something in nature and in our nature.
2. Mythic poetry often takes place in an unspecifiable time and place. You could call it "mythic time." Coleridge was great at doing this:
In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
3. Let's invent a mythic poem:

Carpeted groves of corpulent oranges
Where the sun no longer sets;
The valley is bright the heroes gone.

Children with flowers step into the woods
Each by each, engulfed by the vernal mouth.
Blinding eyes, total darkness, eclipse of their return.

What makes it mythic? Timeless, placeless, and yet a specific place. Unreal imagery that evokes fertility and the loss of fertility. A sense of ritualistic behavior. It twists usual natural cycles, but that doesn't matter. The sense of natural cycles is still there. The sense of a journey is mythic.

4. Mythic poetry is not old-fashioned.

No, actually most politically progressive thought uses mythic ideas. Nearly all political speech uses it. You can't fight the power of the mythic; it's hardwired in us. It gives writing impact. You have to have an instinct for it, though - so that it doesn't sound contrived.

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