Calling the Poem: 6. ‘Of Sacrifice’

You learn to call, to pray, and to invoke
the gods with incense, roasting meat and smoke,
the smell drawing the gods like flies.
They like being honoured, they like gifts and sacrifice.
How do you gift a god of writing? Write!
Write when you have a thought, write day, write night.
How do you sacrifice? Accept this hardship:
you give up all activities
(regardless of your duties, your proclivities,
relationships) – for bardship,
because you don’t have time for them and writing.
Downgrade all love, work, striving, fighting –
for you must write.
You read, read, write, recite,
write and rewrite,
reread and rerecite.
(The modes you read impact the words you write,
impact the thoughts you have, and how they’re phrased.
Read novels, you’ll have thoughts in prose: straight, trite;
read verse, your thoughts will ramble, rhyme, be crazed.)
How bargain with the gods? Well, you can offer.
Can you demand? Well, no; you can’t.
Do they play fair? Take care with what they proffer;
you’re never sure if it’s a loan or grant.
How long will favours last? While you’re in favour;
a god or goddess owns you like a slaver.
And while for them you still produce,
still honour them… you still have use.
So keep on writing until you collapse,
and they’ll continue liking you. Perhaps.

*****

This is the sixth in the 15-poem sequence on Calling the Poem. The basic idea is that if you pay attention to the little scraps of poetry that come your way, in a random rhyme, a stray image; if you write them down and expand on them as you can; if you respect what comes to you, even if it isn’t what you want to hear; if you spend more time immersed in the medium that you want to develop… then you are encouraging the further communication from the mysterious force that provides the insights and images and words, the force that appears to be both inside and outside of you, the force that can be thought of as a muse or god. But the process is unreliable, because gods are unreliable, being inherently uncontrollable by us.

Matthew Arnold has a typically lugubrious and pessimistic overview of ‘The Progress of Poesy’:

Youth rambles on life’s arid mount,
And strikes the rock, and finds the vein,
And brings the water from the fount,
The fount which shall not flow again.

The man mature with labour chops
For the bright stream a channel grand,
And sees not that the sacred drops
Ran off and vanish’d out of hand.

And then the old man totters nigh
And feebly rakes among the stones.
The mount is mute, the channel-dry;
And down he lays his weary bones.

But that’s Matthew Arnold for you. He had a remarkably mournful muse. Perhaps he spent too much time as a responsible Victorian, a dedicated Inspector of Schools, and not enough time in the state T.S. Eliot called the “necessary receptivity and necessary laziness” of the poet. Eliot again: “The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.” You are striving to be at the mercy of forces outside your conscious control – there can be no guarantee that it will work out exactly the way you want.

Illustration: “Sacrifice” by Tamara Artis is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

2 thoughts on “Calling the Poem: 6. ‘Of Sacrifice’

  1. Michael Burch

    Robin, that’s an interesting poem! While the other gods are demanding, I have always liked to think the Muses are more generous. These are poems I’ve written on the subject:

    Goddess
    by Michael R. Burch

    “What will you conceive in me?”—
    I asked her. But she
    only smiled.

    “Naked, I bore your child
    when the wolf wind howled,
    when the cold moon scowled . . .
    naked, and gladly.”

    “What will become of me?”—
    I asked her, as she
    absently stroked my hand.

    Centuries later, I understand:
    she whispered—“I Am.”

    Published by Romantics Quarterly (the first poem in the first issue), Penny Dreadful, Unlikely Stories, Underground Poets, Poetically Speaking, Poetry Life & Times and Little Brown Poetry

    ***

    BeMused
    by Michael R. Burch

    You will find in her hair
    a fragrance more severe
    than camphor.
    You will find in her dress
    no hint of a sweet
    distractedness.
    You will find in her eyes
    horn-owlish and wise
    no metaphors
    of love, but only reflections
    of books, books, books.

    If you like Her looks,

    meet me in the long rows,
    between Poetry and Prose,
    where we’ll win Her favor
    with jousts, and savor
    the wine of Her hair,
    the shimmery wantonness
    of Her rich-satined dress;
    where we’ll press
    our good deeds upon Her, save Her
    from every distress,
    for the lovingkindness
    of Her matchless eyes
    and all the suns of Her tongues.

    We were young,
    once,
    unlearned and unwise . . .
    but, O, to be young
    when love comes disguised
    with the whisper of silks
    and idolatry,
    and even the childish tongue claims
    the intimacy of Poetry.

    ***

    Chit Chat: in the Poetry Chat Room
    by Michael R. Burch

    WHY SHULD I LERN TO SPELL?
    HELL,
    NO ONE REEDS WHAT I SAY
    ANYWAY!!! 😦

    Sing for the cool night,
    whispers of constellations.
    Sing for the supple grass,
    the tall grass, gently whispering.
    Sing of infinities, multitudes,
    of all that lies beyond us now,
    whispers begetting whispers.
    And i am glad to also whisper . . .

    I WUS HURT IN LUV I’M DYIN’
    FER TH’ TEARS I BEEN A-CRYIN’!!!

    i abide beyond serenities
    and realms of grace,
    above love’s misdirected earth,
    i lift my face.
    i am beyond finding now . . .

    I WAS IN, LOVE, AND HE SCREWED ME!!!
    THE JERK!!! TOTALLY!!!

    i loved her once, before, when i
    was mortal too, and sometimes i
    would listen and distinctly hear
    her laughter from the juniper,
    but did not go . . .

    I JUST DON’T GET POETRY, SOMETIMES.
    IT’S OKAY, I GUESS.
    I REALLY DON’T READ THAT MUCH AT ALL,
    I MUST CONFESS!!! 😉

    Travail, inherent to all flesh,
    i do not know, nor how to feel,
    although i sing them nighttimes still:
    the bitter woes, that do not heal . . .

    POETRY IS BORING!!!
    SEE, IT SUCKS!!! I’M SNORING!!! ZZZZZZZ!!!

    The words like breath, i find them here,
    among the fragrant juniper,
    and conifers amid the snow,
    old loves imagined long ago . . .

    WHY DON’T YOU LIKE MY PERFICKT WORDS
    YOU USELESS UN-AMERIC’N TURDS?!!!

    What use is love, to me, or Thou?
    O Words, my awe, to fly so smooth
    above the anguished hearts of men
    to heights unknown, Thy bare remove . . .

    ***

    beMused
    by Michael R. Burch

    Perhaps at three
    you’ll come to tea,
    to have a cuppa here?

    You’ll just stop in
    to sip dry gin?
    I only have a beer.

    To name the “greats”:
    Pope, Dryden, mates?
    The whole world knows their names.

    Discuss the “songs”
    of Emerson?
    But these are children’s games.

    Give me rhythms
    wild as Dylan’s!
    Give me Bobbie Burns!

    Give me Psalms,
    or Hopkins’ poems,
    Hart Crane’s, if he returns!

    Or Langston railing!
    Blake assailing!
    Few others I desire.

    Or go away,
    yes, leave today:
    your tepid poets tire.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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