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Music Becomes Muse
A continuation of the previous post, and a location from my past.
This piece, a continuation of the previous tale, took longer to compile than first anticipated, and it was due to the questions I had set to answer, but let us start and dive in immediately.
“O, for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention”
Muse of fire? Ascend? Brightest heaven of invention?
It is likely simpler to guess that Shakespeare wrote this than to guess what he is saying. The relevance of what he is saying matters more than the play itself for the moment, more than we comprehend. It appears to be a cry for divine inspiration, but let’s not skip ahead. Let us begin with the word ‘muse’ itself.
Who was he calling to? What muse? What is a muse? An idol, a person, a nymph draped over an emerald chair, a gold laced serpent, a dusk bound reddened sun cascading over a theatre-in-the-round horizon, a wife, a fair maiden, a Queen, Emperor, Pope, God? None of these seemed to wrestle truth from the question.
Although I read Literature (read - chiefly Brit. study (an academic subject) at a university) and had some notion of the idea of a muse, the specifics I left to those that read Classics (Litorae Humaniories) or Ancient Greek. So with the concept of MusicBecomesMuse I thought it a worthy pursuit to define the term further. And in our era, no search for truth from ancient texts takes too long for an answer to begin to unravel its coiled self.
Let’s step into Shakespeare's time, the late 16th century. If we take flight over Elizabethan London we’ll see within the alcoves of theatres basking as nightclubs and pubs draped in coats of arms beside the Thames and finally settle on an attic of an Inn, where a quill scratches over parchment beneath candlelight. If we hover over this quill that dabs itself into a pot of ink then scrawls upon creased parchment, we may find the scene we’re looking for. It is this quill’s master that is making the call, and the quill is fulfilling the answer.
Manifestations of the ‘muse’ have been serenaded into history for as long as time has resonated, depicted as beautiful nymphs, aristocratic women, patrons of said painters, handmaidens, sorceresses, ladies of the evening, princesses. In these times and ancient, abound with male powers and creatives, the muse is depicted as female, but I like to think, muse operates as a Queen operates, for all within her kingdom. On that note, it is difficult to paint the protestant Queen Elizabeth I as muse apparent, for instance, it is the wrong track. No. Subtlety, serenity, ethereal effervescence, is the direction. Pens, brushes, oratory required guidance not demands, the imagination fired when stirred with subtlety not obedience. So the mortal element I abandoned and instead, despite the jostling mortal muses littered through history, it was instead, to the ancient heavens.
Olympus. Zeus. Mnemosyne (goddess of memory). Nine days. Nine daughters. Nine Muses. Sisters. Their names appeared as if they themselves inspired their own presence. A few follow below.
Euterpe. The first name I saw. Muse.
Melpomene. The next. Also a Muse.
Erato. Another Muse.
Clio. Muse. I have a niece named Clara (close), a character named Cleo (closer). Neither are classical Muses however.
Thalia. Thalia, the name resonated, Muse.
These are the names Orators, Politicians, Astrologers of ancient Greece, and Shakespeare called to (I did not ask him but he also read Classics as many of his time). The names appear curious and somewhat familiar. These names although versed from Greek Mythology and equally ancient to the Christian Elizabethan time, we can acknowledge that civilisation continued on from a past (then pagan) belief system. Ancient times are the past only, not alt universes, they stem from ancestral belief systems and perhaps even truth is mingled in… who am I to say… who is to know what God fearing artists of the Elizabethan era believed truly, maybe it was curiosity and fancy alone, maybe not.
Looking at them now, the names, they still seem to mean something.
Follow the line below.
Music performs, Tragedy accompanies, Love grows immortal within, History from afar can appear as, Comedy amuses.
Ignore the sense of the line above.
Instead, take the words with Capitals. And add each in turn to the five names listed. These are what the above names represent, what these Muses were believed to inspire: Euterpe, Music. Melpomene, Tragedy. Erato, Love. Clio, History. Thalia, Comedy. We can look deeper, but we won’t for now. It is hard for myself not to warm to the idea of beings endowed with ethereal blessings of the arts and sciences that one could request divine inspiration from; not only the artist but the philosopher, musician, dancer, scientist even the politician. We need all the help we can get.
We’re returning to our own realm soon.
These names have stories but I will just leap through the genealogy. They were sisters, born of Mnemosyne and Zeus, one name we recognise, god of thunder and Olympus, father slayer, youngest of Cronus and Rhea. Zeus’ father was also a father slayer, his father’s father was Uranus, also killed by their youngest son. His father’s mother, Gaia (mother earth), the great grandmother of Zeus, was the Great great grandmother of Euterpe and her sisters.
Nine there were, although I have only named five. Nine sisters. My own mother has six. These sisters were muses. My mother’s, just wonders.
We’ll focus upon two.
These are the two that clung to me. They represent the inculcate inspiration of Music and Tragedy.
Euterpe… of lullaby and blues, goddess of harpsichord, viola, piano and drum, lyric and chorus.
I wonder if, even now, she inspires the drumming busker to win the hearts of strangers as they sit atop a basin to secure mucky pants from damp surroundings. Or the bright eyed violinist as they wrestle with Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, each stroke speaking through the souls of those witnessing…
And Melpomene, inspiring woe with every wind and despair upon every wave.
Let’s step away from the ancient world, the muse and inspiration for a moment, and peer into a memory.
Seven years old, competitive and bearing teeth at each other, myself and a friend named Shane, a rough child like myself, played ruckus football in his back garden. Ruckus football, an unofficial name for our game of no rules besides - avoid the rose bush and the pond. We’d already chosen north and south of the garden as our respective goal posts. One at each end of his gradient indifferent turf. I had the southern patio side and he the northern fence beside the pond. The patio faced away from the house and our hexagonal estate behind. Our cul-de-sac of mischief, mud, stones, scrapes and scars. We were neighbours, I hated him at this very moment and he hated me. Give me the ball our feet fought, tangling and rattling one another with shoves in the back no referee would allow.
What you laughing at?
You. You’re rubbish.
I’d taunt him while being unable to speak with my feet. He’d keep the ball, his skinny arms and dirty teeth smiling wide as he tapped the ball at every instant away from me. I eventually got the ball and he fell near the prized rose bush. It was a close call. His mum was a kind maniac, she could shout hell into the street and I was close enough to the family to be treated like a son, unfortunately. I helped him up from the near fatal crash and made sure his mum wasn’t looking out of the kitchen or bedroom window where she usually watched us.
She’s not there.
Get up quick!
Then we fought again for the ball, our feet a mess, our sweaty backs cheering dew into the cooling late afternoon. I misstepped, he side stepped. And before I knew it, the gradient coerced gravity to push me upward, I fell headfirst into the pond. His fish eyeballed me, alien, tough skin, no fins, no gils, alien, you don’t breathe water, GET OUT QUICK. I was drowning while holding my breath. I couldn’t move. But hands grabbed my ankles and pulled at me. I kicked free of the hands in a panic and righted myself. I sat in the pond. Soaked. Panting spite. My own hands fell over my face, tears mixing algae down my cheeks. I couldn’t speak.
You, you alright?
We were kind to each other rarely. I just jumped up and ran trailing water down his garden to his house-side gate and crossed the hexagon red bricked square at the centre of our social housing habitat and slammed the door of my own house behind me. My mum was laughing at the top of the stairs as I dripped. I had no idea why. But she took in my face and brought me two towels. One for now and one for after the bath she was already running. Her laugh seemed to be a lullaby. Upset and unable to speak, she spoke instead,
Did you fall into Shane’s pond?
I didn't answer, I just looked at her, I couldn’t understand how she could know. He wasn’t the only one with a pond. Maybe she saw. Could she see Shane's garden from her room? Maybe God told her. I don’t know. She knew things.
In closing, I thought it would be useful to note that it was this garden and pond that I saw while listening to stormzy’s track.
Remember Melpomene, known for inspiring tragedy, I presume it was Melpomene who laid her affinity with tragedy into my pen (keystrokes), as the music inspired by Euterpe led to the vision of the story. I simply followed as one follows the taillights of the car ahead, off-road, off track, down winding path, down, down.
Let us assume for a moment that an outside force, muse or no, inspires one directly, and we artists, in all fields; engineering, design, music, dance, architecture, art, politics, history; all grasp onto the threads of expressing this inspiration within our chosen medium. Talent poured from the muses.
Intriguing no? No?
Final thought… I do wonder, if our muse, let us go back to the principle concept, MusicBecomesMuse, can take us too far. I can’t be sure, but where music inspires; inspires us to run, to workout, to dance, to feel, to fight, to write, to rage, to sorrow… Can we become so infused with the moment that it stretches us beyond our own safe barriers? I personally attempt not to be dragged to a pulpit of truth I have no idea how to tell or a pain I cannot bear to reside in but often the muse weaves its own threads. As it did in the previous piece.
We’re inspired by so much, we find our muse, or our imagination, that allows us to create whatever we set our minds to. Men, women and children seek invention, artistic expression and our muse allows us to express this more so, perhaps fully. Our days are structured around what we’re inspired by often enough, and I hope you are all inspired daily to construct your life as you wish it to be.
The play, is Henry V.