Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Favourite Words: "Muse"

Polyhymnia, the Muse of sacred poetry.
"Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns: driven time and again off course, once he had plundered: the hallowed heights of Troy."
The quotation above - the opening lines of The Odyssey - is one of my favourites ever written. It's so magical and timeless, and speaks across generations and oceans. Moreover, it contains one of my favourite words: muse. I'm not sure why I love this word so much, in all honesty. But like the passage from The Odyssey that I've mentioned, it holds such broad and universal connotations.


Here are two OED definitions of the word:
Each of the nine goddesses regarded as presiding over and inspiring learning and the arts, esp. poetry and music.
Chiefly poet. Usu. with the. The inspiration of poetry or song, invoked as if being the only Muse.

I love the thought of processes - particularly creative ones - being influenced by goddesses. That when I begin writing, the inspiration that comes to me is from a higher presence. Ok, maybe I can't quite believe in it, but it's such a beautiful concept. It must be one of my favourite ideas in literature and classics.

Twyla Tharp, one of America's greatest choreographers and author of The Creative Habit, appears to share my passion for the word. In The Creative Habit, Tharp advocates learning the names of the nine muses. She writes,
"Remembering the muses is no shortcut to creative bliss, though it will make crossword puzzles easier and classicists smile. And perhaps this nod in their direction will cause them to visit you when you need their help."

Here is the list:
Calliope - Epic poetry
Clio - History
Erato - Love poetry and lyric poetry
Euterpe - Music
Melpomene - Tragedy
Polyhymnia - Sacred song
Terpsichore - Dance and choral song
Thalia - Comedy
Urania - Astronomy

In case you do wish to learn the muses, a mnemonic with the first letter of each is as follows: Can clear, earnest effort make proper things add up? 


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