Inspired by the London literary festival “Parnassus”, I wrote this:
Head high in clouds
That stream down his sides
To water all four corners,
Tears that wash his sight clean
Gleaming in the grip of his charge
And he, immovable, moves,
Stays his unspent breath
Gently — to hear what he must.
The bluster of winds as timpani
And brass — casting trees to dance
Hands to grasp at the air
That gasps answers that
We didn’t know we’d asked for.
Parnassus dreams that he is
Immortality’s lust mustering in
The tread of Terpsichor,
And Clio’s stern insistence
That history must uncover,
And govern us forever lest we fall again
And fail to fly, our torch unlit.
Parnassus dreams, and his dreams
Give weight to patience
A place to lay a head, cushioned
In all the things that make us more
That are hearth and cloak and door,
Gorgeous and bawdy as waterfalls,
Pure as snow-gilded breath at his peak,
Immediate as the pebble in the palm
And infinite as the breadth of stars.
And we chart his dreams,
Reach within and without
Draw threads through our mouths
And hearts, startled into the liminal
And then laid down, adorning the stones
That clothe love, tugged into darkness
While he dreams light for
All we leave behind.
So, what’s that all about then? Well, Parnassus (name of the London poetry festival referenced earlier) = Mount Parnassus which, as I’m sure you all know, was the Ancient Greek mythological home of the Muses. (And presumably Apollo when he wasn’t flinging himself around the place falling in love with randoms and shooting golden arrows at things.) According to Wikipedia (which I actually trust re: mythology where I don’t re: politics, geography, and living public figures), there were nine (which I already knew), but that came a lot later — earlier Muses being fewer and referencing broader performance necessities like speech, breath, memory, that kind of thing (I’m not looking at Wikipedia right now — you can probably tell). There’s also talk of them springing from, well, springs at the top of the mountain.
At one point in the poem I was setting about naming all of the nine standard ones, then realised that I was shoe-horning and thought noooo, rubbed out a clumsy reference to Thalia that was apparently leading to whoever the sacred poetry Muse is, left the three in that were there already coz I liked where they were, and got back to the business of writing the poem that wanted to come out rather than the mangled name-checking list. Coz goodness knows: writing a poem about Classical Greek memes for inspiration already stands a pretty decent chance of being pretentious and “look, I know Proper Mythology — euuurgnn!” as it stands…
Resistance to shoe-horning is one of the reasons I tend not to do standard-rhythm end-line-rhyming poems, by the way. It’s rare that I ever feel I’ve done rhyming well enough to warrant it and admire deeply people who can manage it well without sacrificing meaning to meter.