Where does it come from & why? Questions that have more historical, poetical, psychological & philosophical importance within the literary context than any kind of hard practical value or conventional social reference. Maybe once. But the world has since moved on.
There’s still too much backwardness in it. It might take quite some time for the lagging regions of earth, heart & mind to catch up. But if human existence continues its best aims will arrive. At least have a fighting chance.
“There is one story and one story only” is as good a starting point as any. I don’t know how exclusively true it is at this late date or whether it matters all that much what the purpose of poetry was at its origins, to the Greeks or the Hebrews, for example.
Perhaps there are other strands for other newer purposes e.g. a joining of human & machine (the creation of a new myth).
Is a new monomyth on the way? Or a larger myth incorporating the older themes?
Whatever dialectically contributes. Whatever is functional to our survival.
Joseph Campbell's monomyth, or the hero's journey, is a basic pattern that its proponents argue is found in many narratives from around the world. This widely distributed pattern was described by Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949). An enthusiast of novelist James Joyce, Campbell borrowed the term monomyth from Joyce's Finnegans Wake.
Campbell held that numerous myths from disparate times and regions share fundamental structures and stages, which he summarized in The Hero with a Thousand Faces:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
Campbell and other scholars, such as Erich Neumann, describe narratives of Gautama Buddha, Moses, and Christ in terms of the monomyth and Campbell argues that classic myths from many cultures follow this basic pattern.
The Gravesian take:
To Juan at the Winter Solstice
There is one story and one story only
That will prove worth your telling,
Whether are learned bard or gifted child;
To it all lines or lesser gauds belong
That startle with their shining
Such common stories as they stray into.
Is it of trees you tell, their months and virtues,
Or strange beasts that beset you,
Of birds that croak at you the Triple will?
Or of the Zodiac and how slow it turns
Below the Boreal Crown,
Prison of all true kings that ever reigned?
Water to water, ark again to ark,
From woman back to woman:
So each new victim treads unfalteringly
The never altered circuit of his fate,
Bringing twelve peers as witness
Both to his starry rise and starry fall.
Or is it of the Virgin's silver beauty,
All fish below the thighs?
She in her left hand bears a leafy quince;
When, with her right she crooks a finger smiling,
How may the King hold back?
Royally then he barters life for love.
Or of the undying snake from chaos hatched,
Whose coils contain the ocean,
Into whose chops with naked sword he springs,
Then in black water, tangled by the reeds,
Battles three days and nights,
To be spewed up beside her scalloped shore?
Much snow is falling, winds roar hollowly,
The owl hoots from the elder,
Fear in your heart cries to the loving-cup:
Sorrow to sorrow as the sparks fly upward.
The log groans and confesses
There is one story and one story only.
Dwell on her graciousness, dwell on her smiling,
Do not forget what flowers
The great boar trampled down in ivy time.
Her brow was creamy as the crested wave,
Her sea-blue eyes were wild
But nothing promised that is not performed.
To which I anxiously respond to my guru:
Where Poetry Comes From
Well yes, the unconscious
The underworld of artist criminals
Soldiers in a war of words
A civil dislocation of thought
Chaos made order
& back again
Things come asunder
(as Yeats told us…)
Creation goes poof…!
In the blink of an eye
We are no more
& the paths to places
High & low gone
As if life had been nothing
But illusion a memory
Of some deluded inmate
In an ethereal asylum
Shouting for ultimate justice
From all the deities of art
& patron-saints of practitioners
From the smells & tastes
Of mortal flesh & wine
“Stop showing off!”
She laughs fascinated
By how I can hang a towel
From my engorged member
This is not mere raunch
It is a ribald episode
More power to me
& my partner & our pleasure
& the myriad beauties
Produced by it
Sometimes it works
Sometimes it doesn’t
But you try you listen
Stay up exuberant
Happy being no one else
© 2012 GP aka JSW
Comment: A good one for the New Year, the Old Year & for the Years to Come.
A Song of Experience advising: keep your innocence, your capacity for learning & wonder.
There’s not one goal. There are many. Each voyager has his/her own ports of call.
Hope the voyage is long. When you put out you never know if you’re coming back. Anything can happen to you. But whether it’s a long trip or a short one the point is to have a meaningful journey.
Don’t expect anything. Be open to everything. Don’t count success by material riches. That’s the wrong way to go about it. Or if you insist go ahead & see what happens. See how happy it makes you. You can stay in your room & never go anywhere, never love anyone or anything.
Be vigorous in your efforts. Don’t worry. Shed fear. If you obsess on monsters & supernatural types who consider themselves your enemy then you just might find they pounce on you, hit you upside the head, bite you on the ass. You don’t need that, do you?
Be worthy of yourself in thought & deed.
Ithaka isn’t one place, but many. Perhaps not really a place as in a city or cities. Maybe Ithaka is a woman’s name. A crowd of women.
Hope the voyage is long so that your life may be of many days. Good days. The seaways of Life call you. The Sirens aren’t always malevolent. In fact, I like the Sirens. Mere existence, coming home permanently, growing old as in decrepit & with a mind too stiff in attitude is to be avoided.
The concluding verses are the heart of the poem & the poet. It is also where my own heart is at. I’ve incorporated the master poet’s sensibility into my own. It helps me see. Helps me love. Helps me on my sojourn. Helps me survive. Helps me live. Helps me die when that time comes.
Ithaka in all Her forms teaches, caresses, lets go, emancipates. She means different things to different voyagers. Listen:
As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
-- C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992.
Closing take: Understand? Not yet? Then you've some more wayfaring to do. Your mission isn't yet over.