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Mythopoeia

Posted: Sat Sep 17, 2016 5:52 pm
by Lúthien
I still feel this is one of Tolkien's most important texts.
He wrote this one night after having debated with CS Lewis. It is addressed to him.

Mythopoeia

To one [C.S. Lewis] who said that myths were lies and therefore worthless, even though 'breathed through silver'.

Philomythus to Misomythus

You look at trees and label them just so,
(for trees are 'trees', and growing is 'to grow');
you walk the earth and tread with solemn pace
one of the many minor globes of Space:
a star's a star, some matter in a ball
compelled to courses mathematical
amid the regimented, cold, inane,
where destined atoms are each moment slain.

At bidding of a Will, to which we bend
(and must), but only dimly apprehend,
great processes march on, as Time unrolls
from dark beginnings to uncertain goals;
and as on page o'er-written without clue,
with script and limning packed of various hue,
an endless multitude of forms appear,
some grim, some frail, some beautiful, some queer,
each alien, except as kin from one
remote Origo, gnat, man, stone, and sun.
God made the petreous rocks, the arboreal trees,
tellurian earth, and stellar stars, and these
homuncular men, who walk upon the ground
with nerves that tingle touched by light and sound.
The movements of the sea, the wind in boughs,
green grass, the large slow oddity of cows,
thunder and lightning, birds that wheel and cry,
slime crawling up from mud to live and die,
these each are duly registered and print
the brain's contortions with a separate dint.

Yet trees are not 'trees', until so named and seen
and never were so named, till those had been
who speech's involuted breath unfurled,
faint echo and dim picture of the world,
but neither record nor a photograph,
being divination, judgement, and a laugh
response of those that felt astir within
by deep monition movements that were kin
to life and death of trees, of beasts, of stars:
free captives undermining shadowy bars,
digging the foreknown from experience
and panning the vein of spirit out of sense.

Great powers they slowly brought out of themselves
and looking backward they beheld the elves
that wrought on cunning forges in the mind,
and light and dark on secret looms entwined.

He sees no stars who does not see them first
of living silver made that sudden burst
to flame like flowers beneath an ancient song,
whose very echo after-music long
has since pursued. There is no firmament,
only a void, unless a jewelled tent
myth-woven and elf-pattemed; and no earth,
unless the mother's womb whence all have birth.
The heart of Man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact,
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons, 'twas our right
(used or misused). The right has not decayed.
We make still by the law in which we're made.

Yes! 'wish-fulfilment dreams' we spin to cheat
our timid hearts and ugly Fact defeat!
Whence came the wish, and whence the power to dream,
or some things fair and others ugly deem?
All wishes are not idle, nor in vain
fulfilment we devise -- for pain is pain,
not for itself to be desired, but ill;
or else to strive or to subdue the will
alike were graceless; and of Evil this
alone is deadly certain: Evil is.

Blessed are the timid hearts that evil hate
that quail in its shadow, and yet shut the gate;
that seek no parley, and in guarded room,
though small and bate, upon a clumsy loom
weave tissues gilded by the far-off day
hoped and believed in under Shadow's sway.

Blessed are the men of Noah's race that build
their little arks, though frail and poorly filled,
and steer through winds contrary towards a wraith,
a rumour of a harbour guessed by faith.

Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme
of things not found within recorded time.
It is not they that have forgot the Night,
or bid us flee to organized delight,
in lotus-isles of economic bliss
forswearing souls to gain a Circe-kiss
(and counterfeit at that, machine-produced,
bogus seduction of the twice-seduced).
Such isles they saw afar, and ones more fair,
and those that hear them yet may yet beware.
They have seen Death and ultimate defeat,
and yet they would not in despair retreat,
but oft to victory have tuned the lyre
and kindled hearts with legendary fire,
illuminating Now and dark Hath-been
with light of suns as yet by no man seen.

I would that I might with the minstrels sing
and stir the unseen with a throbbing string.
I would be with the mariners of the deep
that cut their slender planks on mountains steep
and voyage upon a vague and wandering quest,
for some have passed beyond the fabled West.
I would with the beleaguered fools be told,
that keep an inner fastness where their gold,
impure and scanty, yet they loyally bring
to mint in image blurred of distant king,
or in fantastic banners weave the sheen
heraldic emblems of a lord unseen.

I will not walk with your progressive apes,
erect and sapient. Before them gapes
the dark abyss to which their progress tends
if by God's mercy progress ever ends,
and does not ceaselessly revolve the same
unfruitful course with changing of a name.
I will not treat your dusty path and flat,
denoting this and that by this and that,
your world immutable wherein no part
the little maker has with maker's art.
I bow not yet before the Iron Crown,
nor cast my own small golden sceptre down.

In Paradise perchance the eye may stray
from gazing upon everlasting Day
to see the day illumined, and renew
from mirrored truth the likeness of the True.
Then looking on the Blessed Land 'twill see
that all is as it is, and yet made free:
Salvation changes not, nor yet destroys,
garden nor gardener, children nor their toys.
Evil it will not see, for evil lies
not in God's picture but in crooked eyes,
not in the source but in malicious choice,
and not in sound but in the tuneless voice.
In Paradise they look no more awry;
and though they make anew, they make no lie.
Be sure they still will make, not being dead,
and poets shall have flames upon their head,
and harps whereon their faultless fingers fall:
there each shall choose for ever from the All.

Re: Mythopoeia

Posted: Sun Sep 18, 2016 4:03 pm
by Lúthien
I think there's quite a lot to ponder in this poem.
For instance, in relation to this:
Skookum Jack wrote:Like I said though, Tolkien and the gnostic mythos don't align exactly (the way I see it), but the term 'Archon' seems to have intrinsic malevolent connotations. Perhaps not like a deranged sociopath, but at least like a soulless bureaucrat. That's the true horror of the human condition; not that we're fighting the forces of evil, but that we're part of system that values the financial bottom line over the human soul. Everything's got a monetary value now, even your life, and it's not worth as much as you might imagine.
Stephan Hoeller talks about how people usually react when confronted with mishap: they start by trying to find out where it came from, and that's often where they remain stuck as well, possibly arguing with others about what the right explanation might be.

But it might be a lot better if your first concern wouldn't be "hey, what has caused this?" but "what am I going to do about it?" It might be wise to save the evaluations for later.

I don't even know why I thought of this now :huh: but anyway, the question of "what can I do" is important even though not very much en vogue: the Spirit of the Times dictates that we should be nihilistic or in any case ironic. So it's a good thing that I don't care about being en vogue at all, even though I'm just as acutely aware of the fact that the actions of one individual might not make a lot of difference. But on the other hand, it's possible that it might. After all, every turn for the good started off with one such person considering to go against the stream, maybe against something that's so enormous that it's absolutely crazy to think that whatever you could come up with would make even the tiniest bit of difference.

But this is exactly the most important idea behind the Lord of the Rings: that a small factor might eventually prove decisive. You can never know upfront either way. In any case, never trying because you don't believe you can be successful or, worse, giving in to evil because you think it's better to skittle over with what you think is the winning side is not an option.
As Churchill said in WW2: we will never surrender! :bigboss: Life isn't about the financial bottom line or getting he most gain out of it. It's been said a million times, it's a cliché that today's ironic consumers roll their eyes about sniggering, but it's true nonetheless.


I'd like to do some interpretation of the poem because I think it is very relevant to the above.

To put it into context: it was written following a discussion on the night of 19 September 1931 at Magdalen College, Oxford with C. S. Lewis and Hugo Dyson. Lewis said that myths were "lies breathed through silver". Tolkien's poem explained and defended creative myth-making. The discussion was recorded in the book The Inklings by Humphrey Carpenter.
The poem is addressed from "Philomythos" (Tolkien, myth-lover) to "Misomythos" (Lewis, myth-hater).

The first part sketches the rationalist world-view that states that truth is reserved to reason and falsifiable facts only, or 'the Flatlands' or 'the Great Artefact' as Tolkien called it:
You look at trees and label them just so,
(for trees are 'trees', and growing is 'to grow');
you walk the earth and tread with solemn pace
one of the many minor globes of Space:
a star's a star, some matter in a ball
compelled to courses mathematical
amid the regimented, cold, inane,
where destined atoms are each moment slain.
The next part seems to describe the rise of consciousness and how the world is seen by the conscious mind:
At bidding of a Will, to which we bend
(and must), but only dimly apprehend,
great processes march on, as Time unrolls
from dark beginnings to uncertain goals;
and as on page o'er-written without clue,
with script and limning packed of various hue,
an endless multitude of forms appear,
some grim, some frail, some beautiful, some queer,
each alien, except as kin from one
remote Origo, gnat, man, stone, and sun.
God made the petreous rocks, the arboreal trees,
tellurian earth, and stellar stars, and these
homuncular men, who walk upon the ground
with nerves that tingle touched by light and sound.
The movements of the sea, the wind in boughs,
green grass, the large slow oddity of cows,
thunder and lightning, birds that wheel and cry,
slime crawling up from mud to live and die,
these each are duly registered and print
the brain's contortions with a separate dint.
I think that the third part describes the process of discovering a sense of spiritual connection to the outside world (...)
Yet trees are not 'trees', until so named and seen
and never were so named, till those had been
who speech's involuted breath unfurled,
faint echo and dim picture of the world,
but neither record nor a photograph,
being divination, judgement, and a laugh
response of those that felt astir within
by deep monition movements that were kin
to life and death of trees, of beasts, of stars:
free captives undermining shadowy bars,
digging the foreknown from experience
and panning the vein of spirit out of sense.
... while the last three lines are a wonderful description of the process of anamnesis, of remembering the divine spark within.

The fourth part seems to describe myth-making:
Great powers they slowly brought out of themselves
and looking backward they beheld the elves
that wrought on cunning forges in the mind,
and light and dark on secret looms entwined.
.. while the fifth part seems to look back to a time where this was considered more a valid world-view than today:
He sees no stars who does not see them first
of living silver made that sudden burst
to flame like flowers beneath an ancient song,
whose very echo after-music long
has since pursued. There is no firmament,
only a void, unless a jewelled tent
myth-woven and elf-pattemed; and no earth,
unless the mother's womb whence all have birth.
The heart of Man is not compound of lies,
but draws some wisdom from the only Wise,
and still recalls him. Though now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not dethroned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned,
his world-dominion by creative act:
not his to worship the great Artefact,
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons, 'twas our right
(used or misused). The right has not decayed.
We make still by the law in which we're made.
I'm struggling a bit describing this part .. to my continuing amazement it never fails to produce at least some tears. He describes here what he has been doing himself, and what people have been doing since the dawn of times: to enrich creation by using ones mythopoetic, sub-creative imagination.

The sixth part starts with the defense of the "escapism of fantasy":
Yes! 'wish-fulfilment dreams' we spin to cheat
our timid hearts and ugly Fact defeat!
Whence came the wish, and whence the power to dream,
or some things fair and others ugly deem?
All wishes are not idle, nor in vain
fulfilment we devise -- for pain is pain,
not for itself to be desired, but ill;
or else to strive or to subdue the will
alike were graceless; and of Evil this
alone is deadly certain: Evil is.
and he then goes on to identify the - how do you say that, the longing for grace? Or maybe the divine spark within?

Then come three parts each starting with "Blessed are ..."
In the first of those, he describes remaining true to the inner sense of what's good:
Blessed are the timid hearts that evil hate
that quail in its shadow, and yet shut the gate;
that seek no parley, and in guarded room,
though small and bate, upon a clumsy loom
weave tissues gilded by the far-off day
hoped and believed in under Shadow's sway.
then, somewhat similarly, the courage to keep seeking for your own truths even through winds contrary;
Blessed are the men of Noah's race that build
their little arks, though frail and poorly filled,
and steer through winds contrary towards a wraith,
a rumour of a harbour guessed by faith.
and lastly, describing the role of the Legend-makers with their rhyme, who refuse to yield to the Great Artefact's 'Cheap Thrills' and who keep revealing that divine spark despite having seen Death and ultimate defeat:
Blessed are the legend-makers with their rhyme
of things not found within recorded time.
It is not they that have forgot the Night,
or bid us flee to organized delight,
in lotus-isles of economic bliss
forswearing souls to gain a Circe-kiss
(and counterfeit at that, machine-produced,
bogus seduction of the twice-seduced).
Such isles they saw afar, and ones more fair,
and those that hear them yet may yet beware.
They have seen Death and ultimate defeat,
and yet they would not in despair retreat,
but oft to victory have tuned the lyre
and kindled hearts with legendary fire,
illuminating Now and dark Hath-been
with light of suns as yet by no man seen.
- I especially love that "forswearing souls to gain a Circe-kiss (and counterfeit at that, machine-produced, bogus seduction of the twice-seduced)"

In the part that follows he speaks of what he hopes for himself:
I would that I might with the minstrels sing
and stir the unseen with a throbbing string.
I would be with the mariners of the deep
that cut their slender planks on mountains steep
and voyage upon a vague and wandering quest,
for some have passed beyond the fabled West.
I would with the beleaguered fools be told,
that keep an inner fastness where their gold,
impure and scanty, yet they loyally bring
to mint in image blurred of distant king,
or in fantastic banners weave the sheen
heraldic emblems of a lord unseen.
... I think he succeeded.

The penultimate part Tolkien refers back to Lewis's position as laid out in the first part, and distances himself from it again:
I will not walk with your progressive apes,
erect and sapient. Before them gapes
the dark abyss to which their progress tends
if by God's mercy progress ever ends,
and does not ceaselessly revolve the same
unfruitful course with changing of a name.
I will not treat your dusty path and flat,
denoting this and that by this and that,
your world immutable wherein no part
the little maker has with maker's art.
I bow not yet before the Iron Crown,
nor cast my own small golden sceptre down.
Those last two lines also pack a good punch, every time again.
I find the last part the most difficult to understand. Maybe it was also the hardest to write (I wouldn't be surprised).
Of course, it is clear that this is a rendition of how Tolkien hopes paradise might be like.
In Paradise perchance the eye may stray
from gazing upon everlasting Day
to see the day illumined, and renew
from mirrored truth the likeness of the True.
Then looking on the Blessed Land 'twill see
that all is as it is, and yet made free:
Salvation changes not, nor yet destroys,
garden nor gardener, children nor their toys.
Evil it will not see, for evil lies
not in God's picture but in crooked eyes,
not in the source but in malicious choice,
and not in sound but in the tuneless voice.
In Paradise they look no more awry;
and though they make anew, they make no lie.
Be sure they still will make, not being dead,
and poets shall have flames upon their head,
and harps whereon their faultless fingers fall:
there each shall choose for ever from the All.
Interesting here is how he describes evil:

for evil lies not in God's picture but in crooked eyes,
not in the source but in malicious choice,
and not in sound but in the tuneless voice

Re: Mythopoeia

Posted: Thu Sep 22, 2016 6:30 am
by Meneldur Olvarion
Lúthien wrote:[...] I find the last part the most difficult to understand. Maybe it was also the hardest to write (I wouldn't be surprised).
Of course, it is clear that this is a rendition of how Tolkien hopes paradise might be like.
I can give a "Dave Woosley-affine" elucidation of this part, but it likely won't help anyone else: "gazing upon everlasting Day/to see the day illumined, and renew/from mirrored truth the likeness of the True" is a good description of a profound Salvia-Vision for me. But you see, it has to be experienced to be understood. If I tried to explain it, I'd just be echoing JRRT's words back at you (I don't have his skill, either, which makes the attempt to describe vastly more difficult).

Re: Mythopoeia

Posted: Thu Sep 22, 2016 9:35 am
by Lúthien
Thanks. Though I do think I have at least some idea based on the things you told about those visions over time (though I'm sure that it is only a very vague notion).