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Sunday, October 17, 2010

The White Goddess.

This classic literature book provides some intriguing explorations of the role of the poet, myth and creative expression in European history. In the 1948 White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, poet Robert Graves, makes some interesting notes that are suitable for recall in this season of ghosts, goblins and witches galore.

Graves saw the Goddess of ancient times as a "lovely slender woman with a hooked nose, deathly pale, lips red as rowan-berries, startlingly blue eyes and long fair hair..." (pg.24). Her ability to transform herself into other forms is well known and in Ghost tales, he says, "she often figures as the "White Lady" and in ancient religious traditions "from the British Isles to the Caucasus" she is the 'White Goddess'.

He says every true poet from Homer forward has expressed some encounter with her because:

"The reason why the hairs stand on end, the eyes water, the throat is constricted , the skin crawls, and a shiver runs down the spine when one writes or reads a true poem is that a true poem is necessarily an invocation of the White Goddess or Muse, the Mother of All Living Things, the ancient power of fright and lust - the female spider or the queen-bee whose embrace is death."(pg. 24)

It is interesting to note the prevalence in ancient myth of damsels, sirens, and characters of note who match that description. In some of the myths the Grimm brothers collected can be heard the faint echo of that ancient presence in the lovely maiden or the plotting vicious queen. Always there is the lingering element of respect and strength of woman and the Goddess she reflects.

For Graves the ancient poetry was the wild spinning top, an art form less concerned with form than experience. The further one progresses into the controlled and pedantic period of Rome forward into modern times, the greater the emphasis on form and content. In claiming to 'master' the art form, the guardian child of the ancient Muse and Goddess, the more soulless and lackluster the works, according to Graves, and the more dependent they become on over romanticism and long sections of poetic atmosphere. He wrote his own paen to her in The White Goddess, a poem found in a collection of his work.

So, as one explores the classic ghostly legends, Wilkie's Woman in White, and so many others, give a nod to the ancients whose poets, storytellers, bards, fili, derwydd, and ollaves, in poems, songs, and recitations at court and in humble hearth preserved the symbols and the stories. The great goddess who wooed humanity for centuries. In seeing those infamous flying witches and hooked nose women with rosy lips recall that the Muse who may have inspired them all also had a less friendly side. This duality of nature, so reflective of the male and female and the human psyche itself, it no doubt what has driven this mythic core for so long. We do not understand ourselves and so the Goddess remains an elusive, tantalizing, mystery.

Graves, Robert. The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth. Amended and enlarged version. Farrar, Straus, and Girous, 1948. However, a version is still available at Amazon.).

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