A Prayer to the Muse

 

The first thing I do when I enter my office each morning is to say a prayer to the Muse.

I say it out loud in dead earnest.

The prayer I say (this is in The War of Art, page 119) is the invocation of the Muse from Homer’s Odyssey, translation by T.E. Lawrence, the Oxford-educated classical scholar also known as Lawrence of Arabia.

When he wasn’t leading the Arab Revolt of WWI, T.E. Lawrence found time to do a little translating

We were speaking last week about conceiving of our office/studio as a sacred space.

For me, this prayer is part of that process.

The prayer was given to me by one of my first writing mentors, Paul Rink. He typed it out and gave it to me. I still have it. The paper is slowly crumbling. It looks like an artifact from Lara Croft, Tomb Raider.

But the prayer itself is indelible, and it’s for real.

I say it each morning before I sit down to work because I know, as every artist who will tell the truth knows, that “I” am not the source of any of the work I produce.

The work comes through me from another plane.

I’m the conduit.

I’m the human voice.

But the source lies elsewhere.

I can’t compel the work to appear.

I can’t make the goddess deliver.

I can’t bribe her, or coerce her, or grovel before her, or make her any pledges or promises that will induce her to do what I wish.

I can only invoke her.

That’s what Homer was doing when he began the Odyssey with these verses:

The original typed version of the Prayer to the Muse, given to me by Paul Rink. (It was new once.)

 

O, Divine Poesy,

Goddess, daughter of Zeus,

sustain for me this song …

 

He did the same in the Iliad, with

 

Sing, goddess,

of the wrath of Achilles, Peleus’ son …

 

If someone were following me around on a working day, she might think I was a little nutty. Certainly if she looked inside my head and saw the way I was conceiving the activities of each morning—from getting up and brushing my teeth to going to the gym to crossing the threshold of my office—she’d be forgiven if she thought, This dude is off in airy-fairy land.

But I’m not.

I’m living in the absolute real world—the world of the mystery of creation, which no one understands and no one ever will.

I’m doing my work the same way the crypt carvers of Petra did theirs, or the musicians in the court of Louis the XIVth, or Hemingway and Gertrude Stein in Paris in 1921.

I’m doing it the same way Homer did, and by the same rules.

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57 Comments

  1. Regina Holt on October 23, 2019 at 4:41 am

    Thanks so much for sharing this! It makes it real and that means everything!

  2. Andy Krause on October 23, 2019 at 7:13 am

    Reminds me of looking back on my attempted hand-written novels, poetry, song lyrics, paintings, drawings I did in my early and mid-twenties. Or the theological ideas I sprouted in my late twenties and early thirties. When I thought I was the one creating it. Heaven commissioned me, and I would earn the accolades for the gemstones in my head. My writing from that time was drivel, my poetry pointless, and my fine art without technique, or meaning. My music, in the closet. My mystical insights bat shit wrong. But, oh! The passion and the glory of doing all of it. I was so brilliant, and my rare and powerful insight would turn the world inside out. Nobel prize. Pulitzer prize. Oscar. Emmy. Grammy. Millions in my coffers. Because I deserved it.

    I’m thirty-seven today and still kicking it. My dreams burst, their debris scattered. But I still plunk down and write, and play, and sing, and draw, and act. But wiser now.

    • Tobi - Bolaji Idowu on October 23, 2019 at 7:43 am

      Inspired

    • EVRHRT on November 2, 2019 at 12:14 am

      thanks for this

    • Dwayne on August 31, 2020 at 11:39 pm

      Keep kicking at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.

    • Anonymous on January 3, 2021 at 9:19 am

      Beautifully expressed

    • Liam on January 10, 2023 at 8:24 am

      I absolutely love the way you described your dreams having buddy, scattering debris. I’m sure many of us relate in a way or another. But to Pressfield’s point, that’s just a necessary part of the process.

  3. Mikaela on October 23, 2019 at 8:07 am

    Love this. I love that invocation ~ it will be going up in my new studio space.

  4. Lyn Blair on October 23, 2019 at 8:12 am

    Vessels. Conduits. Yes. We aren’t the source of life and creation but we can be the avenues for its expression. So true. I love the wisdom of your morning prayer. It’s an opportunity to shove our inflated little egos aside so we can be still and listen. Beautiful. So inspiring. Thank you!

  5. Mary Doyle on October 23, 2019 at 8:12 am

    Happy to be reminded of this ritual. You’re my kind of “nutty”…

  6. Robby R on October 23, 2019 at 8:41 am

    Robert Hunter, 1st lyrics of Terrapin Station/ Lady with a Fan:

    ‘Let my inspiration flow in token rhyme, suggesting rhythm,
    That will not forsake you, till my tale is told and done.
    While the firelights aglow, strange shadows from the flames will grow,
    Till things weve never seen will seem familiar.’

  7. Ann Edlen on October 23, 2019 at 8:46 am

    My Prayer
    For Artists at the Start of Day: John O’Donohue

    May morning be astir with the harvest of night;
    Your mind quickening to the eros of a new question,
    Your eyes seduced by some unintended glimpse
    That cut right through the surface to a source.

    May this be a morning of innocent beginning,
    When the gift within you slips clear
    Of the sticky web of the personal
    With its hurt and its hauntings,
    And fixed fortress corners,

    A Morning when you become a pure vessel
    For what wants to ascend from silence,

    May your imagination know
    The grace of perfect danger,
    To reach beyond imitation,
    And the wheel of repetition,
    Deep into the call of all
    The unfinished and unsolved
    Until the veil of the unknown yields
    And something original begins
    To stir toward your senses
    And grow stronger in your heart

    In order to come to birth
    In a clean line of form,
    That claims from time
    A rhythm not yet heard,
    That calls space to
    A different shape.

    May it be its own force field
    And dwell uniquely
    Between the heart and the light

    To surprise the hungry eye
    By how deftly it fits
    About its secret loss.

    ~John O’Donohue

    • Linda Sheehan on October 23, 2019 at 3:50 pm

      Thank you and ALWAYS John O

      THERE is a muse that will never depart for me.

      I have a small piece of wood that fell of his handmade gravestone. Now I put it in my office.

    • Vicki on March 20, 2021 at 11:32 am

      Beautiful poem, @Ann Edlen, and thank you for posting it.

  8. bob therriault on October 23, 2019 at 9:23 am

    ‘We were speaking last week about conceiving of our office/studio as a “scared” space.’
    The above could be a simple typo, but it may also indicate the artist’s humble relationship to the far greater power of the muse. I am not sure that sacred and scared are that far apart, but creation based on fear is probably not the intent.

    A wonderful post in any event.

    • L.W. Kriss on October 23, 2019 at 1:58 pm

      Regarding sacred and scared, I am reminded of the following by Phil Cousineau:

      “Ancient wisdom suggests if you aren’t trembling as you approach the sacred it isn’t the real thing. The sacred, in its various guises as holy ground, art, or knowledge, evokes emotion and commotion.”

      • Shan on October 24, 2019 at 3:24 am

        Love this

  9. Maureen Anderson on October 23, 2019 at 10:15 am

    Once in a while during the night I’ll awaken to the sound of a telephone ringing. It usually happens when I’m about to start a big project and don’t know if it’s worth doing. My dream reminds me it’s…a calling.

    Thanks for the reassurance it’s okay to pay attention to signs like this, Steven!

    • Jean on October 23, 2019 at 10:38 am

      I love that, Maureen Anderson!

  10. Yvonne on October 23, 2019 at 10:48 am

    I love this… it’s beautiful in every way. Thank you.

  11. Gwen Abitz on October 23, 2019 at 11:29 am

    I LIKEN this Blog as I am re-reading THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coelho: He says: “But I never lost faith in the book or ever wavered in my vision. Why? Because it was me in there, all of me, heart and soul. I was living my own metaphor.” “When I sat down to write THE ALCHEMIST all I knew is that I wanted to write about my soul.”

    “Don’t give into your fears” said the Alchemist. “If you do you won’t be able to talk to your heart.

    I have been called more than “nutty” being the world I live and work in.

    “I’m living in the absolute real world—the world of the mystery of creation, which no one understands and no one ever will.”

  12. Joe Ciccarone on October 23, 2019 at 2:49 pm

    Love your blog Steve! So good. Thanks for sharing and showing up every Wednesday.

  13. Pauline Brin on October 23, 2019 at 3:19 pm

    Thank you for sharing. Your words are very thoughtful and inspiring, always. Namaste.

  14. RenitaWellman on October 23, 2019 at 3:36 pm

    Steve, this meditation evokes the image of Adam and Eve in the garden. After having sinned they realized they were naked and were ashamed when called. Apparently up until then they had walked with God every evening without a sense of shame. What you are showing me is how to walk in the garden, naked and unashamed. Ready to walk with the Creator who lives in my own
    Sacred Space.

  15. Dariel Bendin on October 23, 2019 at 4:13 pm

    I’m always in awe of you Steve. You’re still doing the work.

  16. Donna Bailey on October 23, 2019 at 7:26 pm

    I firmly believe that a story chooses the writer and not the other way around. The screenplay I am currently writing feels as though I am the only one who could do it justice, although sometimes I’m intimidated. Most of the time, I’m just grateful, because it feels like a gift. Thank you so much Steve. I always look forward to reading your words of wisdom on Wednesday.

  17. Anonymous on October 24, 2019 at 2:05 am

    Powerful,
    Singing the Mystery

    A million gratitude’s
    And a million more

  18. Travis on October 24, 2019 at 4:04 am

    I started doing this after reading War of Art. Here is my invocation. It’s titled _To the Daemon_ by Clark Ashton Smith

    Tell me many tales, O benign maleficent daemon, but tell me none that I have ever heard or have even dreamt of otherwise than obscurely or infrequently. Nay, tell me not of anything that lies between the bourns of time or the limits of space: for I am a little weary of all recorded years and charted lands; and the isles that are westward of Cathay, and the sunset realms of Ind, are not remote enough to be made the abiding-place of my conceptions; and Atlantis is over-new for my thoughts to sojourn there, and Mu itself has gazed upon the sun in aeons that are too recent,

    Tell me many tales, but let them be of things that are past the lore of legend and of which there are no myths in our world or any world adjoining. Tell me, if you will, of the years when the moon was young, with siren-rippled seas and mountains that were zoned with flowers from base to summit; tell me of the planets gray with eld, of the worlds whereon no mortal astronomer has ever looked, and whose mystic heavens and horizons have given pause to visionaries. Tell me of the vaster blossoms within whose cradling chalices a woman could sleep; of the seas of fire that beat on strands of ever-during ice; of perfumes that can give eternal slumber in a breath; of eyeless titans that dwell in Uranus, and beings that wander in the green light of the twin suns of azure and orange. Tell me tales of inconceivable fear and unimaginable love, in orbs whereto our sun is a nameless star, or unto which its rays have never reached.

  19. Sandra on October 28, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    Brilliant! Thank you.

  20. Susan on October 30, 2019 at 4:36 pm

    Beautiful!

  21. Jay Rowden on August 2, 2020 at 1:37 pm

    Thank you Steven, thank you. A friend recommended your book The War of Art to me and every night I drink in a few pages before I go to sleep. I love the book very much. It’s so important to all artists from every walk of life. Thank you for sharing your gift of writing with the world and thank you also for sharing your beautiful secrets. We’re all indebted to you.

  22. David Rink on October 30, 2020 at 5:29 pm

    I really appreciated reading this. Paul Rink is my grandfather. His son Paul Rink is my father. I didn’t know him super well I just have glimpses of memories spent with him as a child in Carmel Valley at his home. Thank you

  23. Vicki on March 20, 2021 at 11:42 am

    Where is the the invocation of the Muse from Homer’s Odyssey, translation by T.E. Lawrence, as I don’t see it here. Thank you. I am listening to the “War of Art” which was recommended by two writers and I don’t have the actual book to look at page 119. I’d love to see the full text. I also really like the John O’Donohue prayer Ann Edlen shared above. Keep moving resistance aside and work with your muse.

    • Paul on March 25, 2021 at 8:48 pm

      Thank you. I thought I was the only one who couldn’t figure out what part is the actual prayer.

    • Paul on March 25, 2021 at 9:00 pm

      Looks like this is it (my Resistance was quite happy to abet my taking time from my work to go searching for it. Maybe it’s not so smart after all).

      O Divine Poesy
      Goddess-daughter of Zeus,
      Sustain for me
      This song of the various-minded man,
      Who after he had plundered
      The innermost citadel of hallowed Troy
      Was made to stray grievously
      About the coasts of men,
      The sport of their customs good or bad,
      While his heart
      Through all the seafaring
      Ached in an agony to redeem himself
      And bring his company safe home.

      Vain hope – for them!
      For his fellows he strove in vain,
      Their own witlessness cast them away;
      The fools,
      To destroy for meat
      The oxen of the most exalted sun!
      Wherefore the sun-god blotted out
      The day of their return.

      Make the tale live for us
      In all its many bearings,
      O Muse.

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