A Prayer to the Muse
I wrote in The War of Art about my old friend and mentor, Paul Rink. When I lived in Northern California years ago, I used to have coffee every morning with Paul in his camper, “Moby Dick.”
Paul was a writer. He was about thirty years older than I. Learning from Paul was one of the great experiences of my young life. Paul would turn me on to writers I’d never heard of, lecture me on the evils of the marketplace, and tell me stories about Steinbeck and Henry Miller, both of whom he knew.
But the best thing Paul did for me was he introduced me to the idea of the Muses. I had never taken such stuff seriously, but during those years when I was alone all day doing nothing but trying to learn to write, the idea of a mysterious force beyond the material plane began to make a lot of sense. That was all I was doing, day after day, week after week—trying to access the goddess.
Paul had a prayer that he said every morning before he started to work.
“It’s the Invocation of the Muse, from the very beginning of Homer’s Odyssey, the T.E. Lawrence translation. I’ll type it out so you’ll have it.”
I still have that page that Paul banged out for me on his manual Remington atop the little formica tabletop in the back of his camper. Here’s a photo.
The typing is so faded it’s barely legible. You can see where the page has disintegrated into four parts. Sometimes wind will blow the parts off my desk. I can’t tell when I put them back together if I’m even getting them in the right order.
I say this prayer myself every morning before I sit down to work, just like Paul did.
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 and bad,
while his heart, through all the seafaring,
ached with an agony to redeem himself
and bring his company safe home.
Vain hope! For them! For his fellows he strove in vain.
By their own witlessness, they were cast aside.
To destroy for meat the oxen of the most exalted Sun,
wherefore the sun god blotted out the day of their return.
Make this tale live for us in all its many bearings, O Muse!
A couple of days ago I exchanged emails with a lady named Francesca Mihok. She told me that her mother had translated and written out the identical prayer, but in Greek, on brown mailing wrappers that Francesca taped together and kept on her wall as a source of connection to her mom.
“I carried this hanging with me,” Francesca wrote, “not knowing what it said till I met a university student who was studying Ancient Greek and she said it was the opening to the Odyssey. I am floored!”
More on this prayer and its meaning in the coming weeks.