Prompt #30 Anna Akhmatova and The Muse

Dear friends. I am released at last from the tyranny of NaPoMo, and I am wondering what to do with myself. I missed a couple of submission deadlines that I’m sad about, so I’m thinking I may take some time off from writing new things to focus on revising and preparing another manuscript. But, I promised that I’d be writing a poem a day, from 10/10/13 all the way until 10/10/14. It just seems like so much hard work. I bought a new journal. I’ve got some ideas, maybe a poem a day based on all the cards in a pack. What is this malaise? Where is my muse? Does she have a NaPoMo hangover, too?

And then I read this article in the New York Times, shared by a friend. About Anna Akhmatova and the night Isaiah Berlin visited her in Leningrad in 1945. About the love of literature, of a life of the mind. I think maybe I’ve been trying to cram poetry into my life in a way that just can’t be done — a way that hurts both me and poetry. No wonder my muse has left the building.

As David Brooks writes:

The night Berlin and Akhmatova spent together stands as the beau ideal of a different sort of communication. It’s communication between people who think that the knowledge most worth attending to is not found in data but in the great works of culture, in humanity’s inherited storehouse of moral, emotional and existential wisdom.

Berlin and Akhmatova were from a culture that assumed that, if you want to live a decent life, you have to possess a certain intellectual scope. You have to grapple with the big ideas and the big books that teach you how to experience life in all its richness and make subtle moral and emotional judgments.

So, I’m going to see if I can think of poetry again not as data, but as the great work of my life. Maybe my muse will condescend to me, if I wait on her.

Here’s a poem of Akhmatova’s on the subject. If you click through to The Poetry Foundation, you can read it in the original Russian, in a French translation, and in this English one, translated by Stanley Burnshaw.

The Muse

by Anna Akhmatova (translated by Stanley Burnshaw)

When in the night I await her coming,
My life seems stopped. I ask myself: What
Are tributes, freedom, or youth compared
To this treasured friend holding a flute?
Look, she’s coming! She throws off her veil
And watches me, steady and long. I say:
“Was it you who dictated to Dante the pages
Of Hell?” And she answers: “I am the one.”



Your prompt for today, is to read the article about Akhmatova and her poem. Think about what it means to have a muse, a spirit that comes with poetry (or art or music) in her hands as a gift for you. Write about that. Go slowly.

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