myth and poetry

Scholarly Essay


Singing Water -Stephanie Pope
"Truly, I tell you no language is ever neutral"-Mother Artist             

Fred SpencerIn the days of Pausanias, if one wishes, one might follow two rivers that join in the port of Delphi and flow from there into the sea. If one then takes the path from the gymnasium ascending to the sanctuary, one meets on the right the Castalian spring (10.8.8-9). This pool is in a rock cut basin thirty-six feet long and ten feet wide near the mouth of a gorge in the rocks (Herodotus 8.39). Many come to these waters on their way to see the Oracle of Delphi for they are pleasant to bathe in and sweet to taste. It is also noted that the Pythian priestess herself comes here to bathe before assuming her oracular role.

The stories told of this place speak of a disappearance that is forever. The trace remaining of this leave-taking yields two different kinds of experiences voicing the unbinding language bond inherent in Kastalian inspiration. One is prophetic. The other is poetic. The god-nature that renders this separation, change, and distinguishing of experience is Apollo. But, he is not the only god-nature of this place.

Before this moment, you see, in the days before Thales of Miletus (c.624-548BC), one of the seven sages of antiquity who taught that the earth was made from water and who taught that the earth rested on water, in all these days before, another sort of story is in keeping here (Gantz 54). For before the age of Zeus and his son, Apollo, in the days of Ouranos and Okean and the old river god, Achelous, there is born to the old water son a beautiful daughter. Her name is Kastalia. In these days there is another way of remembering because there is no written language yet (Hillman, Myth 178). And so, there is another way the Muses are be-singing these thingings that world the world. Still, both the poet-singers of the oral/aural way and those of the ages since linear B script suggest that originally, long ago these immortal waters were a gift to her from the river Cephisus (Pau. 10.8.9-10).

Beautiful daughters grow to be beautiful women and time passes. The older Muses, who number three as daughters of Sky and who inspire the earliest poet-singers of water, give way to the nine younger Muses, daughters of Zeus. These nine do not really be-sing of the Kastalian spring, however. Their source is the water hippou krene (Kerenyi, Gods 105). Perhaps this is one instance where being an older gal is not so bad since it appears that the original three in naming, Melete, Mneme and Aoide, derive not from mythology but from the poet’s practice (104). So practicing, (the work of an oral poeisis) remembering and singing, as we might call these three today, are the three who dance with Kastalia during her beautiful years.

As noted early on in this essay, there are two inspiring functions of a Kastalian archetype. They are the prophetic function and the poetic function. Apollo is the god-natured guardian of the former but not the latter (Miller 155). The implication here distinguishes another kind of Mneme, a Mindful of Source among sources. Here Hippokrenian inspiration is being recognized as a cultural permutation of a much earlier oral/aural relation before Linear B, when another kind of embodiment still taught us directly and we spoke its name.

Nevertheless, Apollo enters the landscape of Kastalia, revealing himself like a true son of his father. For just as Zeus never meets a beautiful woman he doesn’t want, in this same way Apollo hopes to ravage Kastalia’s beauty. He sets designs on her. Kastalia, however, is as smart as she is beautiful. Like all smart women she knows just how to de-sign his designs. She re-images herself signing herself as that source of another kind of life-giving liquid, a kind that can hold in relation a god like this.

Quicker than the Far Shooter can advance, Kastalia turns her back and leaps into those silvery sweet waters of her own springing never to be-scene again. She has disappeared. Kastalian poetics gives way to a mythology of the Castalian spring and a myth of Kastalia. Her mythology of place and absence, while speaking nothing of her, appears to say that Kastalian movement traces out a boundary between two ways of be-singing the thingings of world. Two ways? Or perhaps the way she remains silent suggests still the one way to emancipation of language and seeing speaking along a liquid edge of double-sided imaginary?

In a wonderful essay entitled Disappeared: Heidegger and the Emancipation of Language Gerald L. Bruns speaks to this Kastalian movement or inspiration that can change forever the way we see and speak into and out of the things we see and speak. To do this Bruns employs Heidegger’s der Riss. Heidegger takes Kant’s idea of the sign as the significant form, place, and difference or design (in our case Kastalia) and turns it through the term der Riss as Aufriss/Auf-Riss. This thinking opens to the following: the sign is as a rift disappearing into the design that de-signs, a structuring principle or bond or original water that brings together and holds together what is set against and apart and still belonging. Bruns writes

The rift turns up again in “Die Sprache” (1950) as the painful “dif-ference [Unter-schied] of world and thing, where “difference” is no longer a term of distinction or relation, but simply the “between” that “holds apart the middle in and through which world and thing are one with each other”
(US, p.25/202). In “Das Wesen der Sprache” (1957), the rift is the “delicate and luminous difference [Differenz]” that holds poetry and thinking apart, “each in its own darkness.” Here Heidegger asks us to imagine an incision (Schnitt) that cuts poetry and thinking “into the design (Aufriss) of their neighboring nature”…. That cut assigns poetry and thinking their nearness to one another [Er resist Dichten und Denken in die Nähe zueinander auf]” [US, p. 196/90] (119).

The myth tells us Kastalia does get her god. In fact, she attracts more than one, as so often such beauty does. Apollo returns eventually to the temple at Delphi and presides over the prophetic powers as the Pythian Apollo. While the god-nature that guides the poetic capacities, the god capable of moving through that place or space of the “between”, the apprehending divinity of the delicate and luminous difference holding thinking and poetry both apart and together is Hermes.

The second song that Hermes sings in the Homeric Hymn To Hermes reveals that the son of Maia is a poet singer foundationally related to the older order of Mneme, Mother of Muses. The singer of this life-vivifying language picks up his lyre (the animal of his own invention) and plays the entire theogony of the gods beginning with his praise song to Mneme. He sings out loud from Mneme, who supports and sustains his cosmic ground of self-recollection as source (Quelle). Then, he plays upon the loveliness of that cosmic flow of Self re-calling through the daughter aspects now analogous to the Water Goddesses of the Springs. Kerenyi indicates that this is the way in which Hermes attracts, confronts and upholds the deep ear of the Apollonian eye (Hermes 68). It is this eye that has an ear for psychic tones (Hillman, Dream 175). Kerenyi reminds us, too, that Hermetic Mneme will not let us forget ourselves. Instead, we remember all that is meant in being forgotten (68). Finally, Kerenyi suggests that this kind of Mneme is Hermes’ daimon of fate. Further, Kerenyi states, “It is the fate of Hermes that for himself and for those with him there is no chance of losing oneself” (69). It seems the poets moved by a Kastalian inspiration hear like Apollo hears when enchanted by the singing through of what Hermes sees. But, what Hermes sees and plays upon comes in part from the days when earth was made from water and therein rested.

It is precisely at this moment in the Homeric Hymn to Hermes that Hermetic hunger re-awakens the eye of the deeper ear and states its own claim upon the Mneme-nature of divine (re)apportioning. Hermes carries the healing psycho-spiritual tones of this mixture like a thief who steals away those images held dearest to Apollo’s eyes (50 cattle). He carries them as “inherited knowledge of all primordial sources of being” (Kerenyi, Hermes 69) leading them backwards in a movement made possible through his own creation (HIS shoes). But, where does he lead them? He leads them into metaphors that become our own works of art.

Bruns tells us that for Heidegger, a work of art works like a model for thing, world and language but one wherein both thing and world do not have being in the sense of being a being or thing. They are not beings in the sense that we can say of them they exist. A work of art—a poem is that picturing of pictorial perceptions that designs or “rifts” various worlds together even where in expression they may be vastly disparate or even hostile brothers to each other. In the language of Bruns, “Heidegger puts together a parody of picturing that…rifts the world in a wild mixture of metaphors…into a ‘mirror-play’…(what) Heidegger thinks of as the setting free of the thing: ‘Out of the ringing mirror-play the thinging of the thing takes place’” [VA, p. 173/180] (120-21). Out of the silence a muse dances be-singing the thinging of a poem.

Currently, I work as a poet. This paper is part of my own processing of that work in a struggle to move closer in understanding to the source that inspires it. One way this Mneme suggests itself—its Self-reflection, is through the image of a woman whose back is turned away in a fluid sort of leaving that marks a boundary between where nothing appears. Such an image is invoked in the myth of Kastalia. Her disappearance into water marks a place, the Castalian spring, and also, a place for pausing. (Often, many come to these waters on their way to see the Oracle of Delphi for they are pleasant to bathe in and sweet to taste.) What else such a disappearance does is better expressed through the language of poetry in an excerpt from the poem I’ve been working with to write this piece. The poem is entitled Mother Artist.

Surely the ancient chevron voice must
still trace in me that boundary between
us, slippery like tea a thousand years
tasted along a liquid edge of double-sided
imaginary. Her touching me touches
everywhere…and nowhere across time,
signifies everything that she will have
been at once…making nothing appear.
Yet, her spirit fills in across time the
substance of this art.

What my own words suggest to me now is that an image arising from a Kastalian inspiration stories to achieve something akin to Heidegger’s mirror-play modeling the thing, world and language to which it belongs. It is a model for what still belongs to the poet in the corpus of her/his/our psyche that tells us where and how these things of ours, which are not things, hold together.
One such thing of mine in the mix of writing such poetry has to do with dyslexia. It is possible that many when they hear the term dyslexia still imagine it as a form of learning disability. Yet, the mental functions that cause it are a gift in the truest sense of natural abilities and talents. This tempts me to suggest that dyslexia is a gift to my eyes like the immortal waters of long ago are a gift to Kastalia.

As a dyslexic I tend to think in pictures making it more difficult to understand alphabet letters, numbers, symbols and written words. Since I am a visual-spatial learner, my mental processes work innately from a shifting central focus. The mental impulses, largely unconscious, instantaneously flip and turn objects of perception in a continuous shifting of focus to apprehend reality. Sometimes referred to as the upside-down brilliance, this capacity works well for recognizing real-life objects but not script.

Dyslexics like myself indeed do learn to read, write, and study efficiently but first, like Hermes we must create our learning methods (shoes) shaped to our own unique learning styles and giftednesses. In my way of imagining, dyslexia is not so much a disability as it is a self-created condition. No two dyslexics create it exactly alike. My senses of my dyslexia are more in line with the fifteen-year study results shared by Ron D. Davis in his book The Gift of Dyslexia: Why Some of the Smartest People Can’t Read and How They Can Learn than those ideas of the medical community that classify dyslexia as a disability.

For when dyslexia speaks to me, it seems to speak of my original water, the way the world once originally appeared in its be-singing. My recognition of a letter-word reversal works something like a Freudian slip in that it creates a time-delay in response and indicates to me unconscious factors are at work. My confusion or disorientation creates for me a “pause in place” that suggests, “Look here!” My confusion in configuration of letter order in words causes me to pause and look more closely for a deeper configuring that is taking place. This confusion seems to “rift” together again consciously what belongs together in a unique way because it is already living this way within Psyche’s landscape, the landscape of my spatial unconscious. Often this provides for me an inspiration that leads to a poeisis, a making that results in a poem, narrative or new scholarly pursuit.

Interestingly enough, I can use the thoughts constellating these expressions now belonging-together in this paper’s presentation as my example. The ideas presented in this paper about Kastalian musing are organized around the two terms singing and signing. For just as the sign’s disappearance into the design that de-signs functions in Heidegger’s rift, so does the word “singing” function in the configuration of the word “signing” as I go about the work of this paper. The reversal of the “g” and “n” that did occur for me where I read and wrote the word “sing” as I began this writing also cause me to pause, reflect, rethink and rework the “singing” at work in the image or sign of Kastalia.

The mind’s ordering system for what it knows and how it knows it and the landscape or place where it can be found and retrieved belongs to Mneme, Mother of Musings. It has been suggested that within the interface between the oral and written ways, the oral/aural supplies the flow and inspiration characterized by continual creation (Goody 85). Few know that there indeed once was an art of memory or that this art was invented by the Greeks (Yates xi). “The art of memory,” Hillman says, “presents us with a spatial ‘unconscious’” (Myth178) while Yates confirms, “any manipulation of image in memory will always and to some extent involve the psyche as a whole” (xi). Hillman indicates that soul-traits and the encyclopedia of mind’s knowledge can be placed within this structure that is imaginal.

So that finally, one comes to the recognition of imagination as that ground of this place, the place of the creative pause within creation itself. And one realizes that this is the landscape of the rift where the singing and the signing coincide under their own archetypal configurations. Led there by Hermetic Mneme, wearing my alphabet sometimes backwards, I see again the inherent intelligibility of a “parody of picturing” of that “wild mixture” of those things that are belonging there. This is a different way or another way of remembering how the world worlds. This way allows me to consider that the Mneme of my poetic musing touches me everywhere and nowhere across time. It allows me to consider this “touching of the Images of Her” in a way that disappears into an inner space of creative pause where daughter aspects still contain that trace of Her waters yet pleasant to bathe in and sweet to taste.

Works Cited
Bruns, Gerald L.. “Disappeared: Heidegger and the Emancipation of Language”. Languages of the Unsayable. Ed. Sanford Budick and Wolfgang Iser. New York: Columbia University Press, 1989.

Davis, Ron D.. The Gift of dyslexia: Why Some of the Smartest People Can’t Read and How They Can Learn. Eldon M Braun and JoAn M. Smith. California: Perigee, 1997.

Gantz, Timothy. Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources. Vol. 1. Maryland: John Hopkins University Press, 1993.

Goody, Jack. The Interface Between the Written and the Oral. New York: Press Syndicate of Cambridge, 1987.

Grimal, Pierre. The Dictionary of Classical Mythology. Trans. A.R. Maxwell-Hyslop. Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1998.

Hesiod. Theogony. Trans. M.L. West. Intro and Notes M.L. West. New York: Oxford, 1999.

Hillman, James. The Myth of Analysis: Three Essays in Archetypal Psychology. New York: Harper & Row, 1978.

---The Dream and the Underworld. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.

Kerényi, Karl. Gods of the Greeks. New York: Thames & Hudson, 1980.

---Hermes: Guide of Souls. Trans. Murray Stein. Preface Charles Boer. Connecticut: Spring, 1996.

Ovid. Metamorphoses. Trans. and Intro. Mary M. Innes. IX. 1-97. New York: Penguin, 1955.

Miller, David L. “Ad Maiorem Gloriam Castaliae: Hermann Hesse and the Greek Gods and Goddesses.” Spring: An Annual of Archetypal Psychology and Jungian Thought. pp.152-162. New York: Spring, 1975.

Perseus Project. Ed Gregory Crane. 25 Nov. 1997. Tufts U.  8 May 2003 Http:// Homer, Hymn 18 to Hermes. Homer, The Iliad, XXI. 190-199. Herodotus, The Histories, 8:39:1. Pausanias, Description of Greece, 10:8.8-10.

Pope, Stephanie. “Mother Artist.”Like A Woman Falling. Scotsdale: Mythic Artist Press, 2004 .     

Fred Spencer Water Maiden
The Water Maidens series explores water's connection with emotion, fantasy and portrayal of women. Water has always had a place in mythological fantasy, in poetry and art... The images in the Water Maidens' series take reference in Victorian and Pre- Raphelite painting. -Fred Spencer
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