“There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it.”
~ George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright and orator
I think I set a new speed record this morning: normally, I get up around 7:45, do my fairly abbreviated morning routine, and get to work at 9. But today I hit “dismiss” instead of “snooze” on my alarm, and ended up dozing until 8:37. Still made it to work on time, though, showered and groomed and bagel in hand. There’s something to be said for living two subway stops away from your job. Anyway, it’s still a dismal day out, with lots of cold and rainy grey, so I am very much looking forward to the weekend, along with all the other worker bees.
That got me thinking about the nature of desire and when it becomes an absolute need. Maybe this was a topic for before we did the waterfall bit: often desires lead to our downfall. But sometimes destruction is not so apparent, and there is a class of myths in the Indo-European realm that deal with those tempting spirits of the water. Think sirens, nixies, and (my favorite name out of all of them) the Lorelei. Water has this enchantment in it, simultaneously one of our primary needs and greatest difficulties (you can’t walk on it, you can’t breathe it, you can’t survive just by drinking it). But it’s still very beautiful and musical when it has a mind to be: no wonder there are so many myths of nymphs in rivers leading people to their doom. And these are so often parables about people allowing themselves to be victims of their own temptation; but it’s the crafty ones who get away with it. Siegfried steals the Rhine-gold, and Odysseus ties himself to the mast. In the end, the clever hero gets the best of both worlds: satisfaction, and his life. (I actually don’t know the Nibelungenlied well, but my guess is that in both cases, the ending isn’t entirely happy.)
On Monday we talked about meanders and how they drag us away, seemingly, from our purpose. At the narrowest part of the Rhine, Lorelei stands overlooking just such a bend in the river. Any mythology or audiology aside (the rock is said to “murmur”), just imagine the majesty of seeing a mountain suddenly blossom from the tree-lined gorge as you come swooping around its corner. Yesterday in turn, we discussed things rising unbidden out of nowhere, and accepting their distraction for the purposes of summoning up new material to work with. We’re going to carry on with that line of thought in process today. As always, review what you’ve been working with, any free-writes or ideas that have come up in April, and follow through on some of them to begin with. But rather than do additional free-writing about particular topics as we did with the “First Meander” prompt, make a list of twelve objects of desire (the phrase is shamelessly stolen from a Suzanne Vega album). They can be your own or someone else’s; they can be physical, abstract, common and sensual or rare and haughty.
Then, as you begin to write your poem for the day, drop one in with a mighty splash. The presence of this object should create the diversion that swoops the river away from its course. If you have a persona in the poem, how does the appearance affect whatever it is they’re doing/thinking? How does the object interact with any events, places, or other objects in the poem? Does it create a connection that enables a logical sidetrack of thought? And the Lorelei is surrounded by treacherous currents and rocks: does a note of panic, self-destruction, or careful method work its way into the poem? Allow yourself, and the poem, to resonate with that object. You can work in any of the other eleven as well: maybe the first mighty one reminds you incidentally of the others, or maybe they appear as smaller obstacles in the path. Navigate the primrose path, but be self-aware about: does it break your heart to have to carry on without these things you want? Eventually, come back to your original line of thinking, maybe a little bit wiser, maybe simply regretful like Lot’s wife (who also stood atop a mountain). If you want some added difficulties, try writing the poem as a ballad, like Heinrich Heine’s famous Lorelei poem, and/or choose objects that are normally not something to be desired (for which you have to give your reasoning in chasing them). Then, please do swing back into your normal watercourse and share!