[ by Charles Cameron — when inspiration is in the air — Sister Rosetta and Kathleen Raine ]
Two very different artworks, each beginning with an attempt to express where inspiration comes from.
My friend and sometime mentor Kathleen Raine‘s great poem, Invocation:
There is a poem on the way,
There is a poem all round me,
The poem is in the near future,
The poem is in the upper air
Above the foggy atmosphere
It hovers, a spirit
That I would make incarnate.
Let my body sweat
Let snakes torment my breast
My eyes be blind, ears deaf, hands distraught
Mouth parched, uterus cut out,
Belly slashed, back lashed,
Tongue slivered into thongs of leather
Rain stones inserted in my breasts,
If only the lips may speak,
If only the god will come.
Compare the early gospeller Sister Rosetta Tharpe‘s Music in the air:
Sister Rosetta sings, Up above my head / music in the air, and Kathleen Raine elaborates, “There is a poem all round me, / The poem is in the near future, / The poem is in the upper air”.. I could go on to describe how Kathleen’s prayer then builds, in rhythm, rhyme, and agony, her description of what she would offer in sacrifice if the divine wind should answer her prayer with a poem — the poem we are in fact reading — and there’s surely no need for me to express further the joy that Sister Rosetta’s song itself invokes and embodies —
But I would like to note that commonality between them — of the inspiration waiting, for Kathleen “in the upper air”, for Rosetta, “above my head” — and to say that “upper” and “above” here indicate a metaphorical rather than a physical dimension..
And “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”
In this verse, the word for wind and spirit, pneuma, is also the word for breath — wind outside as part of the weather, inner wind as breath, and inspiration (literally, in-breathing) as what the inner wind carries with it — while the verb form, blow, is also related.
Thus we may read the verse as meaning “wind blows where it wants, and nobody can tell where it comes from, or where it will go next” — or “breath breathes of its own accord, and no-one knows where it comes from or when it will cease” — or “inspiration cannot be forced, it touches down and takes off at its own pleasure, not at our command”..
Like grace, it floats in possibility space, alighting at will, ever spontaneous, unmerited, never to be predicted.. Fortunate Sister Rosetta, fortunate Kathleen to have been visited.