The Muse Descends

Neil Young, the great Canadian singer and song writer, once said that the vast majority of his songs come to him whole cloth, lyrics and chords complete.  He wakes up in the morning, rested and bright eyed, and suddenly an entire song floats into his head.  All he has to do is right it down.

If that experience is a regular one for Neil Young, my guess is it is highly irregular for most rabbis.  This is the time of year when we struggle with sermons more so than any other time.  We want to have our very best material, we want to give our congregants, as my predecessor Rabbi Mark Loeb used to say, ‘heaven.’  We hope to be creative, brilliant, wise, poignant, original.  So we slave away.  We write and re-write.  We edit and edit again.  We stay up late into the night, staring blankly at our computer screens, hoping against hope that it will somehow all come together.  It can be a torturous process.

But every once in a while the muse descends.  What calls her, I do not pretend to know or understand.  Some strange and mystical elixir of timing, thinking, energy, and then a door that opens from inside the mind.  Suddenly the fingers tap the keys more quickly.  A page appears, and then another.  Perhaps a sermon will actually be completed before the holidays arrive.  Maybe even two, who knows?

The problem of course is that we cannot call the muse, we do not have the power to choose when she comes and when she departs.  Maybe we learn over time to hone our skills, we develop a sense of the craft of constructing a sermon.  Song writers too talk about the craft, the way a song can be put together with sweat and tears and gritted teeth.  We can wait for the muse, but it sure is good to have a backup plan – sit down and type!

Ah, the muse.  Thinking about her always brings to my mind the gorgeous elegy that Robert Hunter read at Jerry Garcia’s funeral:

An Elegy for Jerry by Robert Hunter

Jerry, my friend,
you’ve done it again,
even in your silence
the familiar pressure
comes to bear, demanding
I pull words from the air
with only this morning
and part of the afternoon
to compose an ode worthy
of one so particular
about every turn of phrase,
demanding it hit home
in a thousand ways
before making it his own,
and this I can’t do alone.
Now that the singer is gone,
where shall I go for the song?

Without your melody and taste
to lend an attitude of grace
a lyric is an orphan thing,
a hive with neither honey’s taste
nor power to truly sting.

What choice have I but to dare and
call your muse who thought to rest
out of the thin blue air,
that out of the field of shared time,
a line or two might chance to shine –

As ever when we called,
in hope if not in words,
the muse descends.

How should she desert us now?
Scars of battle on her brow
bedraggled feather on her wings
and yet she sings, she sings!

May she bear thee to thy rest,
the ancient bower of flowers
beyond the solitude of days,
the tyranny of hours –
the wreath of shining laurel lie
upon your shaggy head,
bestowing power to play the lyre
to legends of the dead.

If some part of that music
is heard in deepest dream,
or on some breeze of Summer
a snatch of golden theme,
we’ll know you live inside us
with love that never parts
our good old Jack O’Diamonds
become the King of Hearts

I feel your silent laughter
as sentiments so bold
that dare to step across the line
to tell what must be told
so I’ll just say I love you
which I never said before
and let it go at that old friend
the rest you may ignore.



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2 responses to “The Muse Descends

  1. apropos to this post – Leonard Cohen quoted in a Rolling Stone tweet: if I knew where the good songs come from I’d go to that place more often…

  2. Linda

    So thoughtful. How loving to share all this on 9/11. Lucky us to have you. XO naps

    Sent from my iPad


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