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The phrase "inspiration" refers to a heavenly influence that qualifies a person to access, accept, and impart spiritual revelation. The phrase is commonly used to describe the ability to influence and move the mind or motions. In the arts, inspiration refers to an insentient burst of creativity in a piece of art. The idea of inspiration has its roots in Hellenism and Hebraism. The Greeks attributed inspiration, also known as enthusiasm, to muses and gods such as Apollo and Dionysus. It is thought to have originated with gods such as Odin in early Norse faiths. In Hebrew poetics, inspiration is a divine subject, and in Christianity, the Holy Spirit is believed to gift inspiration to the Christians. This paper is an argument regarding where early poets had to find inspiration. Based on Henry David Thoreau’s poem Inspiration and Amos Bronson Alcott’s poem Excellence, the argument is that for them to compose and create their works, poets had to find inspiration from God because he has all the authority and is the superior good, which together with their personality would lead to beautiful new products.
In his poem inspiration, Thoreau recognizes that every good and perfect gift comes from God. Similarly, in his poem excellence, Alcott portrays his belief that people are born good, but the most superior good comes from the Lord “Lord, if my hope dare let her anchor fall, On thee, the chiefest good, no need to call” (Alcott Lines 43, 44). The two poets believe that people possess intuition as a power, and that through nature they can come close to God. For Alcott, the good cannot be found on earthly things, but in God. All people have knowledge regarding themselves as well as the world they live in that goes beyond whatever they see, her, taste, feel and touch. The knowledge does not come from logic, but from intuition and imagination, which therefore, means that people should trust themselves to be their individual authority on the right thing. The poets believe that they speak their own minds as they are inspired by the Divine Soul that inspires all men, and this soul is God.
Both Thoreau and Alcott do not believe in an inspiration that resemble that of the bible, which is described by Hedge et al. (306) as not resulting to mere chronicles and narratives, but words of heartfelt feelings as well as expositions of spiritual truth. Hedge et al. (305) assert that the scriptures of every biblical religion have an inspiration that differentiate them from other literary compositions. It is through the inspired words and belief in the words that religions have been able to establish themselves in the world. Hedge et al. (305) continue to say that inspiration theory that had prevailed in Christianity is that of dictation as the writers of the scripture were basically scribes, who were tasked by the Holy Spirit to express prearranged thoughts in certain words. Therefore, the writers did not exercise deliberation, imagination, thought and any mental faculty in their writing as based on the theory of inspiration, their function was only mechanical. The writers were purely required to hold their pen, open their mouth so as the hands and lips could move as dictated by the Spirit. According to Thoreau and Alcott, intuition and imagination guides the poets, who are also inspired by God in the creation of their works. For the poets, inspiration does not necessarily entail possession, but the inspired poet takes a conscious part in the composition process. Therefore, poets should not be seen as passive instruments of some overpowering force (Murray, 87). Assuming that poets take no conscious role in composition process could mean that there is no compatibility of craft and inspiration, which is not the case. Therefore, Thoreau and Alcott can be said to dispute Plato’s poetic inspiration concept that compares an inspired poet to a passive instrument who has got no knowledge of what he is saying and has no capability of explaining the source or the poetry’s meaning.
Based on Inspiration poem, inspiration is of an intriguing nature. To Thoreau, inspiration is a force through which creative artists like poets converses with the spiritual certainty that is indicated in nature and which exist in matching form in the mind. Thoreau also defines inspiration as divine “electuary” that, while it acclimatizes an individual to an ancient harmony, it also leaves him or her “single in the crowd” (Thoreau Lines 22 and 40). Through inspiration that God provides, the poet is elevated to a higher awareness level, and anyone that is suitably attuned can achieve such an spontaneous grasp of the divinity that immediately becomes a part of nature as well as his or her soul. Thoreau although one had ears, eyes and life before, through inspiration, an individual starts hearing, gets sight and starts living. He goes in to say that what follows is hearing beyond the sound’s range, seeing beyond the sight’s range.
“I hear beyond the range of sound, I see beyond the range of sight, New earths and skies and seas around, And in my day the sun doth pale his light” (Thoreau Lines 29-32).
Indeed, following an inspiration, what an individual knows about him or her is taken to a greater level than before. Murray (88) says that the experience from which the concept of inspiration is derived has been explained by varying poets at different times. Experiences are unique for each poet, but there is similarity in the feeling that poetry does not come from the conscious mind, but from a different source, and inspiration is the moment when a thought presents itself spontaneously to the poet as the poem’s starting point. However, though the initial inspiration seems to have come to the poet from a different source other than himself or herself, the following composition process depends on hard work and conscious effort.
Hedge et al. (314) define inspiration as the selection and utilization by God himself of suitable forms of nature, human actions and relations to symbolize and express divine and spiritual truth in its completeness and harmony. This definition conforms to that given by Thoreau in his poem inspiration, as he talks of being inspired upon God possessing his mind and utterances so that he is able to see and hear more than he has been in the past. Therefore, an inspired poet looks upon God to use him so that he can write and speak what has been commanded by God such that the produced work is divine truth in natural forms. Alcott is also clear that God is the utmost good that poets seek because He is the source of the art they desire to create. Alcott speaks of God as “whose extremes may bind/ My thoughts, and fill the gulf of my insatiate mind” (Alcott Lines 17 and 18). Therefore, inspiration is more than veracity as it entails the revelation of laws and concepts of the divine life, of the spiritual nature of man as well as of the spiritual world where he forever dwells. Man is not born with any knowledge, but gains it through senses and experiences from which he or she can reflect. As depicted by both Thoreau and Alcott, inspiration involves God. Hedge et al. (326) say that inspiration is a “supernatural help”, in which God enlightens the minds of men to make them know the truth as he so wishes. During the Apostolic age, God raised men to a supernatural level by providing them with divine assistance so as to fulfill his counsel accurately, and this is why God has been said to be the author of the written books.
Unlike Thoreau and Alcott who believe in inspiration and marry it to the creativeness of an artist or more specifically a poet, according to Simopoulos (30), the utmost significant initial explanation of inspiration is contained in the Ion, which was a dialogue by Plato. Plato says that every good epic poet do not just advance from art, but are inspired and possessed when they create their stunning poems. Socrate also makes comparisons between poets and corybants. It can therefore, be said that based on Plato’s utterances, poetry entails a mysterious element that no sensible account is sufficient to describe. To Plato, a poet is just a passive object that does not know a thing regarding whatever he or she is writing about, but is just conveying what an external voice is dictating. To him, the poetic inspiration concept is a form of ecstatic madness.
However, based on Thoreau and Alcott, it is a very big mistake to make an assumption that inspiration in both practice and theory ineludibly entails total rejection of responsibility for the poet’s creation. In the poem Inspiration, Thoreau uses Muses to represent God. He starts his poem by denoting that man has got a capacity to create something on his own that God goes ahead to bless. However, if there is no inspiration from God, an individual can create something, but it is not going to be as powerful. In the third stanza, he stresses that by listening to the inspirational voice is very important. He asserts that it is through inspiration that poets are able to create beautiful verses as whatever God inspires remains strong and “Time cannot bend the line which God hath writ” (Thoreau Line 20). As Murray (89) puts, Muses symbolize the feeling of dependence by the poet on the external force and personifies his inspiration. They offer the poet long-term poetic capability as well as temporary aid in the composing process. The gift of permanent poetic ability from God corresponds to creativity of the poet in terms of his personality. Murray (90) explains that temporary inspiration is a notion that was implied by the invocations to the Muses that served as a traditional feature of poetry in early Greece. There are times when the poet request for help to begin a poem. Other times, poets may ask for something specific like events knowledge or song’s sweetness, which can be viewed as the need of a poet for divine assistance. Murray (90) claims that early poets utilized invocations to institute their authority, to enable the truth of her utterances and words and focus the audience’s responsiveness at strategic points. Very importantly, the invocations express the belief of the poet in divine inspiration. Murray (95) says that poets believed in the Muses for inspiration and as a source of information. In addition, they inspired with the power to mesmerize the audience. For example, upon making Hesiod a poet, the Muses inspired him with a voice that was very wonderful. By looking at the relationship of the poet and the Muse in ancient Greek poetry, it is evident that the poet is not the unconscious passive instrument as described by Plato. The poet is an active recipient of information provided by the Muse as depicted in Iliad’s invocations. Murray (96) goes on to show that Odyssey’s proem is an excellent example that makes the active role of the poet very clear as far as inspiration and the creative process are concerned. As also depicted in Inspiration poem by Thoreau, the relationship between God, from whom poets found their inspiration, and poets is an intellectual one. Thoreau is asking God to inspire him and uncover the hidden knowledge so that he may comprehend his world. Thoreau is not asking God to give his a state of ecstasy, which is why Murray (96) says that “it would be a mistake to interpret these invocations as evidence for the view that the bard takes no part in composition”. The poet has in epic traditions been represented as originating supernormal knowledge from Muses, and not subsiding into ecstasy or getting possessed. Therefore, poets generally express their belief in their dependence with God, who inspires them, but also stress that they have a part to play in the composition of their poems. The poet is seen to be greater than he would if he did not compose, and his inspiration itself is greater because of his activity of creativeness (Simopoulos 39). Poetry is God given as well as the product of poet’s hard work, thereby meaning that there is a combination of divine and human elements.
In conclusion, early poets have stressed the divine origin of their poetry, and have also been very much aware of the art they played in the composition process. Therefore, the poet did not see himself as a passive tool, but perceived a very close association between God and the poet. They saw themselves as messengers of God. Although they had a sense of dependence on the Muse, they also stressed their role as interpreters and proclaimers of the message. Therefore, the theory that the poet is just a creature ineradicably gifted with the power to express or is just anyone whose effort have been thoroughly direct into the channels appropriate for his expression do stand. It is clear that as depicted by Thoreau and Alcott, during early poetry, there was an equal prominence on both craft and inspiration, and anyone that cannot accept this fact has some preconceived thoughts regarding poetic inspiration concept and its associated with the notion of poetry as craft. Poetic inspiration was associated with knowledge, memory and performance, and it failed to involve possession or ecstasy, but was balanced by a belief in the significance of craft and dependence on divine.
Alcott, Bronson. Excellence. Web. 29th Nov. 2017 http://www.bartleby.com/339/20.html
Hedge, F. H., E. A. Washburn, Chauncey Giles, J. P. Newman, J. Gibbons, and John Fiske. "What Is Inspiration?." The North American Review 127.264 (1878): 304-334.
Murray, Penelope. "Poetic inspiration in early Greece." The Journal of Hellenic Studies 101 (1981): 87-100.
Simopoulos, John Ch. "The study of inspiration." The Journal of Philosophy 45.2 (1948): 29-41.
Thoreau, David. Inspiration. Web. 29th Nov. 2017 https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/inspiration/
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