Sing of Hermes, Muse, the son of Zeus and Maia,…..a son resourceful and cunning, a robber, a rustler of cattle, a bringer of dreams, a night watcher, a gate lurker, who was soon to display deeds of renown among the immortal gods: born in the morning, by midday he was playing the lyre, and in the evening he stole the cattle of far-shooting Apollo- on the fourth of the month, the day the lady Maia bore him… Hermes it was who first crafted the singing tortoise (Homeric Hymns: To Hermes)
I studied the Homeric Hymns as a Classics undergraduate at Oxford and we had great fun with the hymn to Hermes. Ever the trickster and manipulator he invented the lyre (singing tortoise) on his way to steal his brother Apollo’s cattle. Subsequently, when the game was up, he was able to escape punishment for his crime thanks to Apollo’s fascination with the sounds that the new instrument made.
I have loved the guitar ever since I picked it up and learnt my first chords from my father at seven years old and I have loved the songs of Bob Dylan for longer than that. As a teenager and a university student I spent hours with my guitar and wanted nothing more than to follow in the footsteps of my idol.
However, as is the case for many of us, life gets in the way. I’ve had a long period where I closed my guitar case and hid much of my love for poetry and music away in the dark recesses where untouched and forgotten dreams hide. However such cowardice, although it can seem like a comfortable and somehow inevitable option at the time is always, always detrimental. For who will remember and tread softly on our dreams if we ourselves abandon them? Luckily for me, a stubborn and somewhat northern corner of my heart remained intact and so music and poetry in all their gold and silver light once again transfigure my experience and the world is more beautiful for it.
I’ve been casting my mind over various themes, dreams and schemes recently, from the Divinia Commedia and La Vita Nuova to the Sonnets of the Bard, Keats, Yeats, Kerouac and Dylan, among other things. Living in the age of immediacy, and enticingly available visual beauty it is wonderful and sometimes sobering to remember that the minds of these great poets conjured such staggering visions of beauty and truth without the need for visual stimulation. Often when I think on this my mind drifts backwards to ancient times; to the poets, playwrights and historians of Ancient Greece and Rome and dwells happily in the brightly painted Parthenon or wanders the streets of Rome consoling a tortured Catullus as he pines for his Lesbia and composes some of the most famous lines of love poetry ever written in the Western world:
odi et amo. quare id faciam fortasse requiris, / nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.
I hate and I love. Why do I do this, perhaps you ask, / I do not know, but I feel it happening and I am tortured. (Catullus 85)