Invocation of the Muses

Thalia Took’s Sketch of 9 Greek Muses

One of Steven Pressfield’s main topics of focus in The War of Art is the fight against what he calls Resistance — the unrelenting struggle a writer faces to NOT write. Every day a writer has to push forward and make the writing happen. You just can’t wait for inspiration, at least not if you’re going to write professionally.

I’ve found that The War of Art is one of the most useful writing books I’ve ever read because of its description of and advice about  waging the battle against Resistance (note the capital R — you must respect the enemy). To help me do battle, one of my tactics is to recognize that when you sit down to write you’re entering a different kind of mental state. I tell writing students that just as a professional athlete would not simply arrive at the track field and start sprinting, a writer will be poorly served to jump into the seat and immediately start typing.

It’s my thought that you have to acknowledge that change, that transition from one mental state (where you’re worrying about groceries and laundry or that news article) to another where the story is all, in order to do good work.

On the first page of The War of Art, Pressfield describes what he does each day to prepare to write so that he can be in the proper frame. Amongst several other personal rituals, Pressfield says a prayer. His is the Invocation of the Muse from Homer’s Odyssey, translated by T.E. Lawrence (that’s Lawrence of Arabia, incidentally).

I’ve never been much of a praying man myself, but I liked the sound of this, so I looked up the prayer, which I had read as a school boy and probably blipped over:

O Divine Poesy
Goddess-daughter of Zeus,
Sustain for me
This song of the various-minded man,
Who after he had plundered
The innermost citadel of hallowed Troy
Was made to stray grievously
About the coasts of men,
The sport of their customs good or bad,
While his heart
Through all the seafaring
Ached in an agony to redeem himself
And bring his company safe home.

Vain hope – for them!
For his fellows he strove in vain,
Their own witlessness cast them away;
The fools,
To destroy for meat
The oxen of the most exalted sun!
Wherefore the sun-god blotted out
The day of their return.

Make the tale live for us
In all its many bearings,
O Muse.

That’s glorious. I love it. Even though I do not think of the Muses as deities but as personifications of a state of mind that an artist must tap, I thought acknowledging the Muses with a sort of prayer would be an excellent acknowledgment of the transitional moment.

But I found a problem with the above prayer. Not with its language, but with its highly specific focus. When I tried to speak it, I was brought immediately to mind of someone else’s story. Odysseus, naturally. I wanted a prayer to the Muses that was not necessarily aimed at the telling of one of Homer’s great works.

So I penned one myself. It does not approach the glory of the prayer created by one of the world’s greatest writers, but it is a prayer with words that speak for me.

The odd thing is that once I say the prayer, I feel like the matters I’m about to craft are more serious, and so I am far less tempted to check my e-mail or FB or Tweet or what have you. I’m all about the work.

I say again that I do not believe in Muses watching over us. But I do believe we must acknowledge and try to understand the creative spirit within us if we are to work with it to bring out our best work.

So, with that preamble, here’s my prayer to the Muses:

Invocation to the Muses
(Howard Andrew Jones)

Muses, I praise thee.
Grant me the vision to craft words of power that sear into the mind’s eye.
Let my ears hear words that are true and pure.
Let my inspiration be a mighty steed that carries me forward.
I pledge to you that I shall fight Resistance and strive to bring glory to the tales you would have me tell.
Let the work begin.

 

45 Comments on “Invocation of the Muses

  1. That’s brilliant. I’ve used the opening speech of “Henry V” (“Oh, for a muse of fire….”) for the same reason. It does help you shift into another reality.

  2. Thanks, Alex! I’m sure I’m not the only person reading this who doesn’t have that opening speech memorized… or well recalled, for that matter, so I’m pasting it below. Take it from here, Shakespeare:

    O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend

    The brightest heaven of invention,

    A kingdom for a stage, princes to act

    And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!

    Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,

    Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,

    Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire

    Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,

    The flat unraised spirits that have dared

    On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth

    So great an object: can this cockpit hold

    The vasty fields of France? or may we cram

    Within this wooden O the very casques

    That did affright the air at Agincourt?

    O, pardon! since a crooked figure may

    Attest in little place a million;

    And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,

    On your imaginary forces work.

    Suppose within the girdle of these walls

    Are now confined two mighty monarchies,

    Whose high upreared and abutting fronts

    The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:

    Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;

    Into a thousand parts divide on man,

    And make imaginary puissance;

    Think when we talk of horses, that you see them

    Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;

    For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,

    Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,

    Turning the accomplishment of many years

    Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,

    Admit me Chorus to this history;

    Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,

    Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.

  3. How can you be having a hard time coming up with the title of your book when you have these Muse-Prayers to draw upon?
    Just between the Homer and Shakespeare pieces listed above you can find…

    Their Own Witlessness Cast Them Away

    To Destroy for Meat

    Behold the Swelling

    Abutting Fronts

    Within the Girdle

    You can’t beat the classics.

    Sincerely,

    Sobel Navage

  4. I just read “The War of Art.” The most useful book I have ever read! It explains everything for me and turned my life around. I am a writer of sorts but it all applies. I write software which is my work and for me, very much an art form. I really appreciate your invocation. Thank you,

    Jeff

  5. Hi Jeff,

    I’m glad you found the book useful. I truly enjoyed it, and frequently re-read portions of the text.

    Howard

  6. I am nearly finished with The War of Art and find it very appropriate to my work, sales. Resistance has been taking over so I’m very excited that I found Pressfield’s work. Thank you for including the Invocation to the Muse and your own daily prayer.

    • I’m delighted that you found it of use! Thanks for letting me know.

      • True,
        Moreover I found the poem in your words to be much more moving!
        Simple but powerful. As soon as i read the last line, it literally stirred me.

        I had the feeling to write it out myself and re-read it as many times as i can.
        Also i reached here , searching for the invocation mentioned in the book… 🙂
        Thank you…
        And

        Let The Work Begin.

  7. Prayer For Everyone

    May your days upon this earth be blessed
    May the poetry of your being be freely expressed
    May the light of compassion always shine in your eyes
    And may your heart flow with a tenderness that never dies

    May you hear the universal melody
    May your song sing on endlessly
    May the kindness of your spirit never be broken
    And may your heart always be open

    May you wake each day as if you were born anew
    May you realize the beauty that’s in you and all around you
    May you always see a rainbow in the sky above
    And may your heart always burn with the living flame of love

    • Eamon,

      Thanks for sharing this. I just sent it to a couple friends.

      I gave up my business after 30 years to pursue singing again. I came across the book Art is War on Pinterest. I bought it on Audible.com and have listened to it about 5 times now. I LOVE IT! I listen while doing housework, taking a shower or anytime I feel myself going off course.

      Today I googled the prayer he refers to in the book and came across this site. Your prayer for everyone works best for me. Thank you!

      Julie Butler Chanteuse

      • I’m glad that you enjoyed the book and the prayer, and I’m glad that you’re finding them both inspiring.Thanks for letting me know!

    • Eamon, your prayer is very beautiful and stirring too. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  8. Thank you for posting this. I recently read The War of Art and I was looking for the prayer that Steven Pressfield was talking about. It’s powerful to say the least.

    • Thanks, Leon! It’s a great prayer, isn’t it? And It’s a wonderful book for any kind of creative endeavor.

  9. Hello Howard,
    I am almost finished with theWARofART, what an inspiration. The notion of “muse” intrigued me, thank you for sharing your insights. As a holistic health coach, I’m inspired to create a prayer of encouragement (meditation) as a starting point for those whom I support on their journey to wellness.

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  11. Howard,

    Thank you for sharing. I find your prayer powerful and moving. I plan on using it to help me motivate the muses and battle resistance.

    Karen

    • Many thanks, Karen. I’m glad you found it of use. I was actually a little nervous about posting it for the whole world to see.

  12. Just ordered another copy of War of Art from Amazon, as my bookseller could not find it. The comment was that it was probably out of print. I cannot seem to work without this book, as I am hounded by resistance and my own fear. It certainly helps to transition with some kind of an invocation or prayer or something to the Infinite Universal Mind or whatever one may call it, to mind the quality while I mind the quantity. As both a photographer and a writer, this book is a really great companion. Thanks for the Prayers to the Muses. Keep writing. We can win over Resistance.

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  14. I just finished reading theWarofArt after having it on my book shelf for over a year. This book has helped me more than any book i’ve read in the past when it comes to fighting resistance. Until now i’ve called that struggle to sit and write everything but resistance. Now I understand it in the most basic way. Like others I found this site while i was looking for more clarity on the prayer to the Muses. I thank everyone who added their personal prayer on here, and pray everyone continues to fight the resistance thats keeping them from being the person god has called them to be.

    Jermail

    • I am half way through WarOfArt and finding it very useful, googled the prayer, and found myself here. What a fabulous thread of responses. I recently trained as an actor in my late 40s to fulfil a long held dream and my resistance is overwhelming at the moment! I’m working through it and feel inspired now to write an invocation of my own so thank you all.

      • Hi Rose,

        Thanks for dropping by. I’m delighted that you found the responses so useful. Best of luck to you in you endeavors, creating an invocation that works for you, and in fighting Resistance!

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  18. I found this page after wondering what the invocation to the muse sounded like from Pressfield’s War of Art. Thanks for posting it. I think i will also craft my own–since i’m not about to tell somebody else’s story (Oddyssey or no!). (and the Shakespeare one islovely, but too long for me.)

    But thanks. Keep writing and helping out those others of us in the tribe of the bards with your presence in the world!

    • Thanks, Jon — I’m glad you found it of use! What did you end up writing?

  19. I am reading the War of Art for the third time, always inspiring, and in looking up prayers to the muse stumbled on your post. Great one. Thanks for sharing your homage to the muse! I think having my own will be a good thing! Onward to the writing!

  20. It’s great to see so many other people aware of War Of Art. I read it in one sitting and Mr Pressfield’s words and ideas hit me in a way I have never experienced before! I’m also quite relieved to know I’m not the only one who felt that prayer in the book, although beautiful beyond words, is kinda too specific to Odysseus.

    Taking a leaf out of Howard’s book I too decided to construct my own prayer to the Muses. As someone who decided to walk away from a well paid but horribly demoralizing job with the police, has no income, has rent and mortgage to pay, been rejected for jobs left right and centre AND has about 5 writing ideas floating around aimlessly in his head, I need all the help I can get!!

    This is my first attempt at writing a prayer, I sure hope it appeases the Muses!

    I call out to thee, the nine Muses, divine Goddess daughters of Zeus
    For guidance through the dark valleys which I currently wander
    Where my character resides in a box guarded by Resistance
    Where words linger within me, but tongue is tied and hands idle
    And where inspirations are but visions played behind eyes in darkest night

    I pray that my mind and hands work as one
    That my tongue speaks truth and stories good and pure
    That my eyes see the beauty you bless upon this world
    That I may be afforded the strength to combat the great adversary Resistance
    And that I may hold the key to release myself unto the world

    I ask of these favours as a humble man
    Praising the beauty of you, O Glorious Goddesses
    The gentle touch of your hands and soothing sound of your voices
    As I strive forward, into the light

    • Jimmy, that’s lovely. Thank you very much for sharing it. I can imagine the many visitors who find their way to this page will find it inspiring.

      Good luck with your writing and the job search (and the mortgage and rent as well!)

    • Jimmy, I love your prayer and have adopted it as my own, save one word change in the fourth line from bottom – from man to human 😉

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  22. This column was thought provoking for me-an extension of Pressfeld’s War of Art. And yes , it immediately caused me to draft my own
    prayer to Muses as I work full time and struggle with painting and art time. My inner critic is too alive and strong.

    Muses, I praise and acknowledge thee and thy powers.
    let my eyes and my soul accept quietness in order to better seee the richness of colors.
    Grant me the clarity of vision to translate the paint from feeling to canvas .
    Let my inspiration steadily walk through the valley of Resistance .
    I pledge to show up and be in the present moment So that you may guide my hands and my heart.
    Let the Work begin.

    • Hi Barbara,

      I like your prayer quite a lot, actually. I could use it myself, although I keep tripping over “quietness in order.” Can I suggest:

      “let my eyes and soul welcome calm to better see the richness of colors?”

      Thanks for visiting.

      • Howard, thanks for the suggestion. I’ve been thinking about it and I like all of it except that “calm” doesn’t feel like it exactly captures my mindset. I’m usually calm but seeking to quiet the busyness. Make sense?

        • Absolutely. When we’re creating these words to mark the “transitional moment” between focusing on the outer world and transcribing from the inner world, I believe it’s crucial that they speak precisely to us! Find the ones that work best for you.

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  24. Howard, I stumbled across your website in the exact same day I started reading The War of Art. It’s great to find someone who shares the same views on creativity and on the writing process. Thanks for your prayer, it gave me insights about my own rituals.

    • Thanks, Peter. I’m glad it was of use to you! Best of luck to you in all your creative endeavors.

    • Thank you, Anna. I hope it’s of use. Keep up the great work, by the way!

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