The Meaning of ‘Muse’ Throughout Literature

Down the ages the concept of the Muse changed. The Elizabethan poets often seemed to idolize their beloved or lady love as the Muse and wove their poetic tales around the theme of unrequited love. The 16th century poets referred to the Muses ironically to achieve satirical effect or criticizing the works of other poets. The Romantics considered their Muse as anything that had the power to stir up poetic creativity. The presence of the Muse in modern literature is completely revolutionized. The modern poets undermine the traditional role, subvert the meaning and reconstruct a whole new identity of the classical persona of the Muse. The Muse in literature The Muse is the poetic inspiration or the force that compels the creative drive. Poets of every era have recounted their own perception of the Muse. In literature the concept of the Muse rides a vast domain from being referred to as the creative urge to having psychic connotations or being the poet’s alter ego. The Muse is not conceived as a constant figure of divine inspiration but rather an ever evolving essence of the creative impulse. When Elizabethan poet Sir Philip Sydney wrote Fool! Said my muse to me, look in thy heart and write (Astrophel and Stella) he probably conceived his Muse as his passion for his beloved. Being inspired by the Petrarchan tradition the Elizabethan poets fantasized their love-interests as their Muses which resulted in great lyric poetry. Shakespeare was also believed to have located his Muse in the mysterious Dark Lady which was a radical deviation from the norm of idolizing fairness as the measure of beauty (Falconer, Martinelli, Mesa, 16). Milton introduced his own version of the Christian Muse at the onset of his grand epic venture Paradise Lost. Milton evoked an entity of awe and extreme reverence in his Muse. His Muse was the divine and omniscient being the poet looked up to for guidance. O Spirit, that dost prefer Before all temples th’ upright heart and pure, Instruct me, for thou know’st. thou from the first Wast present… Milton was approaching the biblical theme of the fall of man and had declared his intention behind his poetic attempt. He wanted to justify the ways of God to men which in itself called for intense philosophizing and unbiased thinking. He had to reach sublime heights of artistic creativity to give justice to such a grand theme. It explains his creation of the sacred Muse. The poets of the Romantic tradition believed in as Wordsworth put it spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings as the primary requirement of poetry. Blake in his poem To the Muses lamented the gradual disappearance of the spontaneity and poetic fervour. How have you left the ancient love That bards of old enjoy’d in you! The languid strings do scarcely move! The sound is forc’d, the notes are few! For the Romantics poetry need not depict lofty theme or high emotions. The Romantic poets seemed to deliberately seek their Muses in the simple things of Nature and everyday life. Wordsworth chose vagrants, solitaries and the destitute as personas of poetic inspiration to compose poetry that spoke of their existence to the world (Harrison, 16). It was quite a deviation from invoking the goddess to being inspired by the ordinary. However, a further deviation had been determined in Emily Bronte’s works. The essence of the Muse had always been feminine as creativity is naturally associated with women. But critics have interpreted that Emily Bronte’