Jeffrey Robinson: "Sleeping Muse"

Spring '10 TOC

In 1908 Constantin Brancusi sculpted out of stone "The Kiss," a form so compelling to him that he revisited it many times, calling it "Sleeping Muse."  A female head, round in the cranium and narrowing toward the chin, lying on its side, eyes and mouth closed—no neck, no body.  (The inverse of Rilke's Archaic Torso of Apollo)  It seems at once heavy, like the stone source that wells up into the human face, and floaty, precarious.

"Sleeping Muse" is an idea.  A poet will petition the Muse in its full wakefulness, its anticipated responsiveness.  The Muse, says Alice Notley, provides the poet with what he or she needs at that moment; the Muse resolves the crisis of the poet's limits of perception and thus becomes an instrument for the expansion of vision.  If not an initiation of speech, then a continuation of speech, but on the other side of consciousness.

Watching the Muse-sleeping, I can only construct her in wakefulness, staring wide-eyed, full-force at the poet, and singing the song of the poet anticipated even if unrealizable without her help.  Is the Muse sleeping no longer a Muse?—the focus apparently gone, the responsiveness thinned to nothing; at best it is "Muse endormie," dormant, between identity. 

Yet Brancusi, hooked on his sleeping muse, obviously saw something there.  After all, the Muse is always for us, so if she sleeps, she frames for us something other, some thing that the poet, even, cannot announce.  The closed eyes do not signify an absence of seeing the world beyond the eyelids.  And what is that world?  For Rilke the world is self. . : "until / There is no place that does not see you."  For Brancusi it cannot be a world registered by eyes and ears simply in the human scale but may be a poet's and artist's domain, perhaps a dream-scape of unsuspected, passing juxtapositions.  If the Muse tells the poet what the poet wants or needs to hear, does the poet know what that is when the Muse sleeps?  An unknown mysterious shape stretches out along the infinite corridor organized by that elongated face.  The sleeping muse directs (or is it Brancusi directing her who directs?) our line of sight beyond the poem-as-monument (the "epic" sung with reference to the waking muse) to the poem as no-thing, unreality, and thus the pure thing between.

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