There's a wonderful book by Edward Hirsch, The Demon and the Angel, which is a quest for 'the source of artistic inspiration'. He distinguishes between duende, that earthy and mysterious force that Lorca would invoke, and which the Flamenco tradition acknowledges as its driving impulse, and the other more airy force, the angel brand of inspiration. Duende is dangerous and consuming. It takes over and blinds you to all else but the creative act, fueling you along with its dark fire. I'm guessing it's what seized Kerouac, and Ginsberg when he wrote Howl. And, no doubt, Strindberg had a fair dose of it as well. The challenge with duende is to channel it without letting it burn you up. No wonder so many writers medicate with whisky: when you ride the duende spirit you will need a way down. Or up.
Angels, no less terrifying, seem to come from above. The duende is definitely an earthy force, it uncurls from its dark caverns, where the guardian muses may have soothed it into sleep, and charges upwards through the base chakras. Angel fire is much brighter. And the authority on this type of visitor is Rilke, as he sets out in the Duino Elegies.
Every Angel is terror. And yet,
alas, knowing you, I invoke you, almost deadly
birds of the soul.
Of course, if you are going to invoke Angels you need the constitution to deal with what arises. You need to have a stomach for beauty,
For beauty is nothing but
the beginning of terror, that we are still able to bear,
and we revere it so, because it calmly disdains
to destroy us.
And even if one were to suddenly
take me to its heart, I would vanish into its
If you're going to invoke Angels, you need of course to understand suffering for the gift that it is, we who are such “squanderers of suffering”. How would it be if we allowed ourselves to feel all that, to take delight in each thing that we encounter, for all its terror, its threat to overwhelm us?
Angels. Daimons*. Are they inscrutable beings, indifferent to our wracks and ruins? Of course not. They cannot resist us. If you call them, they will come:
See, I was calling my lover. But not only she
would come......Girls would come from delicate graves
and gather.....for, how could I limit
the call, once called? The buried always
still seek the Earth. – You, children, a single
thing grasped here is many times valid...
Being here is the wonder.
Have you ever downloaded a story, a poem, seemingly from nowhere? Have you ever received a payload in the middle of the night, and sat up, grasping for pen, word, paper, and watched the mist melt from your brain as the four walls of your room came filtering back at you? Things that go dump in the night. I've never quite managed to hold onto any of those. But my feeling is that the worthwhile stuff leaves a flare mark somewhere in you. As long as you are in a good practice of doing your morning pages and writing down your dreams, then some of it will stick.
Am I a regular recipient of this kind of night time delivery? No. Aside from the fact that I am blessed with the most technicolour stereoscopic dreamlife, no, not really. But then, would your identity really survive a fully conscious angel download?
Not that you could withstand
God’s voice: far from it. But listen to the breath,
the unbroken message that creates itself from the silence.
And there's the thing you see. Maybe we have it wrong. Maybe, instead of listening in the night for the muses, angels, whomevers to bring us these fruits from beyond the veil, maaaaybe, its far more valuable for us to send them messages from here. Describe this world to them. Find the right shaped words to tell them about where you live and what lives in you. The colour of that leaf you saw. What plastic bags do when the wind lifts them. That's where the inspiration really lies.
Praise the world to the Angel, not the unsayable: you
can’t impress him with glories of feeling: in the universe,
where he feels more deeply, you are a novice. So show
him a simple thing, fashioned in age after age,
that lives close to hand and in sight.
Tell him things. He’ll be more amazed: as you were,
beside the rope-maker in Rome, or the potter beside the Nile.
Show him how happy things can be, how guiltless and ours,
how even the cry of grief decides on pure form,
serves as a thing, or dies into a thing: transient,
they look to us for deliverance, we, the most transient of all.
Well, there's lots more to say about angels and daimons*. But I have said quite enough and this is a really long post and I have some more Rilke to read.
*Daimon, as you know, refers to that voice, that higher presence famously described by Socrates, a sort of imp sitting on your shoulder giving wise counsel and inspiration. I'm sure Malcolm Gladwell or someone else has a robust neurological explanation for this phenomenon, but I'm happy with Daimon, Duende, Angel.