Tunes for a Monday Morning
A vision of Middle-Earth

We are the words, we are the music

Stray sheep

Etchings by Bill Yardley

Last week we discussed Ursula K. Le Guin's "Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?" (an essay I recommend reading in full) -- examining the roles of experience and imagination in the creation of fiction.

There's one more passage I'd like to share. It begins with a quote by Virginia Woolf, from a letter to her friend Vita Sackville-West. "Sackville-West," Le Guin explains, "had been pontificating about finding the right word, Flaubert's mot juste, and agonizing very Frenchly about syle; and Woolf wrote back, very Englishly:

Sheep etching by Bill Yardley'As for the mot juste, you are quite wrong. Style is a very simple matter; it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can't use the wrong words. But on the other hand here I am sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can't dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm. Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes far deeper than words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it; and in writing (such is my present belief) one has to recapture this, and set this working (which has nothing apparently to do with words) and then, as it breaks and tumbles in the mind, it makes words to fit it. But no doubt I shall think differently next year.'

Sheep and lamb, reunited.

"Woolf wrote that seventy-five years ago," notes Le Guin; "if she did think differently next year, she didn't tell anybody. She says it lightly, but she means it; this is profound. I have not found anything more profound, or more useful, about the source of story -- where ideas come from.

"Beneath memory and experience, beneath imagination and invention -- beneath words, as she says -- there are rhythms to which memory and imagination and words all move. The writer's job is to go down deep enough to begin to feel that rhythm, find it, move it, be moved by it, and let it move memory and imagination to find the words."

So simple. So true.

The gate to O'er Hill

Le Guin adds this at the close of the essay:

"Prose and poetry -- all art, music, dance -- rise from and move with the profound rhythms of our body, our being, and the body and the being of the world. Physicists read the universe as a great range of vibrations, of rhythms. Art follows and expresses those rhythms."

Sheep in the shade

Old stone wall

I'm reminded, in turn, of these words from Woolf's luminous essay "A Sketch of the Past":

“Behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we -- I mean all human beings -- are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art. Hamlet or a Beethoven quartet is the truth about this vast mass that we call the world. But there is no Shakespeare, there is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself."

A stream on the Commons

Hound and stream


Words: Ursula K. Le Guin's "Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?" can be found in The World Spit Open (Tin House Books, 2014); it also appears, in an altered form, in Le Guin's essay collection The Wave in the Mind (Shambhala, 2004). Both books are recommended. The first Woolf quote can be found in The Letters of Vita Sackville West & Virginia Woolf, edited by Mitchell Alexander Leaska (Cleis Press, 2004); the second in Moments of Being (Mariner Books, 1985). 

Pictures: The etchings above are by Bill Yardley (1940-2012), an artist inspired by life on his Warwickshire farm.

All rights to the text & images above reserved by authors & artists, or their estates.


Thank you for sharing this, Terri. I was seeking some larger direction for the coming day, and now I find it curling up to meet me, in a pattern I had not thought to find.

Beneath the Boat

Beneath the boat of story
lies the pond,river, sea.
The rhythms of the water
rock my boat, carry it forward,
into the world.

Steer too hard
against the swells,
oar jammed into the sand,
I wallow, weighed down
by words, by other matters.

But if I let the water
take me where it will,
slip sideways through the stream,
if I let the rhythm of tide
dictate the telling,

I can come back
from the long journey
refreshed, renewed,
and in my hand
the spiral shell of a poem.

©2917 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

A deep sigh of utter contentment expands my breathing as I feast on these images and words until each inhale comes slowly up from the depths of me and, like a Mother sheep relieved at the return of her lost one, exhales itself completely.

What welcome green healing this rainy morning in Manhattan.
Than you.

Yes! This is my very favorite passage in all of Ursula Le Guin's essays; I have it on my writing wall! I have found no truer description either of where story and poetry and art come from. This ancient and earthen rhythm. Often when I am writing now I check to see if I am in that rhythm or not... though when you need to check, you probably aren't! :) Thank you for sharing this here, Terri. x Sylvia

I was reading this post this morning, gazing at the photo of the Mama and her babe reunited on the hillside, when my 8-year-old came up behind me and said, "That would be a really fun picture to draw." He's gone off to his grandparents' house for a couple days now while I finish my grading for the semester, but when he gets back, I plan to sit down with him and try some drawings of your sheep. You never know whom you will inspire, or how the inspiration will flow.

Thanks, as always, for your words and images.

Yes, indeed, I looked forward to this post written, and lost, while tired. I woke in the very morning hour with birds singing the sun, "This way." Their rhythm, their melody tuned me to the day. Your post held safe in Trickster's nest over the weekend was just what I needed to affirm the ever present weave of the storyteller's melody.

I have a project that will need to be done in the deep waters where my heart knows without looking at the words;where thrashing at the current will only bring exhaustion. YES! to Jane for your beautiful poem and the shell of a spiral that is sitting in my hand now because I know I will need to be up-ended from my boat to find it the spiral's long tale. Thank you, Jane. Thank you, Terri, Ursula Le Guin and Virginia Wolfe.

This came from thinking of "tunes in the air, "stories waiting in the rock," and all of it driven by an undercurrent of rhythm that guides and pours into a voice of expressive words. A montage of Ursuala Le Guin's ideas and now, Virginia Woolfe. Plus, the fact that I bought a pair of spirit bells, an iron caste bird atop a chain of flowers, meant to summon winds of good luck and spirits to bless the garden with a bloom of healing beauty. I felt they had another purpose.

Spirit Bells

On a whim,
I ring them.
The sound beautiful
as an iron-cast bird & chain of flowers
summon green spirits
who will replenish our garden.

The old woman who sold the bells
swore this was true.
And how could she lie
being from an ancient tribe, selling her stuff
from a back road stand
only the locals know?
The bells blessed
and handcrafted by her people -- though
I suspect they were shipped from Tibet.

But for now, I want them to drown
the silence , dispel any dull
ideas and awaken
what stories rest in the rock, the field
a rivulet
left by the evening rain.
that when cleared lets you see

the moon's eyelid
rippling into shadows, What the shaman
might call emerging dreams
from a long fast.

Instead, the metal wren
stares back as if
she's trying to tell me why
the willow lives in this high place
that has little water

or the heron fishes
in a desert pond
that yields only sunken
golf balls and plastic tees.

Each species
out of its habitat.

Each imagining
it can survive
because it has strong roots to grasp
or a sharp beak to probe

the rhythm
of survival without, the risk
of trusting instinct.

The tree will find enough moisture,
the bird will gulp more
than reflection, The poet will write
something unexpected --

that enters the soul of her yard.
Thank you, so much Teri
for these wonderful writings, they have deeply touched and inspired me!

Take care

Hi Jane

What could be more perfect than "the boat of story", vessel that journeys into all kinds of possible themes but first is kept afloat by the rhythms of water, the rhythms of spirit consisting of strength and elemental memory. I love the thought progression of this poem, it allows the reader's mind to flow with it into the beautiful conclusion

But if I let the water
take me where it will,
slip sideways through the stream,
if I let the rhythm of tide
dictate the telling,

I can come back
from the long journey
refreshed, renewed,
and in my hand
the spiral shell of a poem.

We must trust the current that carries us and trust that it will give us the words.

Love this,
Thank you

This is why I love Ms Woolf sooooo much... She gets 'IT', and somehow works out how to verbalize it. She has articulated my thoughts for decades now. Her works are as fresh and relevant today as when she wrote them, for 'IT' is beyond time.
Thank you for this - and for all the lovely sheep :) x

As ever, my great thanks, Wendy, for your always positive response to my poems.



Now I have that lovely re-image (re-imagined?) in my head of you standing there with the spiral shell in your hand.


Wow--that "moon's eyelid" has no entered my vocabulary.

And I want to be around each time you "write something unexpected that enters the soul of your yard. . .


Loved this post!

I'm very grateful that you resurrected this post after if flew off into air the other day. It has seeded some deep musing in me. I'm thinking about a lot, one thing is the concept of the patterners or pattern seers (?) in Le Guin's Earthsea Trilogy, and how that somehow relates to Woolf's A Sketch of the Past. I read Earthsea long ago and might need to re-read... the idea that there are people wired to read and see the patterns is deeply resonant with me. How Woolf wrote of it is different but the same, I think? Need to head off and ponder a bit. Thanks!

PS This is a particularly inspiring trail of comments to follow... it has been a while since I've had the time to sink into reading them. Now I'm wondering what amazing threads of conversation I've missed!

This is a cosmic bell you have rung for me, turning me, tuning me:
"Each imagining
it can survive
because it has strong roots to grasp
or a sharp beak to probe ..."
Your poem offers such hope, I love it. Thank you Wendy.

Hi Jane

Your very kind and gracious words regarding this poem are greatly appreciated! I am glad you enjoyed this and deeply appreciate you taking an interest in reading my stuff!

Take care

Hi Mokihanna

"Cosmic Bell", I absolutely love that! Thank you so much for reading my poem and sharing your beautiful impressions. I am so glad you could relate!

My Best

"An ancient earthen rhythm" as Sylvia said...I suddenly feel very aware, and ready to face my own blank page again, to meet the universe half way. Wise words from very wise women. Thank you, Terri.

I had fallen behind on my Myth and Moor reading and discovered today that you'd been posting Le Guin just as I'd been reading The Wave in the Mind. What a lovely connection and coincidence. And yes, that cotton wool quote has been a favorite of mine for many many years. Thank you.

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