The Muse Part 1

H._A._Brendekilde_-_A_wooded_path_in_autumn_(1902)

A Wooded Path in Autumn by H.A. Brendekilde.

 

Jean Francois was at a loss for words, literally. The poet renowned all throughout France had been composing poems since he was six-years old. His poems weren’t just stanzas or lines of words, but verbal pictures enlivening the senses. Born a prodigy, he had a gift for weaving words together into a beautiful sunset or of a terror waiting in the dungeons of Paris. He could capture the tender feelings of a mother for her child or the fear of a soldier upon the battlefields. His pen was both an angelic finger touching the hearts of all his readers, and a cold draft of wind causing them discomfort. It had seemed like the master poet’s mind would always be a fountain of ideas, gushing ink out of his indefatigable pen, raining words onto paper. But such was not the case.

It had been five years in which Jean had been unable to tap in into the fountain of creativity. Through these years he grew despondent, but tried to live the best he could within the city of Paris. He had enough money live off of from sales of his past work. But it wasn’t about the money. Certainly he was grateful that he had enough to live off of, but what was the point on continuing to live if he couldn’t continue on with his passion? Food, drink, and shelter could sustain his physical health, but only his poetry could sustain the cravings of his soul. He had been starving creatively for so long now.

Then, she arrived.

She arrived when he was taking a stroll in the park. The poet saw her. She was wearing a yellow bonnet, brighter than a summer day, and a dress, green like a field in spring. Despite the colors of the clothing, they weren’t the fanciest clothes. Yet she carried herself with such confidence that would befit a queen. Jean was perplexed that no one else noticed the beauty that had sprung among them, everyone preoccupied in their own daily tasks.

Then he noticed that she was making her way towards him and he grew nervous. With eyes fixed on him, like an arrow that had found it’s mark, he wondered if she was coming to berate him for staring. He thought of some way he could apologize to her, but he had nothing to say. It was ironic. The famed poet was an exceptional genius when it came to expressing himself in poetry, but when it came to everyday speech and communication, he was clueless.

“Are you Jean Francois?” the woman asked him.

“Yes,” the poet said. “How did you know?”

“I know because my intuition tells me that you need inspiration,” she said. “Besides, I am in love with your prose, Jean Francois. The way the words flow across the page, the way the prose touches my heart. For instance” she said quoting one of his best loved poems….

In a cell of my own making, your flowers bloom

               Changing hell into paradise, as it ushers out the gloom.

               Though I was confined to darkness dead

               You are the sun, in which from your light I’m fed.

               For not all of God’s angels have wings

               Of his whole heavenly choir that sings

               But they are still angels, unlocking the cell with a key

               Allowing your heart to fly free.

 

“Why would you love that one?” asked Jean. “It’s not even one of my bests. Also, what do you mean I called out to you? Who are you?”

“It’s not for any artist to make a judgement which one of their works is the best,” said the woman. “That’s up to each and every individual who is in love with their craft. As for who I am, my name is Aednat. Now, tell me, does your soul not grow weary in the city?”

“I think so,” said Jean, embarrassed of giving such a simplistic answer. Of course he was bored of Paris! And normally he’d write down his feelings upon paper so eloquently, if not for the writer’s block. He was tired of the sounds of the clattering of horse hooves and carriages upon the cobblestone roads, of crowds walking down the streets like cattle, and of the public drunkenness and belligerence.

Yet she had asked a good question, although she didn’t state it asking him why he hadn’t communed with nature for the last eight years. The truth was he didn’t know. Maybe, even though he was uncomfortable in the city, he had still grown too accustomed to the comforts it offered with the fine wine, the rich food, the theater, and the concerts. Still, looking into his heart, he knew that he certainly did miss the beautiful countryside, its woods and creeks.

“Has it occurred to you,” continued Aednat, “that the reason you have lost your inspiration is because of the city?”

“I didn’t think,” –

“Say no more, Jean. What you need is a holiday in the countryside.”

“I’m not disposed to at the moment,” Jean said nervously.

“What important appointments do you have in your current life?”

Jean had nothing to say. He had nothing of paramount importance in his life. It’s just that he was never good talking to people, particularly women. The fact that she was a beautiful woman, not just physically, but personally, made him all the more uncomfortable. He feared he might say something stupid.

“I would rather go to the countryside by myself,” he ventured timidly.

“Nonsense,” said Aednat, taking him by the hand. “I, along with millions of others, have fallen under the spell of your beautiful poetry. Surely the most gifted Monsieur Francois can find it in his heart to socialize with the common folk.”

“But that’s the problem,” said Jean. “You’re not common.”

“Oh, then it shouldn’t be a difficulty for you to join me,” she laughed while pulling him along.

Before Jean knew it, he was on a carriage leaving Paris with Aednat. For the first part of the journey he could only look at his feet. But she gradually helped him out of his shell. She had a picnic basket full of sandwiches and grapes, as well as a bottle of champagne to share and a couple glasses to pour it in.

It was hard to tell whether it was the gregarious nature of Aednat or the champagne that put Jean at ease, but eventually the poet was laughing and talking more freely. “I am unsure as to what made me write poetry in the first place,” he said. “But perhaps it helps me connect more with reality.”

“I think most would say the same about their art,” agreed Aednat, who had sat across from him prior was now sitting right by him.

“Come to think of it,” continued Jean with a hiccup, “I’m not sure why I haven’t gone to the woods in such a long time. When I was a boy, I lived out in the countryside with my father, a hardworking farmer. My mother had passed away when I was eight-years old, and my father always resented me for having lived and her for having died. He never liked children much. Sometimes he would hit me or yell at me for his misfortune. But my mother, oh she was different. Before she died, she gave me a special notebook that she had saved up for with her money. See, I wrote my first poem when I was six, and everyone said it was the work of a prodigy. So she encouraged, no, she made me promise to keep up with my writing. After her death, I kept away from my belligerent father as much as possible, finding solitude in the woods by the creek as I wrote down my poetry.”

“It sounds like you had difficult life,” said Aednat, giving his hand a squeeze.

“Difficult is right,” sighed Jean. “I was sport of by the other children. Perhaps it was jealousy or maybe they just thought I was strange since I wasn’t like them. Either way, I didn’t have a beautiful life with my father who thought poetry was a waste of time, and I certainly didn’t have anyone my age as friends who loved nature. Nature was my temple, my solitude.”

“Why then did you ever choose to live in Paris?” asked Aednat.

“My editor and my publishing firm asked me to,” shrugged the poet. “They were tired of the long waits when it came to mailing my manuscripts. In time though, I grew to love aspects of city life, such as good food, performing arts, and galleries. But now that I think about it, my soul has missed the gentle company of the woods.”

“And I think the woods will do more for you than you can imagine,” acknowledged Aednat.

“Now, tell me, I beg of you, where are you from?” asked Jean. “You don’t have a French accent in the least. Your accent sounds Irish.”

“This is true,” affirmed Aednat. She took off her bonnet. Bright red hair cascaded down her shoulders, like a waterfall in the sunset. And for the first time, since she removed her bonnet, Jean noticed that there were freckles upon her cheeks. He wasn’t sure why hadn’t noticed them before. Perhaps the shadows had covered them. “I’m from Dublin, Ireland,” she said.

“And what brings you to France?”

“France is a land of writers, artists, musicians, actors, and overall dreamers. In truth, I don’t think I chose France, but France chose me to be a muse. I lived in what many would call poverty, but I was never poor. Like you, I had nature to commune with. But unlike you, I had a loving family my whole life who always supported me. I am terribly sorry about the loss of your mother and the abuse from your father.”

“I let is sleep in the past unless I’m asked. It’s not a big deal, Aednat. I am curious as to how you made it to France.”

“It wasn’t easy, my dear Jean. But a wife of one of the farmers nearby was French, and she taught me how to speak the language. It’s how I discovered your poetry, which opened up a whole new world for me, in which I saw greater beauty in life. I said to myself that if France could produce someone of such a stellar spirit, I had to go meet him for myself.”

“I’m touched,” Jean was at a loss for words.

“So I saved every penny to make it here,” she said proudly. “Eventually I was able to take a ship to France, and I have since fallen in love with it, just as much as I have fallen in love with your poetry.

For the rest of the trip, Jean became so at ease with this gregarious Irish woman that it didn’t seem long until the carriage reached its destination. Upon disembarking, Jean paid the coachman some francs, and Aednat fed the horses some carrots she had in the basket.

After the coachman gave his word that he would wait, the two of them headed into the groves of trees. Jean was unprepared for the overwhelming wave of nostalgia that overcame him, reminding him of simpler times when the woods were his true friends, before he was beguiled by the false charms of the city. As he pondered over the matter, Aednat ran out and spun herself in circles around the trees. Jean watched her fall into the orange and yellow leaves as she took a deep breath of the fresh autumn air. Following suit, he also drank down the air, finding it to smell more intoxicating than a freshly opened bottle of fine wine. Drunk off the aroma of the crisp autumn season, he followed her lead and crashed into the leaves right by her.

“Do you smell that that sweet smell?” asked Aednat.

“Yes, indeed I do,” said Jean. “For it’s not just the smell of the autumn woods, but of my childhood. Sometimes I wish I could have had other children to share it with.”

“Then let’s be children again,” she took him by the hand, and pulled him up. “Just for the day.”

For the next three hours, Jean was climbing trees with her. Atop, he saw a stunning panorama of gold and red in all directions. He walked with her, barefoot, in creeks of water, in which she would sometimes giggle as she splashed cold water on him. In turn, he would splash cold water back at her.

When they were tired of climbing trees and walking through the woods, the two of them laid side by side under the trees as evening approached. The setting sun transmuted the leaves of yellow into glowing molten gold like an alchemic formula. The setting sun turned the leaves of red and orange into a brilliant blaze without a fire. Yet the air around them was fresh and growing cold. Aednat cuddled close to Jean, providing him warmth.

“Is this not better for your soul than the city?” she asked softly.

“It is,” agreed the poet. “I feel invigorated.”

Aednat nodded, and then stood up and stretched. Jean watched her walk towards a grove of trees as a rush of wind caused the bright, red strands of her hair to flutter in unison with the red leaves that were flying about her like beautiful butterflies. Her yellow dress was accentuated by the red and yellow sky.

“Can one truly get any closer to Heaven than this?” she asked. “Come join me, Jean!”

Once Jean walked over, Aednat took him by the hand. He gulped, feeling his heart beat rapidly.

“Now, with our hands together, let’s lift them up in the air,” she said.

“Just the hands we are holding?”

“No our other hands, too. We’re going close our eyes and pretend, while the wind blows against us, that we are birds flying together over the hills.”

Jean closed his eyes, and as the wind blew against him, he saw a vison of them flying over the hills. In his mind, they were passing over farmlands, chateaus, old castles, and mountains. The two of them were birds with nothing to keep them attached to the ground, free to soar wherever they wished.

Jean was surprised to find himself briefly lifted off his feet by Aednat, and then twirled by her, before she clasped one hand on his shoulder and another in his hand.

“I’m so happy I could just dance,” she said. “Don’t you feel similar?”

“I’ve never danced before.”

“Then I’d be happy to teach you. Put your right hand on my back.”

When the poet stalled, she moved his right hand to her lower back.

“Now, just follow my lead,” she said.

He did so but not without feeling awkward about it. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“You’re doing magnificent,” she encouraged him.

Magnificent? He doubted it! She was leading him in a waltz, and he was tripping over his own feet. Once he even fell down, taking her with him. When he tried to apologize, she only laughed heartily. Her laugh was a sweet, caring voice, echoing with joy, like a fairy creature throughout the woods. She even had the audacity to pull him back to his feet again and urge him to continue on.

As the dance progressed, he found that he was indeed getting better.

“Aednat, I’m” – he started before she cut him off.

“Don’t say anything,” she whispered. “Just pay attention to the surroundings.”

Jean took her advice as they continued to waltz. Leaves floated down, like pages of gold, from the trees around them that rose up tall, like pillars within a ballroom. Except, the woods were more elegant than any ballroom. The woods were where nature did its dance of life.

Feeling more confident, Jean dipped Aednat downwards. In turn, Aednet lifted one of her legs in the air and tilted her head back. Her bright red hair swept across the carpet of gold and fire. For a brief moment, he looked into her eyes to find that they mirrored a galaxy full of endless possibilities. Who was this woman?

The dance continued until the moon cast its glow upon the forest. It was then that Aednat ended the dance by kissing Jean upon the forehead. “You dance divinely,” she said.

On the way back in the carriage, Jean was in awe over the events of the day. Emotions, profound and powerful, were welling up inside of him.

“Aednat, when will I see you again?”

“You will see me every fall amongst the trees. You will see me in your poetry.  But you won’t see me again like this,” she told him, not unkindly.

“Why ever not?” he asked in shock. “Did I do something to dishonor you?”

“No, nothing of the sort. I have had a lovely time with you. But there are others who are in need of a muse, and I must be a muse to them as well. I have accomplished what I set out to do. I have awakened your soul. Now, it’s time for you to write poetry again.”

“But I can’t write it without you,” he protested.

“You have written it without me for years because of all of the different facets of life that inspired you. I was only one inspiration out of many. Now I must go and re-inspire other artists.”

The poet looked down, broken-hearted, unable to look at Aednat. She took a seat by him and gently held him in her arms.

“Be not full of sorrow,” she said, her voice as gentle as her touch. “Don’t you see? Not only are you able to write again, but I have coaxed you out of your shell. There are many wonderful woman out there who will be blessed to meet you. Stop withdrawing yourself. You will continue to bless people with your poetry, but now also with your company. Would you refuse me the right to awaken or reawaken the art within others as I have for you?”

“No, of course not,” said Jean. “That would be selfish.”

She clutched his hand. “You are amazing, Jean. I enjoyed our time together. Good things will happen to you. And truth be told, I will miss you, just as you’ll miss me. I will always love you, but I must go.” And with these words she kissed him on the cheek.

Back at his Parisian apartment, Jean toiled on a new poem. By lantern light, he poured out all the tender feelings and passions from his heart on paper, forming verses that bespoke of the enchantment of dancing with a fairy princess among the golden leaves, under trees of marble against the setting sun. He concluded it with the pain of such a moment slipping out of his life. It was the most powerful poem he had ever written. It burned painfully on paper just as it burned in his heart.

The next morning, Jean submitted his poem for publication. His readers were ecstatic to see another poem from Jean Francois after five years of silence. But upon reading his latest work, they were overwhelmed with feelings of both happiness and melancholy. For the poet’s words awoke in their hearts memories of joy and loss.

Jean Francois was never without ideas from then on.

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