June 2, 2024

Prompt: Animism

In the British Museum” is a poem by Thomas Hardy. It is in the form of a dialogue between two museum-goers looking at the base of a pillar that comes from the hill of Areopagus, in Athens. The object seems to be more than what meets the eye. It is animated by the human souls that have lived near it, travelled through it.

The first visitor is skeptical and wonders what his companion sees, or rather hears, “in that time-touched stone”, where he himself sees only “ashen blankness.” And the companion, who knows “but little”, says he can hear the voice of Paul, the apostle, preaching to the crowds of Athens, echoing through the stone.

This idea of the echo is rendered through the repetition of the phrase “the voice of Paul” in the fourth and seventh quatrains, closing the poem.

Is there some life force passed on to the artifact? This can be called animism which is defined as as the attribution of a living soul or energy to inanimate objects. Without going too deeply into animism, we can say that this word from Latin anima meaning "breath, spirit, life" comes from an ancient belief that objects can possess a distinct spiritual essence. This is a metaphysical belief which focuses on the supernatural universe. But it still exists to some degree today.

A friend shows me her grandmother’s ring that she wears and that she feels connects her to her grandmother. A woman shows me the ceramic bowls she created in her pottery classes and tells me about preparing and centering the clay. She explains how this process requires "becoming one with the clay." New age, pseudoscience or can materials be infused with energy during the creative process?

For our July issue, we are seeking poems that explore the idea of inanimate objects and places having (or appearing to have to someone) an energy, soul, spirit or life from the people who came in contact with it during their lives. You don't have to be a "believer." Think of how Hardy uses two voices to express two points of view about this inanimate animus.


Thomas Hardy's first love was always poetry. But it was not until he was 58 years old, having already established his reputation with 14 novels, including Far from the Madding Crowd, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and Jude the Obscure, that his first book of poetry, Wessex Poems was published. For the final 30 years of his life, he abandoned fiction and devoted himself entirely to poetry. Hardy's poetry was acclaimed by younger poets (particularly the Georgians) who viewed him as a mentor.

Follow this blog for all things poetry.
To see our past prompts and more than 300 issues,
visit our website at poetsonline.org

No comments:

Post a Comment

* * All comments must be approved by the site administrator before appearing in order to prevent spam.