Satisfying Wanderlust even in Lockdown: “Trance Mapping” as fulfilling exercise routine for optimised mood

When we exercise, there is a release of the chemicals that encourage us to form a mental map of valued places, such as BDNF and dopamine. This makes total sense if you think about the evolutionary hunter-gatherer context, where extended exercise meant being out and about in the landscape, probably looking for food or finding the way home after obtaining food. That exercise should be associated with the chemicals that encourage the generation of new brain cells makes perfect sense – we ranged over vast areas and success was dependent on forming a mental map of useful places in that landscape, and of routes between them. So when we were exercising, our brains lit up.  

That the neurotransmitters associated with good mood were also mobilised by exercise and mental map-formation also makes sense. Predominantly the landmarks in these mental maps were places of positive association. Here, berries could be found. There, nuts were available. This place had a fresh water source. That place had fruit. And so on. Emotions are required for the formation of strong memories; that’s how our brains know whether something is important enough to commit to long-term memory. So to form these mental maps full of places of positive association, it was necessary for the neurotransmitters, hormones and endorphins of good mood to be mobilised when we were out and about, ready to assist with the formation of a sense of value for a particular place at a moment’s notice.   

There are two ingredients right there for optimal mood: movement and the construction and reinforcement of mental maps of places of positive association. If you combine physical exertion with the creation and reinforcement of the memory of the routes connecting valued locations, it’s very likely you’ll get a mood lift. Apart from anything else, you stimulate those positive associations and feelings. In fact, we’re kind of a shadow of a real selves without it, we need it. That desire to go walkabout has a name: wanderlust. 

And we discovered that we could put those two things together in a different ways and still achieve the same result of elevated mood. We didn’t have to be out in the vast expanses of the open plains. We could do it from the comfort of camp. The exercise could be in the form of dance, and the exploration of the landscape could be undertaken in the mind’s eye – a spirit journey. And so you get the trance dance. And it had its own place in the evolutionary journey because it kept us fit and helped reinforce our memory of the landscape, both of which had advantages. Trance dancing combined with spirit journeys is so ubiquitous in human cultures because it actually became a hardwired ability. And it still is. 

Nowadays, for a series of locations with positive association, we needn’t limit ourselves to places where edible berries grow. It can be something more subtle. It may just be a place you like for aesthetic reasons. You might just feel drawn to a place for some reason you can’t put your finger on. It might evoke some spiritual sensation. You might have developed a fondness for it because of happy memories of times spent there with friends or family. Or it could be that you’ve immersed yourself in the mythology of certain sacred sites. We have this ability to conceive of the landscape in terms of special places and the journeys that lead to them, with sacred sites joined by pilgrimage routes, songlines, ley lines.  

And here’s a pattern we can still follow:  

  1. First, explore the landscape, cultivating a sense of value, gladness, fondness, meaningful connection with sites within it, allowing a mythologised conception to develop. 

2. Then, develop a system of connectivity that joins these sites mentally. 

3. Finally, from the comfort of your home, dance to trance-inducing music and when the trance-joy starts coming on, let it expand by heading out in your mind’s eye to travel those routes around the landscape, visiting those valued places.  

The system of connectivity doesn’t actually have to consist of real-world routes – it can be an intellectual connection, such as a geometric pattern. The simplest example would be the straight line – as with a ley line – where an actual road or path does not exist but an alignment of sites does, whether or not there is any historical aspect to this alignment, or whether it is a charismatically romanticised coincidence – it works either way. More complex geometries can be developed too that allow the positive sense of value to resonate around the pattern.  

Trance Mapping is a practice in which I have developed a keen interest. The three blog sites I have on the go each deal with a particular aspect of it:

i) HowCurious! is primarily concerned with mythologised landscapes and schemes of interconnection that weave them into a unified plan.

ii) The Confessions of a Hungry Dawn Raver is all about an effective method for Trance Dancing without drugs (unless you count coffee).

iii) The Glory of Glad is focused on cultivating value, amplifying gratitude.

Put them together and you have Trance Mapping – a method for optimising mood so effective it can be thought of almost as a spiritual practice.  

The current situation at the time of writing – lockdown to halt the Coronavirus – might limit our physical exploration of sites out in the field, but it can be used as a time to focus on those trance dance spirit journeys. Dancing to trance music, you let the joy build and the normal thoughts fade away as you focus on the music, and then out you go in your mind’s eye. Don’t waste this time watching fitness instructors taking you through workouts on YouTube when you could be flying with the gods. 

There’s plenty more to read / see / listen to on this:

For an index of my explorations of mythologised landscapes, see here.

To look at a particular example that works up to a mythologised scheme for the entire globe, follow the chain starting here.

There’s a video that covers some of it here:

For a piece about my method for effective trance dancing, Hungry Dawn Raving, see here.

For a spoken word video of poem about Hungry Dawn Raving see here.

For a spoken word video of a poem reliving at rest the joy of expeditions, routes on maps, ancient sacred sites and wanderlust, see here.


And for a series of posts in how to cultivate gratitude by keeping a poetic gratitude journal, see here.

An Ode to Herbs (spoken word / video)

I

For aromatic oils in herbs and shrubs
Let thanks rise to the gods, from whence they fell
When one but holds the leaves and gently rubs
There issues forth a mystic, fragrant smell
   The living plants will ornament
      A tended garden plot
The plants will then provide yet further gifts
   For sprigs of these ingredients
   When added to the cooking pot
         The taste uplifts

II

Hellenic folk in golden ages old
These perfumes of the plants sought to explain
With stories down the generations told
Of how such shrubs some pretty nymph contain
   How when Apollo yearned to kiss
      Sweet Daphne, she, forlorn
With all speed did attempt to run away
   Then saving metamorphosis
   The pretty maiden did transform
         To odorous bay

III

O Sage! O Thyme! O Rosemary! I praise
Your power to boost our health, our pain to ease
Our memory to strengthen, moods to raise
Our sense of sight and smell and taste to please
   It must have been  when we first burnt
      Dry incense, or with mint
We first less pleasant tastes and smells disguised
   That we, now that at last we’d learnt
   To add a subtle herbal hint
         Were civilised

A Delicate Dose of Delusion: Completing the Circle by Receiving Reciprocation

This blog has focused so far on sending out the gratitude you feel for the Universe, but I thought I’d look here at receiving the gratitude the Universe feels for you, because this is all part of the same thing – the circle of Grace, as represented by those three goddesses dancing in a circle. Receiving the concomitant reciprocation of likes from the Universe refills your creativity tanks ready for the next project. It genuinely is a circle because receiving the gratitude back will help you give better things going forward.

Now, you can’t force people to like your stuff, and that’s not what I’m going to focus on here. Rather, I’m going to be looking at hacking into the hardwired response we have in us that triggers the state of feeling liked.

When we meditate, we create a safe haven for the mind. In that space, because we’re focusing on what we’re thinking, we’re able to let go of thoughts we don’t want. This is what creates the safe haven. In Buddhist thought, meditation takes you into the Pure Land, imagined as a symmetrical, geometric mandala representing a fortress whose strong walls keep the forces of chaos outside. As you let go of thoughts that create stress, or which limit your self-image and dampen your mood, it’s natural that your mood will lift.

So meditation is already a safe-haven for self-image, and what I’m talking about here is just a more specific example of this. It’s amazing how tied up mood is with self-image, and it’s also surprising just how tied up human self-image tends to be with what other people think. We evolved that way, of course, to make society work. Think of the buzz you get when you’ve made something and people think it’s amazing. The Reward System gives you big treats in the form of considerably elevated mood. Think of the massive buzz popular musicians used to get when getting to the top of the hit parade back when that counted for something, i.e. when singles was a thing. Think of the uncontrollable smiles of the Beatles when they first met an audience that couldn’t’ contain how much they like them. This is my interpretation of the Simon and Garfunkel song Cecelia. St Cecelia is the patron saint of music, so when he’s down on his knees begging her to come home, or finding that someone else has taken his place, that means his songs aren’t doing so well. But when she comes back and he sings: “Jubilation, she loves me again, I fall on the floor and I’m laughing” – that’s the big buzz when the songs start doing well again.

But it’s your reward system that’s doing it. I’m not saying that there’s not also a transpersonal giving and receiving on the etheric planes – of course there is. But you are still the master of what hardwired response gets triggered. So why not hack into it? In an evolutionary tribal context, this treat is triggered because you’ve just made a good hut, or something like that. Grateful, congratulatory compliments from other tribe members trigger a response which feels great. We evolved to be like that because it made us into good hut builders, digging stick makers, spear makers, etc., all of which gave the evolutionary advantage. This of course is a potential added bonus for your gratitude odes, i.e. having created something good in the form of a poem, you might get some appreciative noises coming back to you, and this might trigger a further elevation of mood, beyond the expression of gratitude itself.

But what if, for whatever reason, such noises don’t come back? There’s any number of reasons why they might not. In the modern context where the made thing has become cultural, there are many different tastes and there’s a lot of subjectivity and most people are not time rich and the market place is flooded with competing attention grabbers including the media and shiny new electronic devices, and concentration spans are not what they were, and so on. You might write what you think is a great gratitude poem, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the World will reflect that, or even find a chance to give it the attention it needs.

Yet, it seems silly if you know it’s good that you don’t feed your own thoughts in as a replacement, hack the system, make the hardwired response work for you – create a safe haven for self-image. While the question for this book as a whole has been: “How can we harness the heavenly power of the ode?”, the question in this chapter is: “How can we activate a state that mimics the honeymoon period of success where the serotonin sluice gates are wide open?” The response may be ‘hardwired’ but the trigger is soft, because it’s mental, a perceived state of affairs. Anything that’s all-in-the-mind ought to be hackable.

Clearly a balance is needed here. We don’t want to suffer the ill effects of walking off into cloud cuckoo land. This balance can be reached with a little checklist. First, make sure you do actually think the thing is great yourself, and are not just pretending. Also, continue to pay some attention to feedback, but with a glass half full attitude, assuming the best where there is silence or ambiguity, and shrugging off criticism with generous assumptions along the lines of “they must be having a bad day.” Thirdly, avoid big-headedness by constantly cultivating a sense of deep gratitude about your success (external or internal).

This is what I’m interested in and working on at the time of writing and I have the feeling that the more I master this balance, the more I’ll have life licked.

So how can we tap into this? I’ve done a bit of experimenting and have had some positive results, so I thought I’d share a few suggestions. The surprise for me was that maintaining this feeling made me feel like being creative. It’s an addition to your meditation, in the form of a visualisation designed to trigger that feeling. But I want to make clear, and this is kind of crucial, that this is not ‘Creative Visualisation’ – you’re not visualising something that you want to happen in the future. The purpose of it is right in the present – to trigger the feeling. Then once it’s triggered, you’ll then shift your focus on to that feeling, and work out how to protect, maintain and amplify it, coming back to the visualisation as and when you need to if the feeling needs re-triggering. 

There’s lots of things you could visualise. A good tip is to apply the Buddhist principle of non-duality – dissolving barriers between self and other, so you can resonate with the feeling of successes embodied in all well made things, by transpersonal morphic resonance, a painting, a poem, a cathedral, a teapot – whatever. Image you’re the one up on stage with an appreciative crowd, not because you’re becoming a denizen of loony land, but just to get a sense of what it feels like, and then work out how to get that feeling just by willing it.

The visualisation doesn’t need to be excessive and you don’t have to be delusional for very long. You are going to be delusional here just for a bit, to get the ball rolling. A deliberately delivered delicate dose of delusion. This particular visualisation is designed to be used as part of the process of being a poet, and so it has that as a theme. You can use it when you’ve finished a poem and not yet started a new one.

I find this a good visualisation to do during an afternoon siesta – I’m not entirely sure why. What you’ll do is imagine yourself at the site of Delphi, but it’s all come back to life as it was in the Golden Age of Athens – the temples are all standing in all their glory. This was the site on the side of Mount Parnassus in Greece where there was a great temple of Apollo, the leader of the Muses, and where there were great poetry competitions every eight years. There was no higher honour for a poet. You’re going to image a scene like the one in Poussin’s painting Parnassus.

In this painting, Poussin depicted a poet receiving the highest of honours. Muses are gathered round, and one of them places a laurel wreath on his head, a mark of honour, as with the idea of a poet laureate – i.e. a poet wearing a laurel crown. Other poet laureates are gathered round, watching on with respect and admiration. The very god Apollo gives the poet a drink from a sacred golden vessel. This is at once a reward, a reciprocation for good work, as well as a draught of inspiration for future works, and the two are indeed closely linked. We can say it represents a refilling or a refuelling. It’s believed the figure being crowned in the painting was actually Poussin’s early patron, the poet Marino. So Poussin was mixing real people from his contemporary life with an image of gods and goddesses in Golden Age Greece, which sets a perfect precedent for us to do the same.

The idea, then, is that you are going to imagine yourself in such a scenario, as the one being crowned with laurel, and watching on you will imagine peers and other figures whose opinion you most respect, and those from whom you most crave recognition. For a bit of fun, you could even Photoshop yourself in Marino’s place, as I have done here:

Poussin’s The Laureate Coronation of William Glyn-Jones

If you’re the sort of person who complains that you’re “not very good at visualising things” then what I would recommend is simply that you focus on fleshing out the details, and ask yourself what might greet your senses. The trickling of the sacred spring, the smell of the incense, the sound of the cicadas, a warm breeze on the face, the Mediterranean sunshine on your skin, and so on. Somewhere a dove is cooing.    

There’s something else you can image here. You know how on Facebook where someone is streaming a video live and you see like and love emoticon symbols floating across the screen? You can image a shower of these cascading down over you, as I’ve shown in the above image. Not excessive amounts – but enough to trigger that feeling.

Once you notice the feeling – being liked, appreciated, your talent being recognised – now focus on maintaining and expanding it. If it drops away, what was the thought that just diminished it? Release that thought – let it drift away. Work out how to groove with this pleasant feeling. A groove is a repeating rhythm that’s fun to dance to. With the first few repetitions the groovy feeling is not very strong, but as it repeats it gets stronger. That’s the nature of getting into a groove. You want to work out how to do that with this feeling that you’ve triggered – staying with it that allows it to grow a little with each breath. 

If find yourself wanting to make the cascade of like emoticons excessive, it could be a sign of an insecurity you’re trying to overcompensate for. If so, root that out and heal it, release the repressed emotion and move on, let it go, because this isn’t about big-headedness; it’s just about maintaining a natural cycle of flow that helps you continue being creative. Just a trickle of likes should be enough.

At the end of a session like this, see yourself getting a badge or certificate or some such to signify that you are now able to self like. Then in your day to day life if you find your mood dipping in response to perceived criticism, remember this certificate, and remember the feeling.

An English Ode – Video

That famous field where nodding poppies sway
In sunlit grass, where Souls of all the good
Spend sweet Eternity in dance and play
And with the gods, take Beauty as their food
Upon the isle across the sea
That circles all the mortal world
With misty waters like a castle moat –
How like must that famed meadow be
To these fair fields where late I’ve strolled
These hills and lanes, these woods, this very spot!

Was it vain pomp or blind naïveté
That made the folk of ancient Egypt style
Their image of divine Eternity
Upon their earthly land astride the Nile?
Where they might hunt in starry creeks
Beside the starry waterway
Or find in starry gardens sweet, cool shade?
Or likewise made the clan of Greeks
Use Grecian fields where grasses sway
As models for their paradisal glade?

But no, let neither supposition stand
I say, that it was rather that they paid
The greatest compliment to their dear land
When seeing Beauty there, “Divine!” they said
And so to English Summer Time
Such compliment I wish to pay
As will the praise of those old pagans match
The heaven forming in my mind
The isle to which I’ll cross one day
Has village greens and homes with roofs of thatch.

What’s Freyja’s meadow Folkvang after all 
Where valkyries take half the great and best
If not the field with rushes growing tall
Where Hathor greets arrivals in the West?
And what’s that place where Arthur dwells
Where all of Nature’s fruitful gifts
The generous soil untended freely yields –
That apple isle, which by their spells
Nine sisters shroud in faery mists – 
What’s Avalon if not the Elysian Fields? 

“An English Ode” – now with a fourth stanza

That famous field where nodding poppies sway
In sunlit grass, where Souls of all the good
Spend sweet Eternity in dance and play
And with the gods, take Beauty as their food
Upon the isle across the sea
That circles all the mortal world
With misty waters like a castle moat –
How like must that famed meadow be
To these fair fields where late I’ve strolled
These hills and lanes, these woods, this very spot!

Was it vain pomp or blind naïveté
That made the folk of ancient Egypt style
Their image of divine Eternity
Upon their earthly land astride the Nile?
Where they might hunt in starry creeks
Beside the starry waterway
Or find in starry gardens sweet, cool shade?
Or likewise made the clan of Greeks
Use Grecian fields where grasses sway
As models for their paradisal glade?

But no, let neither supposition stand
I say, that it was rather that they paid
The greatest compliment to their dear land
When seeing Beauty there, “Divine!” they said
And so to English Summer Time
Such compliment I wish to pay
As will the praise of those old pagans match
The heaven forming in my mind
The isle to which I’ll cross one day
Has village greens and homes with roofs of thatch.

What’s Freyja’s meadow Folkvang after all 
Where valkyries take half the great and best
If not the field with rushes growing tall
Where Hathor greets arrivals in the West?
And what’s that place where Arthur dwells
Where all of Nature’s fruitful gifts
The generous soil untended freely yields –
That apple isle, which by their spells
Nine sisters shroud in faery mists – 
What’s Avalon if not the Elysian Fields? 

The Quest for the Cygnet of Troy: The Duckling wasn’t ugly – She just needed a makeover

When we produce cultural works that we intend to be ‘classical’, one way to judge how successful they are is just to look at the degree to which they invoke a classical vibe. This vibe itself is something most people have probably sensed as some time, with varying degrees of subtlety. It’s not the only vibe of value, of course, but it feels uplifting and has a beautiful ambiance to it that seems to resonate back across the centuries, an aura that is rich and refined, and it provides a haven away from chaos and modernity.

If we take the classical vibe as the underlying aim, we have the basis for an exploration of questions about the necessary constituents for new classical works that we might want to produce, such as poems. How important is meter and how import is matter? In other words, is it all about structure and the flowers of rhetoric, or do we also need to draw from Greek mythology to create the best type of classical vibe? Do classical approaches to meter work when used in non-classical languages and does Greek mythology still have the resonance in other times and places that it had in Ancient Greece itself?

That meter is an effective tool in English should not be in doubt, but it’s interesting to recall that an experiment took place to reach this conclusion. The most natural way to write poetry in Anglo-Saxon was not based in the syllable-count type of metrical organisation; conversely, it allowed for quite a few syllables to be squeezed in, as long as there were a
certain number of stresses per line. When we started writing poetry that took a more syllable orientated approach, as per ancient Greek, it was quite a brave experiment. But it worked. You could argue that the result was Greeker than the Greeks, because the measured feel stood out clearly precisely because it was so clearly set apart from normal speech. It felt different, and that turned out to be a good thing in many cases.

So much for meter. But what about matter? I’ve always had a fondness for Greek mythology, but when I started travelling round Greece, and visiting the places that feature in the mythology, it went to a whole different level. I realised that there is a particular resonance that comes when these myths are at home, in the climate and flora and fauna and landscape of the Mediterranean, as well as something even more subtle and metaphysical to do with memory and tradition and mythologised landscapes… local dreamtime.

Based on such experiences I would argue that you can certainly use Greek mythology if you want to and if it feels right, but that there is a yet more resonant Holy Grail to be sought that takes local culture and landscape more sensitively into account.

A few years ago I became fascinated by the title and sub-title of a book by Barbara Hand-Clow: Signet of Atlantis: War in Heaven Bypass. The author claimed that she had channeled
this title – heard it from a voice booming in her head. A signet ring is a token of identity, and in the context of Atlantis is also refers to the concentric rings described by Plato. But I became interested in further layers of meaning that come from considering the subtitle too, War in Heaven Bypass. The title as a whole clearly meant this: to end the war in heaven, you need to find the signet of Atlantis.

I experienced a moment of shivers as an intriguing interpretation came to me, causing me to fancy that I had uncovered a meaning to this ‘channeled’ title that Barbara herself had not been aware of.  What is the war in heaven? The knee jerk response might be the one in Revelations, but that wasn’t where my intuitions lead me. It wouldn’t be the war between the gods and the giants either, as that was a war between Earth and Heaven, not a war in heaven. It must have been a rift between the gods. It had to be the Trojan War. And Barbara heard the
title – she didn’t see it written, so “signet” could easily be a pun. It could refer to identity and heritage (the signet ring) while also being “cygnet” – a child swan. After all, the cause of the Trojan War was the abdication of Helen – who was born from a swan’s egg. She was the cygnet. If the Trojan Prince Paris had found a Trojan swan maiden rather than stealing the Greek one, the war would have been bypassed. And here the story of the Ugly Duckling suddenly becomes highly relevant, a part of the picture. Ugly ducklings turn into beautiful swans. Paris chosen Helen because she seemed more beautiful, just as Greek mythology seems particularly magical and beautiful, but really this is just because She had fantastic make up artists who knew their stuff: the poets, artists, sculptors, playwrights, architects and so on. If your local mythology seems like an ugly duckling at the moment, just wait until it is transformed in the same way into a beautiful swan! The walls of Troy were said to have been built by Poseidon himself, which creates an association with Atlantis, the central citadel of which, with its rings, was likewise founded by the sea god. 

Atlantis itself has various meanings depending on your personal situation. If you are American, then you’ll be thinking of the great continent in the Atlantic ocean that Plato describes. If you’re British, or the culture of your family goes back to British roots, you will likewise be thinking of Atlantis as an Island in the Atlantic. Either way, the idea is clear: if you can find your own, local, ‘Atlantean’ equivalent of Helen, rather than stealing the Greek Helen, then you will have found the way to bypass the war in heaven. For the purposes of the current analogy, Atlantis is any non-Greek culture that seeks displace its own mythology with that of another culture, due to that other cultures’s mythology having already been beautified by means of classical structuring techniques such as rhetoric and poetic meter. The abduction of Helen followed on from Paris giving the apple to Aphrodite and, in the process, spurning Athena and Hera. In other words, he chose surface beauty over Skill/Wisdom (Athena) and Marriage / Tradition / Law / Family / Loyalty (Hera).  Helen is a kind of mortal stand in for Aphrodite, and choosing to have the affair with the foreign queen who was already married was indeed neither wise nor respectful of the institution of marriage. It was an allegorical myth from the start.

And so Helen here could also be a pun. Helen = Hellenic culture. Paris is a philhellene. He’s that Renaissance artist who is enamored by the beauty of Greek culture, but doesn’t realise that this beauty is actually the result not of the matter, but of the skill of the artists, the
time honored traditions handed down from poet to poet, and an honoring of local tradition. The Greek poets were resonating with the myths imprinted into the very landscape in which they lived. A straight abduction of Helen, displacing your own indigenous mythic matter, will not be as successful in invoking the classical vibe as working with local matter, but doing so using the same approach that the ancient poets used, the same attention to form, and
meter, and the time-proven devices of rhetoric.

All this was just theory still, at this stage. To find out whether there was any truth in it, it was obvious what I had to do. I had to have a go at taking a local myth and giving it the classical treatment. Trouble is, first you have to know what that treatment consists of. Then you have to find a suitable story to which to apply this treatment. Initially I homed in on the Irish story of Aengus and Caer, for two reasons. Firstly, of all the Celtic myths I could think of, this one seemed to be inherently the most beautiful, the least brutal and violent and brash. It seemed ideal for classical treatment, especially as the theme of animal metamorphosis had a lot in common with Greek myths. Secondly, I found what I took to be a sign, a good omen. The heroine of the story was indeed a swan-maiden. Every other year she returned to a certain lake and turned into a swan. The hero at a key moment had to pick her out from a whole lake full of swans, and managed to do so because of a gold ring round her neck – just like me picking out the Cygnet/Signet of Atlantis from the body of Celtic myth. (I’m getting those shivers again even now, over decade later, as I recall this train of logic.)

However, my first experiment was somewhat inconclusive. This was a number of years ago and I hadn’t really matured as a poet. I didn’t have a fully appreciation of what the classical treatment consists of. All I did was write up the narrative in heroic couplets, rhyming pairs of iambic pentameter. Just getting the story across within those limits seemed like challenge enough at that time, without bothering to aim for the lofty heights of great poetry. These couplets are both easy to write and to read, which is why they are often chosen to relay long narratives. It’s really only a small step up from a simple narrative. If you’re going to the pub you might change out of your joggers into some clean jeans. That’s basic, unadorned heroic couplets. But if you’re going to the ball, well then you really want to dress in your finest. That’s a Sonnet decked in rhetorical flowers, a lofty English Ode of the Pindaric tradition. It’s not hard to rattle off couplets of iambic pentameter without producing any truly great memorable lines. What was needed was a few real jewels. In a way, the problem was that I had been too ambitious in the quantity of narrative I wanted to take on. Actually, it didn’t need to tell the whole story. It could refer, as Pindar does, to a brief episode, but it must do so through some very carefully crafted and finely honed lines with  lofty language and vividness of image. Also, Ireland might have been closer to home, but it was still, for me, a borrowed culture.

More recently, I finally got round to taking the experiment further along these lines and this time the result, for me, confirmed the theory. Reading back the completed poem, it did give me a sense of a rich, resonant, magical and beautiful classical vibe – not exactly the same vibe as for the Greek tradition, but an equivalent.

The poem’s structure was more sophisticated than simple couplets. It was an ode, with three stanzas all having the same structure, with some lines having six stresses, some five, some four – and the rhyming structure was also more sophisticated than the simple A, A, B, B, but all this was done as part of a balanced plan. The imagery and language was also more carefully considered. And the matter was closer to home. It treated a Welsh myth. I live in England, but not so far form the border with Wales, and Welsh and English ancestry is very intermixed, plus Welsh culture is the descendant of pre-Anglo-Saxon British culture. In any case, it’s on the same island, at least, the same landmass. The maiden this time was Branwen, but even here there is a line of logic that can be traced that makes her a swan maiden. She was a child of the god Lir, while in an Irish myth Lir’s children were transformed into swans.

The positive result of this experiment has caused me to now consider that the theory that precipitated out of the mystery or the Quest for the Signet of Atlantis / Cygnet of Troy is correct after all, although of course not in the hyperbolic terms of the mythology. Writing poems that draw on Greek mythic matter is not actually going to cause a war in heaven, but it might cause an imbalance equivalent to the allegorical argument between the three goddesses over who should have the apple. And applying the full classical treatment to local mythology is not going to be the ultimate panacea for all the World’s problems, but I do feel that, for me at least, it opens a new door, leading to a new vista of possibilities for creativity and the classical vibe. There’s any number of indigenous myths around the World that could receive such a treatment without any sense of colonialism.

Oh and by the way, this is the poem I mentioned, the second and, to me, more successful experiment:

Gloom Breaker – an ode on the tale of the heart-healing
power of the songs of the birds of Rhiannon

I

At dim-lit dawn on Platform 1 in sombre throng 
we stand forlorn in flat, sense-numb routine 
until from trackside trees bright breaks the redbreast song: 
clear, lucent water in a crystal stream 
We tend to think that we’ll not hear 
such music at this time of year 
yet chiffchaff, thrush and finch brave Winter’s squall 
Untensing, in my mental eye 
I spread my wings; I rise and fly 
upon the soothing sound set free, and then recall 

II

how Branwen’s hope lay likewise in her feathered friend 
as she in miniature set down her news: 
‘Come soon! I, Queen of Eire am by brute force detained 
Your sister, Bran, they torture and abuse’ 
She ring-wise rolls her chosen words 
and gently takes the docile bird’s 
frail form and round a tiny leg she ties 
the note. A kiss, to wish it well 
then through the window of her cell 
releases it and skyward, swift the starling flies 

III

It lands, it sings, they read, they sail, but sail in vain: 
A fire claims her child – she can’t but grieve  
and though Bran’s fleet a wood had seemed upon the main 
Just queen and seven soldiers live to leave  
Eleven leagues from their departure 
Branwen dies of broken heart. 
So on in gravest grief the Seven sail  
Yet, over the ensuing years 
they’re healed in Harlech, through their tears 
like me – by bird and bard: sweet song and well-wrought tale.