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ARS POETICA: Inspiration and Articulation

The distance between inspiration and articulation and the difficulty of bridging
it is a theme that most poets have written of. This paper seeks to deal with th
e process of finding ideas and articulating them as represented in the works of
Pablo Neruda and Margaret Atwood. In Ars Poetica and Poetry , Neruda talks about the
different ways in which inspiration can find a writer and the difficulty of crea
ting a tangible product from it. In Spelling , Atwood deals with the effort require
d to find inspiration and the process of writing itself. Both poets agree on the
complexity of translating ideas into coherent entities but they view the proces
ses differently. Neruda links inspiration to an ethereal experience and Atwood b
elieves that both writing and inspiration come with continued labour by the writ
Both poets engage with the question of the origin of inspiration. Neruda present
s inspiration as something the poet has no control over. In Poetry he says And it w
as at that age .Poetry arrived/in search of me (1).For him, inspiration comes when
he least expects it; through no effort of his. In Ars Poetica he talks about inspi
ration coming from a tarnished mirror, the fug of a deserted house (11). He is ins
pired by his surroundings; by the experiences of the people around him. Inspirat
ion is an external experience that finds him. Atwood too locates inspiration ou
tside the body. Unlike Neruda, she does not believe that inspiration is uncontro
llable. In Spelling she describes women who closed themselves in rooms, /drew the c
urtains/so that they could mainline words. (11) The verb mainline -referring to the a
ct of injecting a drug into the system- awards the writer control and agency. Un
like Neruda, who meets inspiration as he walks on the street, Atwood talks about
the necessity of seclusion to be able to access ideas. This is a reiteration of
her belief that inspiration will only come with hard labour. Neruda does not wo
rk towards being inspired; he merely works at articulating his inspiration.
The labour required to articulate their inspiration is emphasised on by both poe
ts. The difficulty of communicating their ideas is paralleled to the infant s dif
ficulty at articulation. The journey from inspiration to articulation is viewed
in terms of growth from infant to and adult. In Spelling , Atwood tracks the progre
ss of the poet as a writer from the figure of her daughter to the figure of the
witch or the prophet. She talks of her daughter who plays on the floor/with plast
ic letters,/ red, blue and hard yellow,/learning how to spell (4). For Atwood, beg
inning a new piece of work is akin to learning a new language. Like her daughter
who plays with rigid letters, so do writers begin by working within tried and t
ested formulae. Neruda describes the process of writing in similar terms. When h
e begins his work is faint, without substance, pure/ nonsense,/pure wisdom/of som
eone who knows nothing (27). The difficulty of expressing himself is very like the
description of a child learning to write. He believes that the poet begins in a
state of pure ignorance and then moulds his work into perfect lucidity.
Neruda and Atwood mark the important transition from incoherence to lucidity. Th
e labour required to translate inspiration into coherent articulation causes the
poet to make the journey of growing up every time she writes. Neruda begins by
knowing nothing and grows into the prophet from Ars Poetica of whom the unbounded e
xpanse of night/collapsing in my bedroom, /the morning s rumours afire with sacrif
ice (20) beg a prophecy. He moves from learning a language to becoming master of
it. Atwood traces a similar growth in the female writer who moves from experimen
ting with an inflexible masculine vocabulary to finding her own avenue of expres
sion. She exhibits the change from the little girl who plays with plastic letter
s to the prophetess in Procedures for the Underground . This shaman figure is able
to converse with dead who are always with you, whispering their/ complaints (26).
She masters not only the masculine language but also creates an alternate way of
expression by learning a new language. The figures of these masters of language
are problematic when attention is paid to the fact that all of nature begs Neru
da for his prophecy while Atwood s prophetess is merely warned that she will have
to suffer for her gift of tongues. This difference focuses on the fact that wome

n have historically fought for freedom of expression while men have always posse
ssed the luxury of articulation. Perhaps this informs their understanding of per
fect articulation.
The poets ideas on perfect articulation simultaneously converge and diverge. For
both Neruda and Atwood, the process of articulation is complete when language be
comes inextricably linked to the body itself. Neruda believes that language bec
omes one with the body through an otherworldly experience. In Poetry he feels that
he is a pure part/ of the abyss,/I wheeled with the stars,/ my heart broke loose
on the wind (46). Final articulation is achieved when Neruda is almost one with
nature. He is no longer aware of his corporeal body but believes himself to be p
ure, a part/of the abyss . Language flows from an experience that completely transc
ends materiality. Conversely, for Atwood, flawless expression is achieved when la
nguage fall away/from the hot bones (26) and the body/itself becomes a mouth (35).
In her moment of final articulation, she has no transaction with the cosmic. Atw
ood is completely in touch with her body and perfect articulation comes when lan
guage is truly a part of her body. This image is linked up to image of a woman i
n labour. Perhaps the tradition of stifling expression causes Atwood to value th
e ability to express herself; paying homage to the people who have struggled for
The intricacy of inspiration and writing is a subject that several authors have
dealt with. Working with authors who are of different genders and whose writing
styles are so markedly diverse allow one to add new dimensions to the discourse.
It has been proven that the process of writing is a struggle. But the reasons f
or the struggle and the writers personal views on the subject are influenced by t
heir gender and history. Atwood, being a woman, comes from a history of fighting
for the right to express her thoughts. Therefore, seclusion and labour are an i
mportant part of the process of articulation. With Neruda, the process of writin
g requires labour but also becomes an otherworldly experience. As with the poets
before them, both Atwood and Neruda agree that writing is, in the end, fulfilli