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 the 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 creating a tangible product from it. In “Spelling”, Atwood deals with the effort required 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 processes differently. Neruda links inspiration to an ethereal experience and Atwood believes that both writing and inspiration come with continued labour by the writer.

Both poets engage with the question of the origin of inspiration. Neruda presents inspiration as something the poet has no control over. In “Poetry” he says “And it was 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 inspiration coming from “a tarnished mirror, the fug of a deserted house” (11). He is inspired by his surroundings; by the experiences of the people around him. Inspiration is an external experience that finds him.  Atwood too locates inspiration outside the body. Unlike Neruda, she does not believe that inspiration is uncontrollable. In “Spelling” she describes women who “closed themselves in rooms, /drew the curtains/so that they could mainline words.”(11) The verb “mainline”-referring to the act of injecting a drug into the system- awards the writer control and agency. Unlike 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 work towards being inspired; he merely works at articulating his inspiration.

The labour required to articulate their inspiration is emphasised on by both poets.  The difficulty of communicating their ideas is paralleled to the infant’s difficulty at articulation. The journey from inspiration to articulation is viewed in terms of growth from infant to and adult. In “Spelling”, Atwood tracks the progress 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 plastic letters,/ red, blue and hard yellow,/learning how to spell”(4). For Atwood, beginning 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 tested formulae. Neruda describes the process of writing in similar terms. When he begins his work is “faint, without substance, pure/ nonsense,/pure wisdom/of someone 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. The 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 expanse of night/collapsing in my bedroom, /the morning’s rumours afire with sacrifice” (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 experimenting with an inflexible masculine vocabulary to finding her own avenue of expression. She exhibits the change from the little girl who plays with plastic letters 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 Neruda 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 women have historically fought for freedom of expression while men have always possessed the luxury of articulation. Perhaps this informs their understanding of perfect articulation.

The poets’ ideas on perfect articulation simultaneously converge and diverge. For both Neruda and Atwood, the process of articulation is complete when language becomes inextricably linked to the body itself.  Neruda believes that language becomes 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 pure, a “part/of the abyss”. Language flows from an experience that completely transcends materiality. Conversely, for Atwood, flawless expression is achieved when “language 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. Atwood is completely in touch with her body and perfect articulation comes when language is truly a part of her body. This image is linked up to image of a woman in labour. Perhaps the tradition of stifling expression causes Atwood to value the ability to express herself; paying homage to the people who have struggled for it.

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 for the struggle and the writers’ personal views on the subject are influenced by their 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 important part of the process of articulation. With Neruda, the process of writing 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, fulfilling.


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