Volume 1966 Parnassus
Woods, that wave o'er Delphi's steep,
Isles, that crown th' Aegean deep,
Fields, that Illissus laves,
Or when Maeander's amber waves In lingering lab'rinths creep,
How do your tuneful echoes languish,
Mute, but to the voice of Anguish?
Where each old poetic mountain Inspiration breath'd around:
Ev'ry shade and hallow'd fountain Murmur'd deep a solemn sound:
Till the sad Nine in Greece's evil hour Left their Parnassus for their Latian plains.
Alike they scorn the pomp of tyrant-Power, And coward Vice, that revels in her chains.
When Latium had her loft spirit lost,
They sought, O Albion! next thy sea-encircled coast.
from "Progress of Poesy"
Thomas Gray, 1716-1771
In the centuries since classic Greek gods first ruled the spirit of nature and the soul of man, the nine Muses have represented man's desire to express himself in the fine arts--in sculpture, in song, in paintings, and in poetry and prose. Each muse eventually became the patron goddess, the symbol, of one phase of the arts, and from her home on the rocky heights of Parnassus would look down occasionally to touch some youth with a god-like spirit, an ability to communicate to his fellow man through marble or clay, the lute or written word.
Thomas Gray, a poet of the eighteenth century, felt that the Muses smiled not only on different individuals at different times but also on varying countries. From their original Parnessus in Greece, they sought out Italy and Rome; as the glory of Rome faded, they wandered again and finally came to rest in "the sea-encircled coast" of England--eighteenth century England. Gray was one of the many neo-classical writers who felt that the Muses were smiling on England of the 1700's; there are many today who feel that the same spirit of creativity is present in the modern writing, and for many of the same reasons.
Perhaps the main similarity between the two periods, though they are separated by two hundred years, is the desire to communicate--to communicate an idea, an emotion, a conviction to one's fellows. The eighteenth century was a period of social criticism, of deep, cutting sarcasm against the shallowness and triviality of the manners and moral of the day. Modern writers of today have once again picked up this note of social criticism.
Besides emphasizing social criticism, the neo-classic period was also a time of self-seeking, or looking into oneself to examine and communicate the inner emotions and fears of a man's most secret mind; again, twentieth-century literature is seeking to do the same thing.
And this, then, is why the neo-classic muse of a coffee-house England finds a fit Parnassus upon which to rest as she pauses in the modern world and seeks about for a youthful heart worthy of her great gift.
- Cliff Robertson
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