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Inspiration || Enlightenment and Romantic models

The descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of the Pentecost and sudden inspiration of the Apostles In the 18th century in England, nascent psychology competed with a renascent celebration of the mystical nature of inspiration. John Locke's model of the human mind suggested that ideas associate with one another and that a string in the mind can be struck by a resonant idea. Therefore, inspiration was a somewhat random but wholly natural association of ideas and sudden unison of thought. Additionally, Lockean psychology suggested that a natural sense or quality of mind allowed persons to see unity in perceptions and to discern differences in groups. This "fancy" and "wit," as they were later called, were both natural and developed faculties that could account for greater or lesser insight and inspiration in poets and painters.The musical model was satirized, along with the afflatus, and "fancy" models of inspiration, by Jonathan Swift in A Tale of a Tub. Swift's narrator suggests that madness is contagious because it is a ringing note that strikes "chords" in the minds of followers and that the difference between an inmate of Bedlam and an emperor was what pitch the insane idea was. At the same time, he satirized "inspired" radical Protestant ministers who preached through "direct inspiration." In his prefatory materials, he describes the ideal dissenter's pulpit as a barrel with a tube running from the minister's posterior to a set of bellows at the bottom, whereby the minister could be inflated to such an extent that he could shout out his inspiration to the congregation. Furthermore, Swift saw fancy as an antirational, mad quality, where, "once a man's fancy gets astride his reason, common sense is kick't out of doors."The divergent theories of inspiration that Swift satirized would continue, side by side, through the 18th and 19th centuries. Edward Young's Conjectures on Original Composition was pivotal in the formulation of Romantic notions of inspiration. He said that genius is "the god within" the poet who provides the inspiration. Thus, Young agreed with psychologists who were locating inspiration within the personal mind (and significantly away from the realm either of the divine or demonic) and yet still positing a supernatural quality. Genius was an inexplicable, possibly spiritual and possibly external, font of inspiration. In Young's scheme, the genius was still somewhat external in its origin, but Romantic poets would soon locate its origin wholly within the poet. Romantic writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson (The Poet), and Percy Bysshe Shelley saw inspiration in terms similar to the Greeks: it was a matter of madness and irrationality.Inspiration came because the poet tuned himself to the (divine or mystical) "winds" and because he was made in such a way as to receive such visions. Samuel Taylor Coleridge's accounts of inspiration were the most dramatic, and his The Eolian Harp was only the best of the many poems Romantics would write comparing poetry to a passive reception and natural channelling of the divine winds. The story he told about the composition of Kubla Khan has the poet reduced to the level of scribe. William Butler Yeats would later experiment and value automatic writing. Inspiration was evidence of genius, and genius was a thing that the poet could take pride in, even though he could not claim to have created it himself.


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