Philosophy, Spirituality

The Poetry Of The Psyche

Is poetry the language of the soul? [Credit: Ashley Rich on Unsplash]

The ineffable is impossible to capture in language, yet poetry offers an attempt to translate. Merriam-Webster defines poetry as: “writing that formulates a concentrated imaginative awareness of experience in language chosen and arranged to create a specific emotional response through meaning, sound, and rhythm.”

The word poetic is a symbol for something of indescribable beauty or magnificence. Experiences that shake us to the core, move us in immeasurable ways, or simply catch us in a moment, suspended in time. Poetry speaks in states of wonder, awe, and fascination.

Disillusionment, disenchantment, material science, and apathy towards the divine strips the poetry from the cosmos and replaces it with mechanical means. Elegant verse replaced by flat prose. Imaginative translations of experience replaced by binary code.

The way we perceive the cosmos reflects the perception of the psyche, and vice versa. See the universe as mechanical and the human mind becomes a computer system. Linear, logical, tangible problems to be fixed.

But this is a disservice to the ineffable nature of the human soul. The psyche is elegance, and to discover the hidden treasures of the soul, poetry is the language we must use.

Psyche’s Indescribable Beauty

In modern times, psyche often refers to the totality of the human mind and is the root word of psychology. Its etymology is the Greek psykhē, meaning the human soul, the spirit, the invisible animating principle of the human body — the essence of what makes us alive. In Greek philosophy, psyche was the breath of life, though it’s also used to reference the spirit of the dead.

In Greek mythology, Psyche was personified as a maiden of indescribable beauty. She was the youngest daughter of a king and queen and was viewed as a goddess amongst mortals. Men throughout the kingdom would travel to her palace to admire her. Due to reverence for the mortal princess, the goddess of love, Aphrodite, was neglected and forgotten.

Through trials and tribulations, Psyche had to prove her love to Eros, the god of love, before finally being granted immortality. The tale of Eros (Cupid) and Psyche is an allegory for the struggle for the soul to reach immortality, or eternal bliss.

The Rapture Of Being Alive

The myth of Psyche suggests the soul’s essence is understood not by mechanical language but myths, fables, and poetry. Joseph Campbell explains how myths function far beyond entertaining fairy tales or stories to recite for fun:

“People say that what we are seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experience on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That’s what it’s finally about, and that’s what (myths) as clues help us find within ourselves.”

To feel the rapture of being alive and experience the zest of existence requires a sacred marriage between the psyche and the physical plane. The merging of the symbols and myths in the unconscious with the physical, ordinary reality of out there and the ego’s conscious identity. The path of discovery, then, is finding the poetry within.

Neuroscience And Butterflies of the Soul

In Greek psyche also means butterfly. The image of a caterpillar entering a chrysalis to relinquish its entire form and structure, to completely transform to be reborn as a butterfly, to be able to fly, is powerful. It’s not a coincidence that the butterfly is a widely-used symbol for spiritual growth and rebirth.

The psyche’s nature is transformation. The ego has to be prepared to relinquish its form and structure, for the fullness of our true essence to sour. The mythical and symbolic is mirrored in the physical plane in many ways, the butterfly’s metamorphosis being one of them.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal is the father of neuroscience. In 1906, he became the first person of Spanish origin to win the Nobel Prize. His life was dedicated to understanding the “life of the infinitely small.” Born with artistic flair, Cajal saw poetry in the structure of the brain:

Like the entomologist hunting for brightly colored butterflies, my attention was drawn to the flower garden of the grey matter, which contained cells with delicate and elegant forms, the mysterious butterflies of the soul, the beating of whose wings may someday (who knows?) clarify the secret of mental life.

The butterflies of the soul, pyramidal neurons, are responsible for advanced cognition, and found in the cerebral cortex, hippocampus, and amygdala. Though Cajal alluded to the brain’s potential for transformation, neuroplasticity wasn’t commonly accepted until a few decades after his death, in the 1960s.

Invisible life forces, pruning the flower garden of grey matter.

The amygdala is responsible for fight or flight and fearful emotions such as anxiety. Meditation shrinks the amygdala whilst thickening the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for awareness, concentration, and higher order functioning. Invisible life forces, pruning the flower garden of grey matter.

I wonder how Cajal’s artistic side would view the similarities in the structure of the brain and order of the universe? A recent experiment between an astrophysicist and a neurosurgeon discovered a “tantalising degree of similarity” in the self-organisation of both systems, one infinity small, one infinitely big. 

I often reflect on how the pioneers of science were poets, musicians, mystics and artists of all kinds. Is this a coincidence? Or do the world’s greatest minds understand the poetry of the psyche, the language the soul speaks?

Hyper-Rationality And The Fear Of The Unconscious

“Our psyche is part of nature, and its enigma is just as limitless.”

Carl Jung

The intellect desires knowledge and certainty — mechanical prose, a how-to manual of existence. Poetry’s reverence for the inexplicable and unexplainable doesn’t satisfy the intellect. It can only be interpreted in its own terms. Attempts to understand poetry is an artform in itself.

We live in an age where hyper-rationality is seen as superior in the search for understanding. But attempts to understand the soul in rational terms will be fruitless. Rationality has its place, just like Newtonian physics has a function to describe physical principles.

Rationality doesn’t comprehend the magnitude of the psyche, it doesn’t realise its elegance. Surrendering to the psychic forces of the unconscious feels like death. Without the soul’s guidance, these unknown lands are frightful. Rationality doesn’t comprehend the beauty of the psyche, it doesn’t realise what it wants.

What The Life-Force Wants

Psyche’s reckoning with Eros was divinely supported. She was carried by the wind. A group of ants and an eagle come to her aid. Even the Queen of the Underworld, Persephone, helps her. Ultimately, the gods supported her, and in the end, she was reunited with Eros and granted immortality.

Campbell describes the miracle of “invisible hands” that help the quest of following your bliss. The life-force of the psyche is there to flourish, to encourage you to become who you’re meant to be, to return to wholeness, to heal. It uses poetry to guide, to signpost your travels, to provide a compass.

The answers to our most profound questions aren’t how-to guides — they’re poetry

The thought of something greater, invisible yet intelligent, knowing is better than we know ourselves, might be scary at first. It challenges the need for control and the belief everything about us is clear, conscious, tangible, rational. Entering the unknown doesn’t have to be feared, but respected. 

So often in life we wish for concise directions. We want the how-to, the mechanical. But the answers to our most profound questions aren’t how-to guides — they’re poetry. Rather than concrete step-by-step directions, interpreting poetry requires curiosity and a willingness to be patient as meaning develops.

The Poetry Of The Psyche’s Creation

“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.”

Joseph Campbell

There is a difference between projecting a poetic narrative and witnessing the psyche’s creation. I’ve had my spell of romanticising and projecting poetic storylines onto people, places, things, real or imagined. Yet the more I’m able to step aside, the more the innate poetry of the psyche enchants me. 

Often, I wake from dreams, spellbound by a message I needed just at that time, an invisible hand reassuring me all is well. If poetry is a means to formulate an imaginative awareness of experience, to create a specific emotional response, nature’s poetry creates awe, wonder, fascination, ecstasy, bliss. 

That said, emotions such as fear, despair, anxiety cannot be ignored. Myths contain hardship, and poetry contains a seed of angst. Yet as the myth of Psyche shows, the soul’s path is one of triumph and overcoming obstacles.

The Butterfly Effect Of Soulful Expression

I’ve spent many years in the dark valleys, the shadows, wanting to escape these lands. I’ve misunderstood Psyche, I ran from her. But over and over, I am reminded of the poetry of the soul. My psychic life has become a myth of epic proportions, interacting with the world around me. Campbell was right. I feel the rapture of being alive.

Can you feel the poetry of the soul? Even amidst the darkness, be intrigued and curious, not afraid. The phantoms are harmless and, like the Queen of the Underworld, they are supportive too. Trust the butterfly of the soul will be carried by the wind, to exactly where it needs to be.

And trust that exploring your inner-kingdom and interpreting your soul’s poetry will benefit all. The butterfly effect of transformation has a huge effect on the rest of the cosmos. The infinitely small, the infinitely big. A fluttering of wings with immeasurable consequences.

Published by Ricky Derisz

Spirituality Coach and Meditation Teacher devoted to understanding the human psyche and nature of consciousness. Undergoing a life-long process of minding my ego.

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