The origins of creativity . . .

You begin to realise, as you learn more about the area around Dumfries, that Robert Burns is quite the most important figure in these parts. What we may not appreciate, especially if we’re not natives here, is that the tales of this patch were ready and waiting for a poetic sensibility to capture and immortalise.

We’re rehearsing a variety of Scottish songs to perform in a choir with a set of musicians at a concert in June where the re-opening of a renovated town hall in New Galloway will be celebrated. The weekly rehearsals are held at the church in Dalry, a couple of miles along the road. When the choirmaster has done all he can for the men, he turns his attention to the sopranos and altos who will have a couple of songs by themselves. So dismissed, I ambled out along the path around the ancient graveyard, and snapped this image of the information board that sits nearby.

Although the church was built in 1831, long after Burns’ death in 1796, it’s on the same site as several churches that had come and gone. In one of those, so the Dumfriesshire tale went as related to the incredulous Rabbie, the laird of Knocksheen disturbed a coven of dancing witches on his way home from a Dalry inn. As the information panel recounts, he protected himself and his horse by drawing a sacred circle around them with his sword. Unfortunately for the horse, its tail hung beyond the circle, so as the sun rose the witches made off with that trophy, though both rider and steed survived to tell the tale.

The folk story is remarkable, but had it not been immortalised, in one of Burns’ most celebrated poetic achievements, Tam O’Shanter, it may have passed into the mists of time, lost to us today. I mused, reading this account of how a poetic creativity might be stimulated by a folk tale, on the origins of creative expression.

What drove Burns to make a poem? The tale was already there in the culture and idioms of the time. What drives other creatives to need to make something, to develop a new expression of their experience? The short answer, to my mind, is that this drive moves toward fruition because that effort, and the result, actually feels good. No, more, it can feel great, sublime, transcendent.

With these musings reverberating through my mind, I must set myself down to persevere with my own efforts, seeking to tap into that joy as best I can. During my morning writing sessions, I too shall seek to banish the whirling dervishes that might conspire to say, this is not good enough, or this is worthless. The ancient tale from Dalry as metaphor for creativity, then.

In the process, with good fortune, I may refine some precious contribution, sharing the joy. Or, I may not achieve much in my smelting efforts. But without the attempt, and the confidence that’s required to work at it, nothing would be accomplished.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: