It sounds so boorish, so self-aggrandizing, but some psychologists (and novelists) say we all do it. Carl Jung, who wrote exhaustively about the function of myth in the human psyche, generated a host of followers who expanded this idea.
The arts can be one way to access or untangle our personal mythologies — the tales we tell ourselves, the stories that help us make sense of chaos and then survive through difficult times, the ones that also, sadly, encourage us to make the same mistakes over and over again.
Writers including Diane Wakowski have written treatises on using the personal mythology in creative endeavors, and poets including Albert Goldbarth have written poems titled “Personal Mythologies.”
A little introspection can help us see at least an outline of our personal myths. The story patterns will sound familiar: the rags-to-riches waif, the loyal but jilted lover, the abandoned child, the powerful but tender man.
Our lives can resonate with more than one myth. I see myself as the abandoned child, but I also see myself as the survivor.
Some poets use astrology or tarot to locate their personal myths. Others use literature or film, or meditation, or hypnosis.
Here’s a poem where I critique some of my personal mythologies — in the context of a fungal disease. Occasionally, I get quite tired of those old myths of mine. The poem was originally published in Mezzo Cammin.
Effective measures don’t exist to treat
this malady attacking hardwood trees.
Prevention by avoiding injuries
can minimize the harm, but not defeat
the possibility. Twice this week
a fallen tree has blocked my way. The first
one shocked a city street, the second burst
in view more secretly beside a creek,
and cut across my path’s trajectory.
My mind suggests these trees are messages
for me; here come the hackneyed images
that feed my personal mythology:
abusers, festering with wrongs they did
to me, and still my memories forbid
free passage. Such is metaphor’s temptation.
I learn that healthy trees wall off decay
in tissues injured on the wounding day,
and grow around the rot, and rarely will
uninjured wood fall prey to fungi. Still,
it’s hard to see which limbs were scraped or mauled,
and harder still to tell which heart holds walled-
off rot behind some calloused acclimation.
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