Creative Impulse, True Expression

The Enthusiast, by Herman Melville

“Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him”

Shall hearts that beat no base retreat
In youth’s magnanimous years –
Ignoble hold it, if discreet
When interest tames to fears;
Shall spirits that worship light
Perfidious deem its sacred glow,
Recant, and trudge where worldlings go,
Conform and own them right?

Shall Time with creeping influence cold
Unnerve and cow? The heart
Pine for the heartless ones enrolled
With palterers of the mart?
Shall faith abjure her skies,
Or pale probation blench her down
To shrink from Truth so still, so lone
Mid loud gregarious lies?

Each burning boat in Caesar’s rear,
Flames -No return through me!
So put the torch to ties though dear,
If ties but tempters be.
Nor cringe if come the night:
Walk through the cloud to meet the pall,
Though light forsake thee, never fall
From fealty to light.

Written late in life, this passionate poem from Herman Melville touches on the necessity of fidelity to the creative impulse, the “sacred glow,” despite the vitriol of naysayers, accusers and critics.  

Every artist or poet is keenly aware of this challenge.  Often times the discouraging word or spirit is born inside the individual himself.  Subversive questions echo in the mind: “You’re not good enough.”  “You don’t have what it takes.”  “Who do you think you are?”  If you listen too much or even attempt to debate, failure is likely to follow.

Conversely, if you remain faithful to the creative impulse, refusing to be unnerved or to cower, the way is made clear for genuine and unique expression through you.  Whether the brilliance comes from the tip of your tongue or the tip of your pen, brush or bow, the creative impulse must be clothed by you in some manner, translated, as it were, into expression.

To borrow and rephrase a beautiful saying, let not the expression of true minds admit impediments.


8 thoughts on “Creative Impulse, True Expression

  1. Colin

    I like that it doesn’t matter to this poem’s persona what kind of naysayer is trying to get him to stop doing what he loves. He’s got a never-quit attitude. I think the last two lines are my favorite though. It seems he’s saying that even when you feel that something necessary like light forsakes you, that if it means that you have to forswear that which you have sworn fealty to then you should go without light rather than break your word. This is a rare sentiment, but it’s a very powerful one.


  2. Kai

    Fantastic poem! Not a work I’d usually include when we go over 19th century American authors, but I think this piece, especially in the context you’ve presented it, would be of great interest to my high school students. They are at a critical stage of self-awareness and asserting themselves creatively. It would generate a lively consideration I am sure. Thank for sharing your love of poetry with us. I appreciate your perspective.


    1. Brad

      I don’t recall having a highschool teacher as interested in our personal development as you appear to be with your students – good for them! What other authors do you like to cover in class? What topics generate the most interest and conversation from your students?
      We certainly need more positive role models during our teenage years, sounds like you provide a challenging class.


  3. Reina

    Love this poem! What is this world without the creativity that springs from each of us as individuals. “No man is an island” and together with inspiration and creativity we can make the post pwoerful changes.


  4. Kimberly

    The name of his poem was a precursor to his solution; what are you enthusiastic about? What captures your attention or has your heart? It’s been said, “Creativity is a natural extension of our enthusiasm”. Let our passion out weigh the “loud gregarious lies” as Melville called them.
    Once again a choice, our choice.
    Love your choice of poem.


  5. S.B.

    Gregg, I was compelled to go back to your earlier post “Parenthood, Character and You” particularly where you note “Your children are both mirrors of your influence and fountains of unique expression.” This conveys a vital principle to be considered by adults mentoring children and also by each one emancipated from childhood. There are the ‘mirrors of influence’ which can support and encourage a person’s true expression, or they can create impediments, whether from an external source or an internal one. It seems worthwhile for me to take an inventory of both external influences (what am I watching & reading, who am I keeping company with, what do we talk about, are these things really supporting who I am and who I want to be & where is there room for more creative inspiration, etc.) and internal influences (pay attention to internal comments, questions, moods, are these subversive to who I am and who I want to be, etc.). I like what Scarlett mentions about staying true to yourself, and it caused me to think about the delusion some might have of their true self and they end up wasting their lives staying true to something that is an untrue or even destructive mirror image. This is a fantastic poem, thanks for sharing it!


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