The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration


A work of art, whether a painting, a dance, a poem, or a jazz composition, can be admired in its own right. But how does the artist actually create his or her work? What is the source of an artist's inspiration? What is the force that impels the artist to set down a vision that becomes art?
In this groundbreaking book, poet and critic Edward Hirsch explores the concept of duende, that mysterious, highly potent power of creativity that results in a work of art. It has been said ...

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Hardcover New At root, duende is that charm or ghost, that mysterious and potent power to attract and create. Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca declares ''Whatever has black ... sounds, has duende. These 'black sounds' are the mystery. '' Ralph Waldo Emerson affirms but contrasts, ''Draw out of thee that dream-power which every night shows thee is thine own; a poweraby virtue of which a man is the conductor of the whole river of electricity. '' Delineating these ''black'' and ''white'' lights as alternately demon and angel of the artist's work, Edward Hirsch explores the part inspiration plays in producing great art. His subject trips the minds and works of poets, painters and musicians including Mark Rothko, Rilke, Blake, Milosz, Plath, Melville, Ella Fitzgerald, William Carlos Williams, Marina Tsvetaeva, Miles Davis and Paul Klee. Not all of these sought duende, and Hirsch accedes to ''an authentic American art that lives finely within its means and limits, and thereby contributes to our artistic health. Read more Show Less

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A work of art, whether a painting, a dance, a poem, or a jazz composition, can be admired in its own right. But how does the artist actually create his or her work? What is the source of an artist's inspiration? What is the force that impels the artist to set down a vision that becomes art?
In this groundbreaking book, poet and critic Edward Hirsch explores the concept of duende, that mysterious, highly potent power of creativity that results in a work of art. It has been said that Laurence Olivier had it, and so did Ernest Hemingway, but Maurice Evans and John O'Hara did not. Marlon Brando had it but squandered it. Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith had it, and so did Miles Davis.
From Federico García Lorca's wrestling with darkness as he discovered the fountain of words within himself to Martha Graham's creation of her most emotional dances, from the canvases of Robert Motherwell to William Blake's celestial visions, Hirsch taps into the artistic imagination and explains, in terms illuminating and emotional, how different artists respond to the power and demonic energy of creative impulse.
A masterful tour of the minds and thoughts of writers, poets, painters, and musicians, including
Paul Klee
Federico García Lorca
Robert Johnson
Miles Davis
Billie Holiday
Louis Armstrong
T. S. Eliot
Ezra Pound
Wallace Stevens
Charles Baudelaire
Herman Melville
Nathaniel Hawthorne
William Blake
Rainer Maria Rilke
Arthur Rimbaud
Walter Benjamin
Mark Rothko
Robert Motherwell
Anthony Hecht
Benny Goodman
Ella Fitzgerald
William Meredith
Sylvia Plath
Jackson Pollock

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
“The poet is one who will not be reconciled, who is determined to leave a trace in words, to transform oceanic depths of feeling into the faithful nuances of art.” In books of poetry such as On Love and introductory works such as How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Literature, Edward Hirsch has engraved his unashamed commitment to his craft. In The Demon and the Angel, this National Book Critics Circle Award winner and Guggenheim fellow explains what creativity is and why some people have it and other people don’t.
From the Publisher

"Laudable . . . The answer Hirsch gives to the question of How to Read a Poem is: Ecstatically."—The Boston Book Review

"A lovely book, full of joy and wisdom."—The Baltimore Sun

"Hirsch takes us forcefully through his love of verse, with welcome technical asides and biographical detours along the way."—Publishers Weekly

"Hirsch, a truly gifted poet and scholar, brings the full heat of his literary passion to this enlightening and deeply moving journey into the heart of poetry."—Booklist

"Hirsch is so steeped in literature, painting, and music, and so voracious in his pursuit of the revelations art delivers, that he's able to articulate the seemingly ineffable through brillant critical analyses and empathic insights into artists' lives....[a] unique, exhilarating, and virtuosic performance." - Booklist

Publishers Weekly
What is the ineffable force that drives artists, writers, musicians to create? Poet and critic Edward Hirsch (How to Read a Poem) looks for answers in The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration, an erudite exploration of the creative process. Hirsch probes Lorca's idea of the duende, the mysterious inspirational force (a sort of "trickster who meddles and stirs up trouble"), then looks at how artists like Emerson, Rilke and Yeats have explained the creative wellspring. Hirsch is especially interested in how American art forms of the 20th century abstract expressionism, modern dance, jazz have been influenced by a uniquely New World perception of the duende. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
What inspires an artist to create? Is it inner genius, external forces, or something beyond human understanding? Hirsch (How To Read a Poem) here sets off on an intellectual journey to unravel this mystery. At the heart of his exploration is Federico Garc!a Lorca's concept of the duende, defined as "artistic inspiration in the face of death" or "tragic, sensual, fateful passion." Hirsch also examines the mysterious forces that have inspired artists like W.B. Yeats, Rainer Maria Rilke, and Jackson Pollock. Hirsch's analysis of artistic creativity is erudite, abstract, and occasionally overwhelming. He is so knowledgeable, so well read, and so able to cram each chapter with artistic examples ranging from the spontaneity of Miles Davis's jazz compositions to the death impulse in Rilke's poetry to the effect of black paint used by Mark Rothko that it's difficult to keep up with him. Not surprisingly, Hirsch never solves the mystery of artistic inspiration; instead, his book can and should be appreciated as a "hymn to the irrational triumphs of art, to romantic imagination." Amy Strong, South Portland, ME Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
In this volume, poet and critic Edward Hirsch explores the concept of , a term used by poet Federico Garc<'i>a Lorca to describe the obscure power and penetrating inspiration that fuels artistic expression. He then looks at a range of artistic endeavors including dance, film, poetry, fiction, and painting to examine how worked in the lives of such brilliant artists as Sylvia Plath, Lawrence Olivier, Miles Davis, Ernest Hemingway, and Paul Klee. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Kirkus Reviews
Poet Hirsch (How to Read a Poem, 1999, etc.) struggles to put his finger on the source of artistic inspiration but winds up mainly with a commonplace look at other people's takes on the matter. Hirsch gropes toward an understanding of inspiration via the Spanish word duende. The duende is akin to the trickster or imp who stirs up trouble or keeps you uneasy. By extension, Hirsch takes it to represent a force, something ancient and mysterious that's unleashed upon the land by the artist. But don't expect a 12-step program toward an interview with your muse from Hirsch. Inspiration defies accountability; it can be luminous, but more often it's a dark force, says he: The artist may act out of self-awareness, or out of psychic automatism, or simply through following an impulse without knowing why. Federico Garcia Lorca brought duende to Hirsch's attention, and afterward he went about looking for instances of it and for hints as to its source. But the best he can do is to provide examples. For Garcia Lorca, duende "was associated with the spirit of the earth, with visible anguish, irrational desire, demonic enthusiasm, and a fascination with death . . . an erotic form of dark inspiration." For Rilke, a poem sometimes unfolded like a dream, or simply "burst out of him." Miles Davis had the restless gift for improvisation about which the great alto sax player Charlie Parker said, "If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn." And again, Garcia Lorca called it "the remotest mansions of the blood." Robert Motherwell, certainly known to wrestle intellectually with his images, even the automatic ones, spoke of "a place of ardent struggle, endless vigil," easily witnessed in his elegies tothe Spanish Republic paintings. Whatever that impulse is-whatever the duende-Hirsch doesn't corral it. Maybe Charlie Parker came closer when he said, "It is your own experience, your thoughts, your wisdom." Author tour
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780151005383
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/26/2002
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.77 (w) x 8.54 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Edward Hirsch is a celebrated poet and peerless advocate for poetry. A MacArthur fellow, he has published eight books of poems and four books of prose. He has received numerous awards and fellowships, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the Rome Prize, a Pablo Neruda Presidential Medal of Honor, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature. He serves as president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and lives in Brooklyn.

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Read an Excerpt

only mystery

I WISH I HAD BEEN IN Buenos Aires on October 20, 1933, when Federico García Lorca delivered a lecture that he called "Juego y teoría del duende" ("Play and Theory of the Duende"). Lorca was testifying to his own poetic universe, as his biographer Ian Gibson has recognized. It would have been electrifying to hear him, because on that night, addressing the members of the Friends of Art Club, the spirit of artistic mystery entered the room. It moved at the speed of Lorca's voice and burned like incense in the rich air. It was palpable to the audience, as if Lorca had thrown open the windows so that everyone present could hear the primitive wing beats shuddering in the darkness outside. The floor shifted a little under everyone's feet. The lamps trembled. Thinking about it now, sixty-nine years later, I can still see the stammering flames leaping off the typescript of Lorca's talk. I feel the ancient heat.
(One month later, at the Buenos Aires PEN Club, Lorca and Pablo Neruda staged a happening at a luncheon in their honor. The two simpatico poets-one from the Vega of Granada in southern Spain, the other from a small frontier town in rural southern Chile-used a bullfighting tradition to improvise a speech about the great Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío, which they delivered alternately from different sides of the table. "Ladies...," Neruda began, "...and gentlemen," Lorca continued: "In bullfighting there is what is known as 'bullfighting al alimón,' in which two toreros, holding one cape between them, outwit the bull together." The virtuoso antiphonal performance at first bewildered and then delighted the audience as the visible spirit of praise started darting back and forth across the room. Darío was the enthralling inventor of Hispanic modernismo (a term he coined) who fused Continental Symbolism with Latin American subjects and themes, effecting a fresh musical synthesis-a "musical miracle"-in Spanish-language poetry. He was therefore a poet both of Spain and of the Americas, the Old and the New Worlds, and Lorca and Neruda were magically linking themselves through him, as if by electrical impulses.)
Whoever speaks or writes about the duende should begin by invoking the crucial aid and spirit of this chthonic figure, as Lorca did whenever he read aloud from the manuscript of Poet in New York. The Dionysian spirit of art needs to be invited into the room. "Only mystery enables us to live," Lorca wrote at the bottom of one of the drawings he did in Buenos Aires: "Only mystery." It behooves any of us who would meditate on the subject of artistic inspiration to open the doors wide into the night and welcome into the house the spirit of inhabitable awe.

invoking the duende

THE AUDIENCE'S SENSE OF expectation as Lorca invoked the duende before a homecoming reading of his New York poems must have been running high. One imagines him sitting at a small table in front of a crowded room in Madrid-confident, charismatic, yet clumsy, vulnerable, "a solitary being for whom solitude was intolerable," as Ernesto Pérez Guerra once put it. (Guerra also observed that Lorca was "social by will and solitary by nature.") He looks serenely at home, but also slightly disheveled, a bit askew. He is secretly preparing to do battle. He shuffles his notes for a talk that is sui generis-part lecture, part memoir, part recital-and then launches in: "Whenever I speak before a large group I always think I must have opened the wrong door," he begins disarmingly-
Some friendly hands have given me a shove, and here I am. Half of us wander around completely lost, among drop curtains, painted trees, and tin fountains, and just when we think we have found our room or our circle of lukewarm sun, we meet an alligator who swallows us alive, audience, as I have. And today the only show I can offer you is some bitter, living poetry. Perhaps I can lash its eyes open for you.
Lorca was a jubilant hunter of joy who sometimes liked to veer sideways into performance. He knew his New York poems were a radical departure from his immensely popular Gypsy Ballads, the style of which he had left behind, and he suspected they could be notoriously difficult. He needed to conquer the audience. At heart he considered a poetry reading not an entertainment but a struggle, hand-to-hand combat with a complacent mass, an exposure of his very flesh. He was bewildered by indifference. He understood his own vulnerability, and wanted badly to communicate to strangers. "Let us agree that one of man's most beautiful postures is that of St. Sebastian," he said:
Well then, before reading poems aloud to so many people, the first thing one must do is to invoke the duende. This is the only way that all of you will succeed at the hard task of understanding metaphors as soon as they arise, without depending on intelligence or a critical apparatus, and be able to capture, as fast as it is read, the rhythmic design of the poem.
("LECTURE," Poet in New York)
The poet invoked the duende in order to foster a deep and necessary intimacy with an audience. It was a connection he secretly craved, but also feared because of its radical exposure. He sometimes began his talks more frontally, with a moment of absolute purity, of concentrated focus; with a plaintive call, a visible posture of openness and vulnerability. Here is how he began one recital of his recent work:
I want to summon up all the good will, all the purity of intention I have, because like all true artists I yearn for my poems to reach your hearts and cause the communication of love among you, forming the marvelous chain of spiritual solidarity that is the chief end of any work of art.
This may introduce a poetry reading, but it has the underlying texture of sacred speech, of the quest for spiritual connection.

Copyright © 2002 by Edward Hirsch

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address:
Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,
6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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Table of Contents


Only Mystery - 1
Invoking the Duende - 3
Poetic Fact - 5
A Mysterious Power - 8
The Hidden Spirit of Disconsolate Spain - 13
An Apprenticeship - 19
Between Eros and Thanatos - 29
The Majesty of the Incomprehensible - 35
A Spectacular Meteor - 39
Swooping In - 45
Ardent Struggle, Endless Vigil - 49
The Black Paintings - 55
The Intermediary - 58
Yeats's Daimon - 65
Ars Poetica? - 72
A Passionate Ingredient - 76
The Yearning Cry of a Shade - 80
I Sing You, Wild Chasm - 85
Night Work - 91
Vegetable Life, Airy Spirit - 96
A Person Must Control His Thoughts in a Dream - 101
The Angelic World - 109
The Story of Jacob's Wrestling with an Angel - 118
Concerning the Angels - 126
The Rilkean Angel - 132
Angel, Still Groping - 141
The New Angel - 147
Three American Angels - 152
Demon or Bird! - 157
Between Two Contending Forces - 162
The Sublime Is Now - 166
In the Painting - 171
Paint It Black - 178
Motherwell's Black - 184
Deaths and Entrances - 191
Ancient Music and Fresh Forms - 196
America Heard in Rhythm - 202
Hey, I'm American, So I Played It - 207
Fending Off the Duende - 213
The Existentialist Flatfoot Floogie - 220
Poet in New York - 222
Where Is the Angel? Where Is the Duende? - 229

Notes - 231
Reading List: The Pleasure of the Text - 279
Acknowledgments - 303
Permissions Acknowledgments - 304
Index - 309

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Reading Group Guide

IN THIS BOOK, celebrated poet and critic Edward Hirsch explores the idea of duende, that mysterious, highly potent, and universal-yet-personal aspect of creativity that results in a work of art. Hirsch taps into the artistic imagination and explains, in terms illuminating and emotional, how a broad range of artists have responded to the demonic energy and angelic power that together define the creative impulse. The Demon and the Angel is an informed yet informal meditation on artistic creations both ancient and modern, both sacred and profane. Indeed, Hirsch offers us a fresh, far-reaching understanding of creativity in itself, one which illuminates, especially in the book's concluding chapters, the unique mood and mindset of American art. As Hirsch confesses in his Preface, his book "is a tribute with wings."

1. What is an ars poetica? How might The Demon and the Angel as a whole be deemed an ars poetica? And how did this book enrich, challenge, or alter your previously held notions of modernism, primitivism, individuality, and spirituality in art? Also, what did the book teach you about the bonds existing between creativity and nighttime?

2. "Art is by definition an incarnate form of experience," Hirsch maintains at the end of the chapter entitled "A Spectacular Meteor." What exactly does he mean by this-both in general and in terms of this book particularly?

3. Consider these three lines from the poem "Sunday Morning" by Wallace Stevens: "Death is the mother of Beauty; hence from her, / Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams / And our desires." How do these lines reflect, refract, echo, or expand on the ideas of mortality presented and parsed throughoutthis book?

4. What, in Hirsch's well-considered view, did the duende mean to Lorca? What did the daimon mean to Yeats? And what did angels mean to Rilke? And to Klee? Comparatively or associatively discuss the two primary metaphors (demons and angels) of The Demon and the Angel.

5. Hirsch begins one chapter ("A Person Must Control His Thoughts in a Dream") by claiming: "It is too reductive to think of artistic creation as merely putting oneself in a trance state. We need a fresh vocabulary, a fuller and more enhanced notion of the artistic trance state in which one also actively thinks." Does this book, in your view, provide such a "fresh vocabulary"?

6. In the chapters entitled "Paint It Black" and "Motherwell's Black" Hirsch investigates the use of the color black by certain (primarily American) painters. Who were these artists, and to what aesthetic and thematic ends did they employ black paint? Should we see their black-based concepts and creations sacred? Profane? Angelic? Demonic? Otherwise? While considering your views in this regard, revisit the chapter on Goya's inspirations and intentions ("The Black Paintings") from much earlier in the text.

7. Identify and discuss the connections Hirsch makes between flamenco music and the blues, between duende and black soul, in the "Ancient Music and Fresh Forms" chapter, as well as those he makes between Spanish cante jondo and American jazz in the subsequent chapter. What other musical forms (or representative musicians) would you contribute to this pivotal discussion as supplementary or additional evidence, and why?

8. What representative and distinctly American traits does Hirsch recognize in the demon and the angel as artistic/mythic/symbolic/cosmic constructs? Consider in particular the chapter entitled "The Sublime Is Now."

9. Look again at the book's final four paragraphs. What, ultimately, do the demon and angel have in common? And in what key ways are they different? How does Hirsch suggest that we might identify these similar yet dissimilar muses?

10. Many books on the nature of creativity-or on the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the creative endeavor-have been published. Conclude your exploration of this book by comparing and contrasting it with other works you have read on the craft, history, impulse, and/or mystery of artistic inspiration.

Copyright (c) 2003. Published in the U.S. by Harcourt, Inc.
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