Ravens of Thought


“There, through the broken branches, go
The ravens of unresting thought;
Flying, crying, to and fro,
Cruel claw and hungry throat”
–W.B. Yeats

A few nights ago I was musing, and my WiFi was in and out–actually, the neighbor’s WiFi was–I recalled The Two Trees, a favorite poem by William Butler Yeats, and one line in particular, “The Ravens of unresting thought.” And since I was being kept awake by restless thoughts, it was great fuel for pondering.

This is also a favorite song, as adapted and performed by Loreena McKennitt, another of my out-of-the-way artists I like so much (I have realized most of them are classified under “New Age” or with slight confusion under “Celtic/World,” which might be a bit more accurate).

To me ravens hearken back to old Norse stories, especially the ravens of Odin: Hugin and Munin (Thought and Memory). These thought-ravens are echoed in the poem of Yeats, as is the tree imagery which is ominous in Odin’s case, as he suffered hanging on the tree Yggdrasil to gain knowledge.

In Yeats’ poem the ravens circle through the broken branches of trees, stirring the observer to bitterness and despair evoked by a magic (cursed?) “glass” or mirror…

I likened the thought-ravens to the thoughts we have when we are agitated, eating away at ourselves, letting our thoughts pick at our confidence or our certainty like mischievous, even cruel, scavenger birds. The logical conclusion is that we may be short-lived, if they are circling and pecking already. At the time it seemed particularly applicable to writers. In my research and queries and reading and blogger-advice seeking, and reading the struggles of other writers and bloggers, I began to see common trends, pitfalls, hindrances. It seems most writers struggle, whether it is to find time to write, to know where to pitch, to select only one topic, but the more I read, the more it seemed their struggles came down to one thing: their thoughts. It was as if a curious sort of overwhelm was their real obstacle to writing as they wanted to do. I was right on board with them. I was hobbled by my lack of confidence in my own writing. I made excuses that I needed to “shake off the rust,” since i hadn’t written for publication in years, much less for pay. It is a daunting world of editors, submissions teams, cover letters and queries, and gnawing self-doubt is perhaps the worst of all. There are our thought-ravens. And I think all of us who are pestered by them, writers and others, need to find ways of dealing with them. Otherwise we may end up frantic as Poe’s character in The Raven: tormented by thoughts (of loss, in his case), and unable to rid ourselves of our pesky harbinger, who ends up lurking forever, casting a shadow we cannot lift ourselves out of. We would be far better to follow Odin’s example, who (perhaps stemming from his wisdom gained on Yggdrasil), made allies of his ravens, who did his biing and brought him news of the world, sitting contentedly and helpfully on his shoulders, no trouble at all.

Though they say Odin was sometimes worried Hugin and Munin would not come back…



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