On Rhythm

I have been thinking considerably about rhythm lately. I appear to be stuck. I know what I want to write. I know the logic, the premises, the arguments and conceptions. But I can’t seem to write any of it down. It all just sits there, in the back of my mind, waiting. I too must wait, patiently. Each time I attempt to write down these thoughts, it comes out forced and fake. So, these thoughts remain lodged. I like to think they are like the inanimate objects in Fantasia, waiting for the right rhythm to bring them to life.

I believe we all have our own rhythm. That is why I think it is so dangerous and threatening to copy the text and style of other writers. That won’t make you good because what makes you a good writer is finding that rhythm, that inner harmony that resonates throughout your soul and your work. To mimic another is not only the cheapest form of flattery, but it is also to steal your voice away from yourself like Ariel in the Little Mermaid. Trading your voice for legs, or your rhythm for words is a devils bargain.

Everything in life is flow. The constant rotation of celestial objects; the stream that ripples over stones, later to cascade down cliff faces; the grace of a dance, the movement of notes in a symphony, and the rhythm that comes forth, as Ursula Le Guin said, like a ‘wave in one’s mind’. You cannot beckon the wave , you can only wait, patiently, and ride it to the shore.

David Bohm in his essay ‘On the Relationship of Science and Art’ wrote that a scientist (but really any of us), before he can verbalise his thoughts, will “feel” a new idea. “These feelings are like very deep and sensitive probes reaching into the unknown” which, if contemplated with a patient mind, will return with something creative and new. Virginia Woolf said it perfectly,

Style is a very simple matter: it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words. But on the other hand here am I sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can’t dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm. Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes far deeper than words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it; and in writing (such is my present belief) one has to recapture this, and set this working (which has nothing apparently to do with words) and then, as it breaks and tumbles in the mind, it makes words to fit it. But no doubt I shall think differently next year.  

—Virginia Woolf

Writing to Vita Sackville-West,

16 March 1926