Cover image for The demon and the angel : searching for the source of artistic inspiration
The demon and the angel : searching for the source of artistic inspiration
Hirsch, Edward.
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Publication Information:
New York : Harcourt, [2002]

Physical Description:
xiii, 321 pages ; 22 cm
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BF408 .H57 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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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

Author Notes

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.

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Hirsch (poet and critic, Univ. of Houston) uses Federico Garcia Lorca's ideas about duende (loosely, creative power) as a guide through poets and artists from Blake, Yeats, and Rilke to Pollock, Rothko, and Motherwell. Most of the book treats poetry--poetry from everywhere (e.g., Milosz, Leopardi, Nerval, Rimbaud, Tsvetaeva)--but the author makes excursions into blues, jazz, and even rock and roll as well as visual art. Not an "academic" book, the volume proceeds happily from one display of soulful enthusiasm to the next. Many of the descriptions are fine and rewarding, but no argument--especially one that relies on the standard categories Hirsch does--can seriously illuminate the very different artists discussed here. The short chapters and recurrent allusions to the "spirit" can only remind one of other "inspirational" meditations--e.g., those by Kathleen Norris, except that Norris always tests out her generalizations and undermines her cliches. The present volume blissfully refuses to mention academic critics, allowing the poets to "speak for themselves." One presumes the object is to popularize poetry and art, but from a scholarly point of view the book, finally, seems anecdotal, old-fashioned, and even reactionary. For general readers. S. C. Dillon Bates College

Booklist Review

Hirsch, a poet committed to elucidating the power of art, launched his ardent quest with How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry (1999) and now ventures into the very heart of the matter: the nature of artistic inspiration. An elusive subject to be sure, but 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 brilliant critical analyses and empathic insights into artists' lives. The overarching theme of this unique, exhilarating, and virtuosic performance is an extended definition of duende, "that indefinable force which animates different creators and infuses their deepest efforts." Federico Garcia Lorca is Hirsch's guide to the "artistic night mind," the demonic realm from which this "joyful darkness" flows, while Emerson is his mentor in the study of the angelic aspect of inspiration and its "ferocious light." Not only does Hirsch evocatively explicate the mystical creative experiences of such diverse and seminal artists as Rilke, Stevens, Klee, Pollock, Martha Graham, Miles Davis, and Jimi Hendrix, he also unveils the origins of such radical departures as abstract painting and jazz. Hirsch himself is imbued with the soulful spirit he celebrates, and its "dark radiance" shimmers on every inspired page. Donna Seaman

Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



only mysteryI WISH I HAD BEEN IN Buenos Aires on October 20, 1933, when Federico Garca Lorca delivered a lecture that he called "Juego y teora 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 Rubn Daro, 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 alimn,' 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. Daro 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 duendeTHE 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 sol Excerpted from The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration by Edward Hirsch, Liz Darhansoff All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. ix
Only Mysteryp. 1
Invoking the Duendep. 3
Poetic Factp. 5
A Mysterious Powerp. 8
The Hidden Spirit of Disconsolate Spainp. 13
An Apprenticeshipp. 19
Between Eros and Thanatosp. 29
The Majesty of the Incomprehensiblep. 35
A Spectacular Meteorp. 39
Swooping Inp. 45
Ardent Struggle, Endless Vigilp. 49
The Black Paintingsp. 55
The Intermediaryp. 58
Yeats's Daimonp. 65
Ars Poetica?p. 72
A Passionate Ingredientp. 76
The Yearning Cry of a Shadep. 80
I Sing You, Wild Chasmp. 85
Night Workp. 91
Vegetable Life, Airy Spiritp. 96
A Person Must Control His Thoughts in a Dreamp. 101
The Angelic Worldp. 109
The Story of Jacob's Wrestling with an Angelp. 118
Concerning the Angelsp. 126
The Rilkean Angelp. 132
Angel, Still Gropingp. 141
The New Angelp. 147
Three American Angelsp. 152
Demon or Bird!p. 157
Between Two Contending Forcesp. 162
The Sublime Is Nowp. 166
In the Paintingp. 171
Paint It Blackp. 178
Motherwell's Blackp. 184
Deaths and Entrancesp. 191
Ancient Music and Fresh Formsp. 196
America Heard in Rhythmp. 202
Hey, I'm American, So I Played Itp. 207
Fending Off the Duendep. 213
The Existentialist Flatfoot Floogiep. 220
Poet in New Yorkp. 222
Where Is the Angel? Where Is the Duende?p. 229
Notesp. 231
Reading List: The Pleasure of the Textp. 279
Acknowledgmentsp. 303
Permissions Acknowledgmentsp. 304
Indexp. 309