My Fancy

Walt Whitman by Thomas Eakins

In Robert Creeley’s essay, Reflections on Whitman in Age, he reflects on Walt Whitman’s poem, “Good-Bye My Fancy”. It is particularly the word “fancy” and Whitman’s meaning of the word that Creeley muses on. “It’s a great word in itself, the contraction of fantasy: “c.1325, ‘illusory appearance,’ from O. Fr. fantasie, from L. phantasie, from Gk. phantasia ” appearance, image, perception, imagination,’from phantazesthai ‘ picture to oneself,’ from phantos ‘visible,’ from phainesthai ‘appear,’ in late Gk. ‘ to imagine, have visions,’ related to phaos, phos ‘ light.’ Sense of whimsical notion, illusion’ pre-1400, followed by that of ‘ imagination,’ which is first attested 1539. Sense of day-dream based on desires is from 1926, as is to fantasize…” (Creeley,”On Earth“,2006,p.65)

How the meaning of the word has changed over time. It begins as a part of one’s perceptions- filled with one’s own power to bring something into reality, into the light of day and progressively degenerates to a mere day- dream of one’s own desires. I am particularly attracted to the idea of phantazesthai– ‘to picture to one’s self.’ Taking a feeling or an intuition or a perception about the world and presenting it back to one’s self and allowing it to stand as an image before one’s self as in a mirror- to see if we recognize it- is powerful. Does its new, visible form stand as the perennial symbol of that hidden perception? Has this image, gaining material substance, come to light with a sense of accuracy and authenticity?  This interaction between an interior perception or feeling is an essential element of the creative life.

The Sufi writer, Ibn al-‘Arabi, speaks about the objective reality of the imaginal world. The imaginal world exist as an isthmus between two mirror images. One residing within the world. The other, existing beyond our present perceptions which can only be glimpsed at when one has either died or in a dream or reverie. This place of reverie brings one to the isthmus where one can look both ways, to the visible and to the hidden. The area between the two is where insight resides manifesting itself through images that have their own independent life. Through its sense of mirror image, what is internal finds its identification in an outward source, reflecting it back to one’s self. This is at the heart of ‘imagination‘.

Only through the process of  ‘picturing it to one’s self ‘ is the perception retained and given a body, an image, that can further be reflected upon by one’s self and others. The artist’s real struggle lies in this. Creeley concludes his thoughts on Whitman’s ‘fancy’ by stating that the poets job is to give an idea a body, a body that calls the present and reflections of the past together in a reverie of the moment. Memory is key- for it calls forth the impression with renewed intensity before one’s eyes. Whitman’s ‘fancy’ reveals a deeper power of mind than we care to admit about our ‘imaginings’. Creeley reveals, that “‘reality’ is the given imago mundi, the fantasy into which one is born. It’s where thought and sense find a way of meeting…” (Ibid, p.65)

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

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