April 17 Poetry Prompt – The Element of Air

 Imagination is the air of mind. – Phillip James Bailey

Today we look at the third of our “elemental” prompts. Air has many meanings and shades of meaning and yet it is also very simply its own riddle: what is everywhere around you and yet invisible? 

In many languages, the ideas of air, breeze, breath and spirit have common roots with each other. Aura, loft, aspire and inspire all derive from a basic understanding and utterance of air and air-words. Air is traditionally the realm of angels and ideas, inspiration and ghosts – the “spirit” world of the formless, the invisible and the intangible. It implies some other dimension about us, as well, something not quite definable, as when we say that someone “has an air” about them. We’re referring to an attitude, a bearing that is hard to pin down, but that we appreciate. 

Physically, air is the medium for our delicate sense of smell, bearing both fragrance and life with each breath. Without it, there is nothing for sound to travel on and we have no voice, no music, no airs or arias. Our dogs, with their keener sense, get more out of the air than we ever will, but are they ever inspired to write poems about it? 

We can also think about air in terms of its effects. For example, when we look out a window to see if it’s windy, we observe the air’s effect on leaves, pollen, dirt. We can see air’s influence in the gradual shaping of trees, rocks, dunes. 

Another way to think of air is the unconfined space where nothing else is. It’s also a kind of negativity that defines everything it surrounds – consider the regular, rhythmic silence between musical notes, the empty space around a tree as in this poem by Rainer Maria Rilke: 

What birds plunge through is not the intimate space

What birds plunge through is not the intimate space

in which you see all forms intensified.

(Out in the open, you would be denied

your self, would disappear into that vastness.)

Space reaches from us and construes the world:

to know a tree, in its true element,

throw inner space around it, from that pure

abundance in you. Surround it with restraint.

It has no limits. Not till it is held

in your renouncing is it truly there. 


For today’s poem, warm up as we’ve done with earth and water by making a quick list of your associations with air. Mine follows: 

the sky, the mind, ideas, study, the intellect, invisible things, birds, insects, smoke,  knowledge, the weather, wind, high places, towers, the uppermost sway of pines, speed,  elusive, mercurial, spiritual feeling, light and lightness, flying and falling, striving upward, insubstantial, fickle, deft, movement, effortlessness, the abstract, the rootless, Zeus, Shu, Aether, Enlil, Mercury, openness, emptiness, prana, the colors blue, white and grey, airplanes, angels, certain scents: mint, evergreen, anise, sage, rubbing alcohol


The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it, and copy it. – Jules Renard

* When you are inspired, have you breathed something in? or does something breathe you in?

* Write about a time you pulled something out of the air, cleared the air, felt there was something in the air, aired an opinion or felt something had appeared or happened out of thin air.

 * For another angle into personal myth, what has always been everywhere around you, that you did not notice?

* Write about your voice, or a single breath you remember out of the billions you’ve breathed in your life.

* How does an ill wind blow?

* What would happen if you surrendered to air? or mastered it?

* Air is thought of as upper; “the air” is something “up there.” What about the air inside you? below you?

* Where do you feel blown about, buffeted, helpless?

* When do you fly? When are you light, clever and quick as air?

* If imagination is the air of mind, what is the air of your heart?

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3 Responses to April 17 Poetry Prompt – The Element of Air

  1. Teri says:

    My entry for this prompt-

    Inkseed- April 17 Poetry Prompt – The Element of Air

    and time spent with a willow-

    The flexible the willow reveled in the dance but was reluctant to notice the toll it took on her feet.

    The willow embraced the out of tune songs of lonely angles, screwing its roots into the ground.

    By morning the willow had surrendered many branches and the whim of God was found at the roots.


  2. Enjoyed working / playing with this prompt: my haiku here – http://kirstencliffwrites.blogspot.com/2011/04/april-pad-challenge-personal-mythology_21.html

    Looking forward to working with the fire element soon!

  3. Pingback: April 29 Poetry Prompt – The Fifth Element | InkSeeds

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