Myth and its symbols

Myth is a form of poetry. It is a poetic story that expresses a world view and embodies the ideals, beliefs and dreams of a society. In fact, if a dream is the unconscious expression of an individual reality, then myth is collective consciousness, or society’s dreams.

Myth as a poetic story enables us, as human beings, to place our individual lives in a larger context or setting. As a form of poetry, it tells us that we have meaning.

A poem told in the form of myth is an attempt to explain poetically a reality that is steeped in mystery. This would include discussing realities such as God, the origin of man, the afterlife, Heaven and more. As poetry, the words of myth are preferred for explanation and discussion, because the words of prose are inadequate to explain these mysterious realities. The subject matter being addressed is beyond logic and reason alone.

Myth uses much symbolism and imagery, as well as figurative and allusive language, to tell its story. As poetry, it is often language that is subtle, vague and not easily understood. Symbols are emblems of truth and reality; they have significance and meaning as visible signs of an invisible reality. Through the use of symbols, myth depicts another world alongside the one we know; a world which is sensed intuitively, seen symbolically and expressed poetically.

The function of a symbol in myth is to be the vehicle of communicating reality. The symbol embodies an idea and should not be mistaken for the reality itself, the final term or for whom or what the symbol is referring to. Like all poetry, myth requires symbolism because the reality is always beyond stating literally in words. The symbols of myth are always transparent or translucent and should never block the light of what they are trying to convey. To experience the symbols of myth is to experience the sensual, aesthetic, spiritual, intellectual, emotional and evocative dimensions of poetry. It is an experience that tells you that mystery is truly the home of reality.

Michael Hickey is a local writer and poet who lives in Pelican Bay and Swampscott, Mass. His book, “Get Wisdom,” is published by Xlibris Div. Random House Publishing and is available at 1-888-795-4274 Ext. 822, at, or your local bookstore.


by Michael Hickey

Do you believe

The myth of the unicorn,

Stag’s legs, lion’s tail,

Horse’s body, spiral horn?

Symbol of healing; individuality,

Beast of innocence; utmost purity,

Pride with humility,

Courage without feist,

Dignity in solitude,

Symbol of Christ?

Because you’ve not seen one,

Your mind makes no distinction,

‘Tween unicorn and animals

With destined extinction.

Could it have lived so

Long in the heart of man,

Without some truth

On which to stand?

Is its uniqueness

So easy to find,

Become commonplace

In humankind?

Must the unicorn

Be reduced once more,

To allegory or metaphor

Living in art; coat of arms,

On tapestry, or bracelet charms?

Or a literary life

Destined to roam,

From book to book,

Poem to poem?

Unicorn is away on a shelf,

Because he first conquered

In conquering self,

No easy task for us all,

To live unicorn’s dream;

And answer the call.

Wonderfully made,

Totally fearless,

Choosing to die,

Than to live dreamless.

Singularly chosen,

Destined by birth,

To rise above

All beasts of the earth,

You see, love was sown

In unicorn’s blood,

‘Fore beasts e’er existed

Beyond time or flood,

Unicorn yields only

With no exception,

To purest virgin,

Immaculate; chaste,

Beyond guile; deception.

Filled with grace,

Blessed Unicorn,

And holy virgin

Once known born,

I hail thee both,

Quoting Dylan’s line;

“I’ll be in your dream,

If you’ll be in mine.”

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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