Poetry has always been the handmaiden of ­mythology, and vice versa. Sometimes poets are in the business of collecting and tweaking existing myths, as with Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” and the Poetic Edda. Other times poetry applies a mythological glamour to stories and characters from history, legend or even other myths (the hero of the “Aeneid” is a minor character from the “Iliad”). Then there are poets who equate the idea of myth with the supposedly irrational essence of poetry itself. Here is Robert Graves in 1948: “No poet can hope to understand the nature of poetry unless he has had a vision of the Naked King crucified to the lopped oak, and watched the dancers, red-eyed from the acrid smoke of the sacrificial fires, . . . with a monotonous chant of ‘Kill! kill! kill!’ and ‘Blood! blood! blood!’ ” Which might sound more like a strip club picnic gone badly awry, but you get the idea.

more from David Orr at the NY Times here.