Welcome to dVerse Poetics poets and friends! I’m Charles Miller (Chazinator to my friends). I’ll be your host this evening and hope the words are already blowing the tops of people’s heads off in there and I’ll explain how this works in a few minutes. But tonight’s prompt begins in the marbled city of Athens, a long time ago …
The controversy between poetry and philosophy hasn’t always been so.
Plato was perhaps extreme in banishing poets from the ideal Republic because they couldn’t explain the source of their inspiration. Yet philosophers and poets have
fraternized ever since. Indeed, his own words formed the basis for a perennial source of poetic inspiration, Neoplatonism, in such poets as William Blake and W.B. Yeats.
Since Plato, poets have used philosophy for both inspiration as well as a greater and deeper awareness of reality. From Lucretius (Democritus) and Dante (Aquinas) to Borges (Schopenhauer), Stevens (Bergson), and Eliot (Hegel), poets have sought and found inspiration in the rational explanation of reality provided by philosophy.
History, notwithstanding, some might think the following exercise superficial. Philosophers analyze ideas and concepts and who humans are and their connection to how they can know a world or themselves. Poets express the reality of the world in its emotional grip of the soul; thought in the form of an ecstatic awareness of ourselves in the world, so to speak.
In addition, in many instances, you have to read a poet’s biography or a literary analysis to discover that they used a philosopher’s thought to write their own poetry. It’s just an idiosyncrasy of an otherwise great poet.
So, the question for us is, in what way does a poet “use” philosophy?
Consider the following lines from Emerson, the father of Transcendentalism, in his poem, “Gnothi Seauton” (transliteration of the Greek words meaning, “know thyself,” Socrates’ famous dictum)
Thou art the law;
The gospel has no revelation
Of peace and hope until there is response
From the deep chambers of thy mind thereto,—–
The rest is straw.
It can reveal no truth unknown before.
Thou art thyself that doth dispense
Wealth to thy work, want to thy sloth,
Glory to goodness, to neglect, the moth.
Emerson has some truths in mind about the nature of human will and how humans should comport themselves in relationship to reality. They’re poetic, perhaps, in the primordial sense, revelations of truths known from time immemorial. The poem also takes a swipe at religions that espouse a transcendent source. All truth is within, the poet reveals, we have but to have the will to take on the responsibility to see it. These are the practical maxims of his philosophical mentor, Immanuel Kant, meant to spur to living ethically. All conveyed in the rhythms and rhymes of poetry to make them more palpable.
Compare Emerson’s poem with Emily Dickinson’s, herself a Transcendentalist, “’Hope’” is the thing with feathers”:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
Can you discern a philosophy there? Certainly there’s thought, a passionate reason, but these are not poetic syllogisms. The concept of belief, as it is in itself, is embodied as a bird. This bird is a fragile, heart-singing thing, able to weather strong storms and remain steadfast and filled with music that can comfort others. Yet the ironic last two lines pose a questioning alert. The poet, so at one with the object of her contemplation, disengages herself from the bird, opening up a door for that enemy of belief, doubt, the philosopher’s friend.
Tonight, consider the different ways these or other poets have written philosophically. Select a philosophy, defined as broadly as you desire, and write a poem on it, about it, inside or outside it. You can follow Emerson’s or Dickinson’s tactics or use your license and create your own. Take a concept and compare it to a thing that expresses its essence or reveal to us the nature of reality in primordial truths. This is the place, now is the time.
Cool? Then let’s get it on. Here’s how it works:
- Post a poem that fits the prompt to your blog,
- Link in the poem you’d like to share by clicking on the Mr.Linky button just below.
- This opens a new screen where you’ll enter your information, and where you also choose links to read. Once you have pasted your poem’s blog url and entered your name, simply click submit.
- Don’t forget to let your readers know where you’re linking up and encourage them to participate by including a link to dVerse in your blog post.
- Visit as many other poems as you like, commenting as you see fit. Chances are if you comment on others they will comment on you. Funny how that works.
- Remember, we’re here for each other. Engage your fellow poets, talk, chat, comment, let them know their work is being read, and enjoy the input you also will receive. Feel free to tweet and share on the social media of your choice.
Finally, enjoy–this is poetry alive.