Category Archives: Philosophy
Ramona Naddaff’s reading of Plato’s Republic explicitly challenges two simple but nevertheless common, and therefore powerful, objections to the treatment of poetry in this dialogue. First, there is the liberal objection virtually every teacher of the Republic encounters from one or more students: Socrates advocates censorship of poetry, and censorship is bad. Socrates and his proposals for the reform of the “feverish” unjust city are therefore also bad. Naddaff, a professor in the Department of Rhetoric at University of California, Berkeley, agrees with these critics that censorship should be decried. Nevertheless, she points out, Socrates’ treatment of poetry in Books 2-3 of the Republic recognizes the power of poetic discourse to shape the characters (or souls) of those who listen to it, as liberal toleration of every form of speech does not. In “disciplining” that power by expunging all the elements that work against the inculcation of the virtues of courage and moderation in the guardians, Socrates’ “censorship” actually results in a purification of Homer that makes epic poetry, better and less ambiguously, serve its traditional aim of fostering the heroic virtues.
In these relentlessly dark and riven times, I find myself beset by a near ravenous hunger for beauty. My spirit lurches at a line of Shakespeare or Louise Glück—“All fear gives way: the light / Looks after you … ” My eyes linger on the photographs of Nadav Kander, the paintings of Marlene Dumas, the sculptures of Sarah Sze. I reassure myself of the possibility of serenity by recalling Willa Cather’s masterpiece, Death Comes for the Archbishop, or by listening to the extraordinary voice of Hannah Reid, the vocalist of London Grammar. I long for that expansion of my soul.
We have so much to learn. The ideals that have shaped my entire life thus far have been called into question by the election of this so-called president. They are ideals worth fighting for: a faith, as Martin Luther King assured us, that the long arc of history bends toward justice; that societies have the desire and capacity for improvement; that reflection and communication will foster greater compassion; and a belief that one of the most powerful paths to progress is through art and literature. I have believed in the value of knowledge and of truth. And I have believed that the quality of a life is not measured by money, celebrity, or material goods but by richness of mind, generosity of spirit, and by meaningful human relationships.
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Claire Messud is a recipient of Guggenheim and Radcliffe Fellowships and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Author of five previous works of fiction including her most recent novel, The Woman Upstairs, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her family.
Of the excised poems, “Pourvou Que Ca Doure” perhaps demonstrates a higher degree of poetic merit than most of the other poems. The poem brings together The Double Axe themes of civilization decaying and sick,” natural evolution, and a concern for man’s future. Translated from the French, “provided that it lasts,” the title refers to the last line of the poem, “if man’s back holds,” a line that comments of the burden of rampant corruption men have to bear if life is to continue. Jeffers directs us to “look all around” and see that life grows from death. Things are corrupted: science, art, and statecraft are “famous corpses” “stinking.” Yet everything comes from what precedes it, and the new forms evolve from the old – but only if man can live.
A land that is lonelier than ruin
A sea that is stranger than death
Far fields that a rose never blew in,
Wan waste where the winds lack breath;
Waste endless and boundless and flowerless
But of marsh-blossoms fruitless as free
Where earth lies exhausted, as powerless
To strive with the sea.
Far flickers the flight of the swallows,
Far flutters the weft of the grass
Spun dense over desolate hollows
More pale than the clouds as they pass
Thick woven as the weft of a witch is
Round the heart of a thrall that hath sinned,
Whose youth and the wrecks of its riches
Are waifs on the wind.
The pastures are herdless and sheepless,
No pasture or shelter for herds :
The wind is relentless and sleepless,
And restless and songless the birds
Their cries from afar fall breathless,
Their wings are as lightnings that flee;
For the land has two lords that are deathless:
Death’s self, and the sea.
[“By the North Sea”] is an elaborate metaphor for the act of Apollonian creation and the dominance of art over all transiency. (Robert Peters from The Victorian Experience: The Poets).
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by W. B. Yeats
He who measures gain and loss,
When he gave to thee the Rose,
Gave to me alone the Cross
Where the blood-red blossom blows
In a wood of dew and moss,
There thy wandering pathway goes,
Mine where waters brood and toss;
Yet one joy have I hid close,
He who measures gain and loss,
When he gave to thee the Rose,
Gave to me alone the Cross.
The spiritual symbol of the Rose in mysticism represents consciousness as matter. Consciousness is symbolized as a flowering process and an unfolding manifestation. The flowering of its petals represents man’s divine inner consciousness being revealed as layers of his being open up to reveal the Divine Inner Self.
The Rose crucified on the cross is the symbol of the true divinity of humanity. The cross represents the four cardinal points of being in a balanced state. The crossing of the vertical and the horizontal lines represent the conjunction of time and eternity and other opposites. The vertical, being the Spiritual, creative, positive and active aspects of being, and the horizontal, the negative, material and passive aspects. It is at this conjunction point, representing balance and harmony, that the rose flowers and unfolds itself.
A reminder that we will celebrate the use of the rose as a poetic symbol or metaphor on January 25, 2018. Please bring your own illustration of this for reading and discussion and, if you wish, post it first on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly.
Listen to Sharon Shannon & Mike Scott sing and play “A Song Of The Rosy Cross.”
By W. H. Auden
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.
How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.
Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.
Alexander McCall Smith in his immensely readable book, What W. H. Auden Can Do For You, writes the following about this poem:
“The More Loving One,” written in 1957, can be read at one level as a poignant, but not particularly complicated, reflection on unrequited love. It is considerably more than that, though: it is an acceptance that in the face of meaninglessness or indifference it is still possible to love.
by T. S. Eliot I
The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven,
The Hunter with his dogs pursues his circuit.
О perpetual revolution of configured stars,
О perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,
О world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to GOD.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from GOD and nearer to the Dust.
I journeyed to London, to the timekept City,
Where the River flows, with foreign flotations.
There I was told: we have too many churches,
And too few chop-houses. There I was told:
Let the vicars retire. Men do not need the Church
In the place where they work, but where they spend their
An early reminder that we’ll be reading and discussing T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets in our February and March sessions.
All that I have said and done,
Now that I am old and ill,
Turns into a question till
I lie awake night after night
And never get the answers right.
Notes on the mythology behind “Man and the Echo.”
Echo was a nymph who fell in love with Narcissus when she sees him for the first time. Echo reveals herself to Narcissus and he rejects her. Narcissus falls in love with his own reflection in a stream, won’t move from his reflection and dies. After his body has wasted away all that is left is a Narcissus flower; a pale flower near the stream.
Echo and Narcissus in the poem could refer to Yeats (Echo) and Maude Gonne (Narcissus) or Yeats (Echo) and Ireland (Narcissus) or Yeats (Echo) and Marguerite (Margot) Ruddock (1907–1951), who used the stage name Margot Collis, an Irish actress, poet and singer. She had a relationship with W. B. Yeats starting in 1934.
“In a cleft that’s christened Alt” is a reference to a hill in Ireland that is supposed to be a Celtic burial ground.
“Echo. Lay down and die,” between stanzas reveals Yeats in conflict with his thoughts.
In the last light at the end of the Lane
a faint golden haze shimmered.
A cloud of midges, teeming, minute.
Furious in their generation,
they dance among each other
to keep their place toward night and nothing.
A system of selves consuming itself,
worrying at its own energies;
the outer boundary self-established;
without a centre.
There are certain mind-specks active among us,
upsetting their near neighbours,
who seem called upon
to take account of the given conditions
And of their own particular burden.
would these have anything beyond themselves
to occupy them in their confusion?
‘There is an inadequacy and an imbalance
In the source material.
This is the basis of energy.
And there is a dysrhythmia in some among you
– the watchful and the partly fulfilled.
A worrying for evidence of purpose.
This gives no pleasure.
But welcome it if it is offered. Use it
to the full. Trusting there will be