Category Archives: Philosophy
Gave to me alone the 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
an easing of the disorder at a time to come.
She turned away, her voice tired.
‘…if there is not.’
by W.H. Auden
So from the years the gifts were showered; each
Ran off with his at once into his life:
Bee took the politics that make a hive,
Fish swam as fish, peach settled into peach.
And were successful at the first endeavour;
The hour of birth their only time at college,
They were content with their precocious knowledge,
And knew their station and were good for ever.
Till finally there came a childish creature
On whom the years could model any feature,
And fake with ease a leopard or a dove;
Who by the lightest wind was changed and shaken,
And looked for truth and was continually mistaken,
And envied his few friends and chose his love.
The theme: Man is a creature who is forever becoming, hardly ever in a state of being. The animal and vegetable world simply is, without ego.
By John Kaag and Clancy Martin
I HAVE, alas! Philosophy,
Medicine, Jurisprudence too,
And to my cost Theology,
With ardent labour, studied through.
And here I stand, with all my lore,
Poor fool, no wiser than before.
For two professors, the opening words of Goethe’s Faust have always been slightly disturbing, but only recently, as we’ve grown older, have they come to haunt us.
Faust sits in his dusty library, surrounded by tomes, and laments the utter inadequacy of human knowledge. He was no average scholar but a true savant — a master in the liberal arts of philosophy and theology and the practical arts of jurisprudence and medicine. In the medieval university, those subjects were the culminating moments of a lifetime of study in rhetoric, logic, grammar, arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy.
In other words, Faust knows everything worth knowing. And still, after all his careful bookwork, he arrives at the unsettling realization that none of it has really mattered. His scholarship has done pitifully little to unlock the mystery of human life.
by Danielle Charette
Long before Donald Trump, there was the homegrown demagoguery of Robert Penn Warren’s Willie Stark. All the King’s Men turns seventy this year, but Warren’s best-known novel seems as prescient as ever. As Governor Stark barnstorms his way across the South, Warren exposes the underbelly of American politics, where the rule of law and state budgets become “like the pants you bought last year for a growing boy.” For Warren’s politician, “it is always this year and the seams are popped and the shankbone’s to the breeze. The law is always too short and too tight for growing humankind.”
Despite his ten novels, Warren thought of himself primarily as a poet, and you can hear his ear for backwater prosody in Stark’s often-cruel populist rhetoric. In this sense, All the King’s Men serves as a kind of primer for approaching Warren’s earthy realism. The poems we find in volumes like Promises and Tale of Time are full of blackened oaks, birds of prey, unnamed fathers and ticking clocks. The “facts” of rustic America can seem backward or painful, but they can also give substance to poetry. For Warren, the honest poet confronts the world before him, without floating off into what Keats called the “egotistical sublime.” The freewheeling ego is a writerly sin he associated with Emerson’s Over-soul, Hemingway’s chauvinists and Jay Gatsby’s romantic fantasies. All are guilty of a “fluidity of selves” and the dangers that come with delusions of grandeur. More often than not, this shapeshifting has a political component. We see it in the bizarre conceit that the son of a New York real-estate mogul speaks for working-class voters abandoned by the “establishment.” Trump’s sudden affection for the everyman marks a nastier rejoinder to 2008, when soaring vagaries like “hope” and “change” propelled President Obama to the White House. Vacant ideals tend to invite civic confusion at best and political thuggery at worst.
Read the complete article
The Soul-Expanding Value of Difficulty: Rilke on How Great Sadnesses Transform Us and Bring Us Closer to Ourselves
By Maria Popova
Rainer Maria Rilke’s classic Letters to a Young Poet (public library) is among those very few texts — alongside Thoreau’s journal, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek — that I read like one does scripture. In the century since its publication, Rilke’s reflections have proven timeless and timely, over and over, in countless human lives — a wealth of enduring ideas on how to live the questions and what it really means to love.
Perhaps his most piercing insight and sagest advice — not only for the recipient, the 19-year-old cadet and budding poet Franz Xaver Kappus, but for every human being with a beating heart and a restless mind — comes from a letter penned on August 12, 1904.
An early reminder that on September 22 we will be discussing the poetry of Rainier Maria Rilke, (focusing on translations by Stephen Mitchell and J.B. Leishman). See the SCHEDULE PAGE for a list of poems to be featured.
By Paul Reitter and Chad Wellmon
Of the power of art, history, and philosophy to change us there are few instances more straightforward than Rilke’s sonnet “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” in which a confrontation with classical sculpture ends with the injunction, “You must change your life.” It might seem, at first, a short step from that stern command to branding Rilke’s collected letters as The Poet’s Guide to Life: The Wisdom of Rilke, as the Modern Library did in 2005. Self-transformation has always been part of the promise of the humanities, after all.