Monday, November 1, 2010

The Philosopher and the Poet

I remember a heated discussion with a couple of friends in college who became convinced that philosophy was the highest, purest form of art there could be. I think their argument was that it dealt with the highest things, unencumbered by anything like a storyline, or a canvas, or a musical score. (It’s been quite a while--I could be completely wrong, but that’s how I remember it.) I had just finished a semester in a philosophy class, and I was a music student, besides, so there was no way I could agree. My argument was that a poet (or artist, or composer, for that matter) could take that pure philosophy and capture its essence in just a few lines, delivering the same message in a beautiful form that could be understood almost instinctually. I still stand by that thought: poet/artist/musician as messenger, translator, light-shedder.

But here is a slightly different take on poetry and reason, from the chapter titled “The Maniac,” in G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy:

Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion, like the physical exhaustion of Mr. Holbein. To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.
Does that make anybody else want to shout, “Yes, yes, yes!” and plaster that on their forehead?


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