The Poetry Corner. January 2021
A philosopher is a person who offers views or theories on profound questions.
Is today’s poet the philosopher of our time?
Use relevant poets and poems to support or disagree with the argument. You are welcome to send your ideas to me at; email@example.com
Socrates said: ” I cannot teach anybody anything I can only make them think”
Socrates died 399 BC. We do not know his birthdate.
Socrates was a Greek Philosopher and the main source of Western thought. It is only through what was recorded by his students that we know about his life. The Socratic Method laid the ground work for Western systems of logic and philosophy.
When the political climate of the time changed, Socrates was accused of atheism and of corrupting the youth of Athens with his ideas. Socrates was sentenced to death. He accepted the judgment of death by hemlock poisoning in 399BC rather than fleeing into exile. Socrates was ordered to walk and walk until the hemlock effected him and he died.
Plato was born in Athens in 428 BC and died 348BC
Plato said: ” Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something “
When Plato met Socrates, he had met his definitive teacher. As Socrates’ desciple, Plato adopted his philosophy and style of debate and directed his studies toward the question of Virtue and the formation of a noble character. Socrates’ execution had a profound effect on Plato and this convinced him to leave Athenian politics forever.
He left Athens and travelled and studied and began writing extensively. In 387BC Plato returned to Athens and founded a school called the Academy. Plato’s school is often described as the first European University. He presided over the Academy until his death. Plato’s intention was that the Academy would provide a place where thinkers could work toward better government in the Grecian Cities.
In Greek the word philo means friend and the word sophia means wisdom. Hence the the word philosopher, meaning, a friend of wisdom. Philosophers, or wise men and women, existed since mankind existed but it is thought that it was Phythagoras who used the title of Philosopher when he said that he was a friend of wisdom. This specific naming of wisdom was a new invention and in relation to poetry it was a newcomer. Homer and Hesiod were the great intellectual poets of the day and Plato could be was considered to be making a hostile take over bid. Plato wanted intellectual space for Philosophy and considered poetry as too great a competitor.
For Plato, poetry is an art and as such it is a third level reality…simply imitation of imitation. So, poetry in Plato’s mind is decoration…it is not knowledge. This became the huge argument and battle as Plato sought to make poetry secondary to philosophy. Plato’s challenge that poetry could not produce knowledge but was only something “sweet” and an imitation of the real, was taken up by Aristotle.
Aristotle attended Plato’s Academy and though a brilliant pupil Aristotle opposed some of Plato’s teachings and when Plato died he was not appointed head of the Academy.
Plato dealt with the ultimate reality of Ideas knowable only through reflection and Reason. Aristotle however, saw ultimate reality in physical objects knowable through experience. Aristotle believed that poets could contribute to thought and to knowledge and he claimed that poetry is philosophical. Philosophers seek and study knowledge and reach the conclusion through knowing. I believe that poets and poetry can realise propositional knowledge which is ” knowing – that” by carefully working through ideas and language to make a poem. This would be a specific form of poem or particular poet. Not all poetry need be constructed to fit this genre. Poetry can contain truths and explain specific truths. Poetry can also be descriptive and describe beauty or express feelings. (The poem Magnolia is a poem about a truth of fact concerning a creation. At first glance it is a poem about a beautiful tree but as we learn more we can examine Its truths.)
Poetry can state facts, it is a way of knowing. Obviously poetry and science are different but there is interaction. Science is knowledge of facts and is a way of proving facts. But science has found that poetry is useful and can be used to help rehabilitate the brain after brain trauma, thus discounting the notion of poetry as only something “sweet and nice.”
Poetry is now used to help patients with dementia and depression. Poetry stirs memory and engages the mind and helps expression. The shape of the syntax, the lines in front of your eyes, the sentences when you read poetry, can change the pathways behind your eyes, keeping brain and mind alive. Good poetry is good for the brain.
Poetry shows us things in a different way. Poetry expresses thoughts, feelings and experience.
Poetry expresses truth about what is it like. Poetry tells us what it is like to think in a certain way what it is like to feel emotion and experience sensation and even trauma. Poetry is language that hears itself…it hears ones own thoughts. Words are queried, chosen or put aside. Different truths about living and the world can be understood through poetry. These are not mathematical truths but we can accept that there are many ways to philosophise. Poets love words and poets, search and long for precise knowledge of words so as to clearly communicate with the reader and to promote understanding.
The reader or the listener needs to be open to receiving and to listening. Poems need to be read over and over, dissected and interpreted in order to arrive at a truthful understanding so as to gain knowledge of the subject being treated.
We will plant a magnolia tree
And sit beneath its branches
Your son and me.
Nothing grows underneath
This candelabra style tree,
So we will plant little seeds of love
To grow alongside the uplifting
Candle-like blooms waxen and pure
Like our tears and our hopes.
Hope that will mingle with the daily
Leaf-fall that is magnolia’s nature.
As we grow in strength and love
Your son holding my hand,
The hand that once held yours.
(c)2015 Sheighle Birdthistle
This poem tells the story of a woman whose husband was terminally ill and she wanted to have his child. The husband’s sperm was frozen and a year and a half after his death, his wife gave birth to their son.
The poem shows the mother and child sitting beneath a Magnolia tree. This beautiful tree causes the earth under its shadow to be barren. Nothing grows beneath the Magnolia tree as it daily drops its leaves.
All this is a metaphor for tears shed, a mixture of sad and joyful tears. Seeds of love however, will grow, like the tree and be strong like the unity of the joined hands. The love of the mother and child and the love of the woman for her dead husband. The son holds his mother’s hand, the hand that once held his father’s hand.
Aristotle wrote about Friendship in the Ethics and what he said is still relevant today and we can see his ideas being treated by the philosopher poet John o’ Donohue. Aristotle divides friendship into three types based on the motive for forming them. The friendship of utility is more of an acquaintance type ..a shallow one as in the relationship of buyer/ seller this is merely utilitarian and not formed with regard to the other. People who delight in each other’s company form a friendship of pleasure but if their life patterns change so may the friendship falter. Friendships of the good are where both friends enjoy each other’s characters. Caring for the friend makes the friendship endure. This is the highest level and may be called true friendship.
John O’ Donohue identifies this type of friendship and uses the Irish language name of the friendship as Anam Cara….soul friend or soul mate. In early Celtic tradition a person who acted as teacher, companion or spiritual guide was called an Anam Cara. One could reveal the intimate innermost self, the mind, the heart to the Anam Cara. One was joined in an ancient and eternal way with the ” friend of the soul.” This is evidence of the same philosophy living through the ages from Aristotle to O’ Donohue. ” Friendship” a warm and delicate poem is by John O’ Donohue poet philosopher who died suddenly in Avignon on January 4th. 2008
Does the argument continue? Is poetry philosopical? Is the poet of today the philosopher of our time?
Friendship. John O’Donohue.
May you be blessed with good friends.
May you learn to be a good friend to yourself.
May you be able to journey to that place in your soul where is great love, warmth, feeling, and forgiveness
May this change you.
May it transfigure that which is negative, distant, or cold in you.
May you be brought in to the real passion, kinship, and affinity of belonging.
May you treasure your friends.
May you be good to them and may you be there for them;
they bring you all the blessing, challenges,
Truth,and light that you need for your journey.
May you never be isolated.
May you always be in the gentle nest of belonging with your anam ċara.
www.philosophytalk poetry as a way of knowing 2012 Stanford University www.philia-Wikipedia
O’ Donohue John 1997 Anam Cara Transworld Publishers Ltd. Uxbridge Road. London W5 5 SA
O’ Donohue John 2007 Benedictus Transworlld Publishers Ltd. Uxbridge Road. London W5 5 SA