Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Poetry and Philosophy

Siris has an interesting quote from the philosopher John Watson (from The Interpretation of Religious Experience):

The poetic intuitions of Wordsworth and Browning, of Goethe and Schiller, contain larger and deeper truth than is to be found in the systems of contemporary theologians or philosophers; but the reason is, not that imagination comes closer to reality than reflection, but that it naturally outruns its slower-paced sister. Poetry never contains deeper truth than philosophy, except when it embodies intuitions that are afterwards expressed, or may afterwards be expressed, in systematic form. In poetry we have the concrete presentation of ideas in definite pictorial form, but it is only as it exhibits the whole through the parts, the ideal in the sensible, that it can ever be regarded as reaching a higher stage than a philosophy which has lost itself in the parts.

John Watson, The Interpretation of Religious Experience, Part 2,
(It’s available in various eformats on Internet Archive.)

It is a fact that early philosophy was often written in verse then considered to be the most suitable vehicle for wisdom combining compression and memorability in a way which would enter deep into the mind. The etymology of ‘poetry’ as given by C.T. Onions is from the Greek ‘poein’ to make, to create and is related to the Sanskrit ‘cinoti, edyate - to heap up, construct. One thinks of the ajativada (unmade) theory of the cosmos espoused by the grandguru of Sankaracarya, Gaudapada. Sankaracarya’s Upadesa Sahasri (Thousand Teachings) is mostly written in verse. So with poetry we make a world or what amounts to the same thing make our souls. Socarates in the few days grace given to him before his execution on account of a festival took to writing poetry.

Philosophy in prose form too makes a world, offers a vision. We give it a temporary licence.

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