I‘ve been reading a book called An Unexpected Light by a friend, Dave Mahan. It’s about poetry’s ability to recall, challenge and change things—specifically in the Christian concept of ‘witness’. I came across this quote where Dave is summarizing the thoughts of theologian Paul Riceour:
poetic discourse’s advantage…is its capacity to ‘redescribe reality'”.
I like that. This echoes another quote I have heard attributed to poet Robert Frost—”Poetry is a way to remember what we would be impoverished to forget”. Poetry does that for me, and I think it does that for the average human being—helps us communicate differently in order to grow in understanding.
I think about this in relation to our highly ‘scientific’ society, where sequence of thought – for example in logic – and the desire for firm, even rigid conclusion rules. After all, who wants to doubt, who wants to misunderstand, who wants to appear weak in their understanding of the world? Part of this is human pride, the desire to be in control of one’s own life and destiny—and this is a serious issue that few are willing to admit. However, the specific component I am referring to is more about the cultural influence on how and what we think.
Clear reason and solid logic are not wrong, but when we approach the world exclusively from that perspective we risk losing something. The word we’ve used among our friends is “wonder”, we lose respect for mystery and of our own limitations. My artistic and creative friends and I have described it as losing a part of what makes us human.
Our humanity cries out for us to live freely within the confines of our limitations. Does that sound weird? It should. Poetry helps me understand where the broad line of my limitations exists. It helps me see I am bigger than I ever thought I could be and smaller than I sometimes forget that I am.
In the Gospel of John, when the humble Carpenter from Nazareth said, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly,” he was poetically describing humanity’s possibilities and limitations. He wasn’t overruling logic. He wasn’t “dissing” reason, but you certainly get the sense that he is talking about more. Perhaps his statement was echoing Psalm 23 where God prepares a table for His people, where He makes their cup overflow?
Poetic communication, poetry itself, carries this same spirit of the overflowing cup. Reason and logic are present, but the way a phrase or word or stanza is used tells me more about life, me, my neighbors and my world than cold hard logical conclusions.
A way to remember
a poem by EG Frank
“To name is to know and remember.” Dana Gioia
A moral remembering
not for its own sake
but for the other,
for THAT person,
for the place over there,
for the time back then.
The bridge to the time coming
even helping ask
“Can we?” or “Should we?”
starting with the me, myself
and I will remember
1 Paul Ricoeur, Philosophy of Paul Riceour, 120-148.