Delusional Myths about Poetry

I am tired of the many weird, false ideas about poetry.  Mind you, I am a poetry ignoramus, but my stupidity has never stop me from pontificating before — so here I go.

First, just like my posts on homeopathy, I hope my posts on poetry will illustrate habits of human emotion and reasoning that are also seen in religious thinking.  But that should not be surprising, because they all come from the same human mind.  My point is that though some people may feel superior because they are free of the normal human religious superstitions, the posts points out that confusion is pervasive and that religions have absolutely no monopoly on delusions — a theme of this blog.

Poetry is often attributed all sorts of magical, mystical properties.  I will use this post to list examples I find.  Poetry, like dance, sculpturing, painting, music, novel writing and much more, is just another form of human creative expression — it is not the voice of God, the Divine, the Cosmos, Nature, the Real Self or anything else.  Arghhhh!

David Orr, a poet critique in the New York Times, has a fun book called:  “Beautiful & pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry”.  On page two he laments that a common belief about poetry is: “[it] is the pure expression of our inner lives.  It is the prism through which the soul is glimpsed.”  On pg xiv he says “We seem trapped between a tediously mechanical view of poems and an unjustifiably shamanistic view of poetry itself”.   The people who read poetry in hopes of reading their own personal shaman abound .

For example, today I noticed that James McGrath has moved his Liberal Christian blog to Patheos.  One one of the many blogs there I read this nauseating piece:

Can Poetry Heal the Planet: “As texts for spoken word, Stephen Levine’s poems kindle higher consciousness. Aloud, they awaken awareness — words become stepping stones.”
— from a blog review of Levine’s book: “Breaking the Drought.”

Seriously!?  Could you imagine titles like “Can Novels Heal the Planet?”,  “Can Sculptures Heal the Planet?”  — not to mention the notion of kindling “higher consciousness”?.

I have intermittently read poetry over the years hoping it would click with me and I’d become a better person.🙂  Yet for decades nothing clicked, I thought I must be soulless.  But in the last 5 years I have started to enjoy some poetry and even write occasionally.  I now I feel freer to say that part of my blind spot to poetry was all the false myths that clouded it as an art form.  Now without the myths, I can enjoy some poetry.  Funny, as I write this, I hear some emerging and liberal Christians saying the same thing about their Christianity.

Whether a poem, a dance, a sculpture, a song, a sight, a smell, a touch or a mathematical formula captures, inspires, lightens or frees your mind, it is not the form, not the vehicle but you and yuan.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

36 responses to “Delusional Myths about Poetry

  1. Mike aka MonolithTMA

    Can blogging heal the planet?😉

    Art means different things to different people. I just had a flashback to Keanu Reeves, in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, quoting Kansas to Socrates. “All we are is dust in the wind, dude.”

    People are fond of saying that music is the universal language, but that is just not true. Hell, we still use the chanting of Tibetan monks in our horror movies and trailers, hardly what the monks intended, the same for Australian didgeridoos. Rhythm comes a little closer to being universal, but even it is incredibly complex in some parts of the world and simple in others. Ask Charles Manson about music healing the planet. Most of us are inspired to be more peaceful by the lyrics of The Beatles, him, not so much.

    Poetry has at times moved me, not so much reading it, but having bits of it quoted in other mediums. How many poetry books were sold because of Dead Poet’s Society? Still, unless poetry is some magical incantation, which it sounds like they want to see Levine’s works as such, then only hard work and difficult decisions are going to change the planet.

  2. Mike aka MonolithTMA

    This post also reminded me of the line in one of the Star Trek movies about Shakespeare being better in the original Klingon.😉

  3. Jen

    Wonderful post. This reminds me of the magical properties attributed to language and thought in general. Runes, symbols, all these are used to conjure up a sense of magic. You’ve heard the saying, no doubt, “If you can dream it, you can achieve it.” Same kind of delusion, but a feel-good one. I enjoy poetry, but not for the uplift or hope for change of character, but for the messy human-ness found therein. It may run counter to a zen state–more of a celebration of our delusions. On the other hand, Wallace Steven’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird may be an attempt to cut through the crap. I’m going to investigate “Beautiful and Pointless.”

  4. Poetry is the greatest art form, but I’m with you on the silliness of many fans. Too often, people get inspired by poetry and then attempt to do poetry when writing about poetry. The “words become stepping stones” quote is such a bad attempt at poetry that it unwittingly proves there is a big difference between good and bad poetry.

    One of the most vomit-inducing attempts at poetry I’ve ever seen was Richard Dawkins’ “Unweaving the Rainbow”.

  5. Mike :
    Yep, you got it! *laughing* at the Klingon quip.

    Jen :
    Thanx Jen. Exactly, the delusional notions of the magic of language closely follow all of this.

    JS :
    Do you have a link to Dawkin’s poem? I only see a book by that name. I don’t know Dawkins at all, but my impression is that he’d be poor at poetry. Apparently new advances with magnetisim induced mental states were tried on his temporal lobe and had no effect — I’d guess he has some circuits fairly atrophied while others are flourishing.

    Question: How the heck can you say: “Poetry is the greatest art form,”??
    I doubt dancers, novelists, sculptures, actors, painters or many, many more would agree. Do you have some operation way that you evaluate that.
    OR, can we interpret that to mean “to me [with all my inclinations, temperament settings, dispositions and experiences] I find some poetry to be the form of art which inspires me the most.”

    Is that a generous translation?

    BTW, I haven’t got around to reading your most recent post — but it looks fascinating. I hope to get there this weekend.

  6. A poetry ignoramus?

    See, this is what bothers me about so much of the arts: its accessibility. If you need a master’s degree just to ‘get it’ then the problem isn’t with the audience but the author.

    I have had some terribly passionate arguments about the arts and its role but my main point is that it should be a vehicle for a personal transformative experience in the sense you should be different (and more) after going through it than you were before. It should be enriching. That may mean simply seeing something differently but more deeply.

    But like any language, art requires some degree of literacy. The more you bring to it, the more you get out of it. But that doesn’t mean you need to start at some fully literate level any more than we start speaking or reading in fully formed sentences. That you have ‘worked’ for some time without any substantial payoff in pleasure trying to enjoy poetry is a pretty good indicator that something’s out of whack.

    We develop a deeper appreciation for good art in the same way we develop a fuller appreciation for a beautifully expressed thought that stands above the common one. How something is put together is half the wonder.

    My thing about poetry is how well it breathes, how well it shapes and presents something startling and beautiful for my pleasure. For that to happen, it’s important to remember that poetry is an art for the ear and not the eyes… and most certainly not for the accolades of the presenter but for the enjoyment of the listener.

    Judge your poetry accordingly and make it your own.

  7. Yeah, it was in his book. He was trying to show that scientists can be poetic, and attempted to demonstrate through his own example a few times. It was horrible; kind of like someone’s mom trying to be “cool” by dancing hip-hop at the junior high school dance.

    In my experience, artists in other spheres are often happy to grant poetry the premier status. I bet if we took a vote among artists, poetry would come out on top🙂 I doubt you’d get the same result from non-artists, though — maybe painting or movies would come out on top?

    The function of art is to express. We appreciate art that expresses something that we’ve held inside, and we say, “Yes! That’s exactly how it feels!”. A great piece of art is one that definitively expresses something that no other piece of art has ever expressed, and becomes synonymous with that. In one sense, Delacroix’s “Massacre at Chios” and Picasso’s “Guernica” are both expressing the horrors of war, and they even look similar. But they express different things, and are each the definitive expression of what they express. “Massacre at Chios” came first, but “Guernica” definitely wasn’t redundant.

    Based on that definition of art, poetry is pretty remarkable. We live immersed in words; most of them boring. Poetry is just words, but used in a way that makes people feel things that can change their lives — more expressively and more succinctly than prose. Think of all of the people who have found hope and meaning in song lyrics that hit them a certain way.

  8. @JS I tend to relate function to craft… not art. Different purposes entirely, don’t you think? As Wilde writes, all art is quite useless, and I think he’s quite right to assess its function as such. As for premier status, art itself can be accessed in many forms – architecture, sculpting, paint, prosody, and so on – but here again I think Wilde is quite correct: From the point of view of form, the type of all the arts is the art of the musician.

  9. @ tildeb :
    I personally don’t thing any art “SHOULD” be anything. I you mean, “I (tildeb) want art to be a personal trnsformative experience (whatever that means)”, great, but I don’t see any universal should that needs to be snuck into that. I agree that many forms are easier to enjoy with experience — actually, probably most.

    @ JS :
    Hmmmm, maybe I will do a poll on whether others consider Poetry to be the peak expression. Concerning music — people love and are often deeply inspired by music with lyrics that make absolutely no sense to them. It is sound, for them, not ideas or the words implications. So I think that music and rhythm can not be underestimated. The dances of youth will stay burned in many people’s minds more than any poem. Poems without music are not felt deeply by many at all, I am afraid.

    I still don’t think you can say that Poetry helps people “change their lives” more than prose at all. Not sure where you get that. I think, if it could be tested, if you took out religious poetry (because all old stuff was mostly written as poetry of some form), you could see it is not true from anything after 1900s for instance — which would show that it is not the form that matters — the point of my post.

    I think we disagree and instead, as I said, we are talking about your preferences.

    Interesting discussion guys — thanks for engaging !!

  10. @tildeb – Yes, “function” was perhaps not the best word.

    @sabio – I certainly wouldn’t argue that other art forms cannot be inspiring or expressive, and I wouldn’t argue that poetry impacts more lives than other art forms or prose. So I agree with you, and that’s not what I was saying.

    The point was simply that poetry often does have a deep impact on people (and I definitely wasn’t talking about religious poetry at all — any of the examples that come to mind for me are all secular), and when it’s really good, it uses fewer bits of information per impact than any other art form. It’s the ultimate distilled expressive medium. Nothing else comes close.

    Neuuroscientist Ramachandran has a chapter on aesthetics in his new book, and covers a lot of additional reasons why one could argue that poetry is the premiere art form. It sits at the intersection of symbol processing, metaphor, semantics, transderivational search, synesthasia, and so on.

  11. @ JS :
    You said,

    It’s the ultimate distilled expressive medium.

    I don’t see anything virtuous or laudible about this trait — if it is even true.

    You said

    why one could argue that poetry is the premiere art form.

    Looking for a “premiere” art form is hopelessly subjective, prescriptive and confused, IMHO. That is the point of this post and others to come. I am glad I have someone reading who tows that line.
    I truly see such analysis similar to the analysis that drives one to evaluate a religion as absolute and superior to all others.
    Thanks for challenging. It is fun to strongly disagree.

  12. It’s a fun hobbyhorse to beat on, because most people disagree with me. It’s always good for a spirited discussion between artists and engineers🙂 Many people feel that art is purely subjective, and that religion is objective, but I think that’s backwards. Religion is a matter of making a brute decision, but art is objective.

    That’s not to say that judgments about art are easy or obvious. But they definitely aren’t arbitrary matters of opinion, any more than “sanity” is purely a matter of opinion. I like to make this point by asking people to rank a handful of different covers a famous song. The middle is usually open to debate, but the top and bottom are usually clear. For example, with “Danny Boy”, The Pogues tend to come out on top, and Irish Tenors at bottom. Or with “Seasons in the Sun”, Nirvana and Black Box Recorder nail it, while Westlife’s cover of the song is a crime against humanity. IMO, this proves that aesthetic judgment isn’t purely arbitrary.

    Ramachandran proposed that we can measure galvanic skin response (GSR) to objectively evaluate art, but that’s way too simple, IMO. Porn elicits a huge GSR, and GSR can be heavily influenced by culture. I don’t think we know how to infallibly judge art, but that doesn’t mean it’s arbitrary — it just means we’re fallible.

  13. @ JS,

    You are talking to me, not your other audience.

    I certainly don’t feel art is purely subjective. We are organisms with certain sense organs and brains — only some things resonate. Then there is the exposure’s timing and length in the conditioning. So huge subjectivity disappear there.

    But music contests show the subjective element easily.

    So your strawman of “PURELY” does not help the conversation since I did not even discuss art as purely arbitrary.

    You are the one making exaggerated claims like “ultimate distilled expressive medium” and “the greatest art form”.
    I think I am clear on your tastes but we are no closer to understanding your hyperbole.

    Just because art is not PURELY subjective still does not mean you are right.

  14. Boz

    I like the poem “Ozymandias”.

    You have done some triathlons – when I have a spare few thousand dollars (never?) I’m going to buy a rear disc wheel, and get the following quote painted on it to remind me to not take things too seriously:

    “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings”

  15. Where did this notion come from that we dare not judge art except by standards wholly of our own making? This is relativism run amok and invites feces flinging by elephants or monkeys to be equivalent of an artistic ‘expression’, which is only appropriate to those who wish to insist that everybody agree to turn art to shit. I, for one, think this reveals an error in thinking.

  16. I always felt awkward in school when I had particular teacher, who would break out a book of beatnick poetry to read every Friday to the class, and felt like I should feel something grand because the teacher did. I mean any artistic expression can resonate a connection with other people, because the reader or listener or viewer finds truth or beauty or personal experience in it. But lofty and change the world kind of magic, nope, I agree with ya there.

  17. Ian

    I wonder if Meditation isn’t the same thing. More than halfway through the Aro course now, I’m tempted to make the same leap you made about poetry.

    Poetry for me is a set of constraints. And in that constraint you have to make language work harder to be successful. You can’t describe something for a paragraph, you have to evoke it in a word. And so poems tend to be more ambiguous, and can be more beautiful than prose. To me, at least. And I rather enjoy quite a lot of poetry.

    For a long time I’ve felt that I’ve been missing something about meditation. I tried it and it didn’t do much for me, and felt that I was missing some core spark or some deeper reality or experience. But I’m thinking meditation is just like poetry. Its nothing special, ontologically, or experientially. It just tries to distil a particular kind of experience. Which you either like (and therefore like it distilled) or you don’t.

    Good analogy?

  18. @ tildeb :
    Who are you addressing? And where did they say what you claim they said?

    @ Kyle :
    Exactly! Well said.

    @ Ian :
    Superb analogy, of sorts!
    Poetry can be very useful to exploring parts of the mind, especially of some folks that are otherwise hard to move, awaken, inspire …
    Likewise for many other forms of art — depends on the person.
    But to call the the supreme, the ultimate, the best and mystical just in the form is wrong.
    Poetry can be violent, manipulative, deceptive, boring, bad and all that other stuff, it is just a form.

    But yes, meditation can allow one skills that can be gotten by other methods and those skills are not enough for the good life or saving the planet, yourself or others.

    BTW, some poetry is very, very verbose, no matter how terse with phrases and sentences. The stanzas can ramble — it all depends on the style of poetry and the author. Again, the form is just a form.

    For me, those who find great meaning in their religion and then declare it the ultimate, best religion, stop seeing the form of religion and are tricked with their own preferences in a very similar way.

  19. @ Sabio, it was a general observation about the state of what constitutes art today and merely begins to address its abuse under the banner of subjectivity.

    Art is not magical or mystical and on this we agree. But it is a special kind of communication… as Ian explained regarding poetry.

    You seem to have taken some offense to my use of the word transformative ignoring completely the sense in which I spelled out its meaning. I used this term to differentiate the intention between craft, which is for function, and art, which is for this experience. Intention is very important and is the foundation upon which we judge the effectiveness by which art communicates. Although the judging of art and its effectiveness is subjective, it is quite dependent on both the personal transformative experience as well as some level of expertise in whatever form the art is expressed. If no transformative experience is intended to be communicated – using the symbolic grammar of the particular art form – then it ain’t art; it’s merely personal expression. This is what I see around us pretending to be art: personal expression that is trying to shock us into effect and called ‘art’. I call it crap.

    And I do so because I think too many people fail to understand that a shared grammar is essential for the communication of art (rather than personal expression) to take place. Just like in the spoken word, if we don’t grasp that the grammar of phonemes reveals intentional meaning and take the time to actually learn what the sounds mean (so that we can build these sound into complex and related meanings), then its meaningless paint, stone, sound, sight, texture, vibration, and so on. We will still respond on a biological level to any symbolism and patterning we encounter but we won’t understand the patterns we find nor know how to read them except in their most elemental form.

    We may think we are responding to the drums, but what we’re really responding to is how the patterns stimulate our brains and emotions. This is the subjective experience but it is not necessarily transformative any more than salivating at the sight and smell of some McBurger equates with the artistry for a designed journey of subtle delights awaiting the gourmet palette. We can all cook, but very few of us are culinary artists. The difference is one of intention and the expertise of communicating effectively in symbolic form defines the level of artistry regardless of its form. Art is one thing that speaks to us in our dream language (symbols and patterns) and one we respond to (you use the word ‘resonate’) on a physical level: we feel art as JS points out because we respond to its intention. In this sense, art is very intentional and with a very designed purpose that only seems to be subjectively experienced.

    That doesn’t make art subjective, but our experience of it has to be. Its power to affect us on the deepest levels of our being places art as one of the most important and meaningful (meaning ‘life-enriching’) experiences we can have.

  20. sigh …
    I was just hoping for a bit more interaction with the post and people here.

  21. I think you’re confusing personal prejudice with objective ranking.

    My personal preference is to spend more time consuming non-poetry art forms than poetry, but if I am to evaluate on a collection of reasonable criteria, I have to conclude that poetry is objectively the premiere art form (completely independent of my preference). Likewise, I personally prefer to live in a house, but I might objectively conclude that skyscrapers are the premiere form of human shelter that has ever been devised.

    Now, you might disagree with the conclusions, but the process of argument requires reasons. You can argue that the ranking needs to be changed, or that there are important missing criteria, or you can even try to refine the question. But, you can’t just banish the whole exercise by nakedly asserting that forms can’t be ranked.

    Suppose I say that skyscrapers are a better form of shelter than a hole in the ground. I wouldn’t consider this to be a good response:

    Whether a skyscraper, a cave, or a hole in the ground provides you shelter, it is not the form, not the vehicle but you and yuan.

    Seriously? We can’t rank forms of shelter because it’s all “yuan”. Isn’t that a little bit mystical?

    Or how about this:

    Looking for a “premiere” form of shelter is hopelessly subjective, prescriptive and confused, IMHO.

    Wow, that seems pretty emotional and closed-minded. Can you seriously not think of any good reason why someone would want to rank forms of shelter or forms of art?

  22. @ JS :

    I don’t think I understand the list of criteria for judging all art forms which makes it clear why Poetry should be at the top.

    And since I haven’t heard any, I am assuming it is subjective.
    Did I miss the measurable items that would make such a decision objective (removing the subject)?

  23. And since I haven’t heard any, I am assuming it is subjective. Did I miss the measurable items that would make such a decision objective (removing the subject)?

    Apparently, you missed it. I suggested that art is primarily about “expressiveness”, and then I enumerated several potential pivots that could form a reasonable criteria set for judging an art form’s expressiveness: parsimony of expression, ability to drive TDS, unification of higher and lower consciousness functions, GSR, breadth of modality, exclusiveness. As I also mentioned, Ramachandran has a list of about 12 pivots that he suggests, which I find reasonable. Scruton has slightly different pivots, which are also reasonable.

    Reasonable people can disagree on what the correct criteria are (Although, I think poetry tends to come out on top for almost any criteria that reasonable people agree upon). But I don’t see any logical way to insist that forms are unrankable. As soon as we clearly pick a purposeful end like “expressiveness” or “shelter”, we’re automatically committing to the fact that we can rank forms of achieving that purpose.

  24. crl

    Poetry is art, and art, perhaps by its very definition, is completely and utterly subjective. So who’s to say which art is the highest? JS Allen, art is not a shelter. Pure art does not serve a purpose, and art which serves a purpose is generally relegated to craft. If the purpose of art is to arouse our emotions, then, as our individual emotions respond to different triggers, it is impossible to say that one work of art form is better or worse than another. If the purpose of art is as a vehicle to express our emotions, than who but the artist can judge its value? Perhaps Richard Dawkins feels that his “bad” poetry has expressed something he had inside him. (I doubt it, as he was probably just trying to make his point.) If so, who are you to deny the value of this?

  25. crl,

    Art is purposeful activity directed as expressing something to another person. It’s neither involuntary nor interior. As such, it can be judged to meet or miss the mark. As such, we can evaluate how effective various techniques are.

    art which serves a purpose is generally relegated to craft.

    Nonsense. You’re saying that art must be involuntary and purposeless, and directed at nobody, to be considered art? By that definition, people with Tourette’s syndrome would be the greatest artists of all.

    Now that you mention it, Richard Dawkins’ poetry does remind me a bit of the involuntary spastic ticks of strongly felt-profanity that typify someone with Tourette’s.

    If that’s your definition of “art”, we’re clearly talking about different things.

  26. @ JS :

    Art is purposeful activity directed as expressing something to another person. It’s neither involuntary nor interior.

    My blog is meant to express myself — but not to everyone. Not even to a set audience. I would like some people to get it. I will even Taylor it enough that enough folks get it to make me feel it is worth while.

    But much of my blog I write for myself and don’t care if noone understands. There is certainly a part of that.

    Likewise, I have written poetry that I care not if anyone reads — I am its audience.

    That said, I agree with much of crl’s sentiment, but to put this in words and iron out or clarify differences is difficult.

    I suggested that art is primarily about “expressiveness”,

    Well, there is a decision there, I guess. People have speculated about what art is for centuries. No sooner is it defined and artists rebel — no? Some want it pure entertainment with the market the judge of success or value, some want it an inner journey and care not if another person likes it.

    The criteria you mention are interesting. The trick would be to get people to subjectively agree on those criteria to prescribe what art should be. Which I think is a little bit of what CRL and Kyle and Mike were also saying.

    This venture of yours to declare Poetry as the noblest and highest supreme form of expression among humans is interesting.

    I have learned to slowly find value in it. I no longer dismiss it. I like some. And I love and have been fed by all sorts of other arts up to now.

  27. i’m a big fan of the arts and of poetry. when i read your line “I have intermittently read poetry over the years hoping it would click with me and I’d become a better person.” i looked at the “read poetry” part and thought “no, no, no… you must EXPERIENCE it.” that would mean checking out a poetry slam or something. i think it’s best to get the author’s sound when reading.

    while i don’t think poetry has the type of power to heal our physical bodies (say a poem/prayer over someone, they feel better) there is a magic in poetry and in art in general. art can indeed be healing. art to me is an anecdote of the spirit; the only means of making concrete the purpose of its varied quickness and stillness. it can fully relate image and emotion in one fell swoop. i’m in awe of those who can do that well, and am more than a little prejudice against those who don’t do it all that well.

  28. @ ghost,
    I agree, experiencing the reading or even acting of the poetry from the poets mouth and body are a much richer experience. I imagine having a novelist read their own poem may help too.

    But in both cases, this may not be true from some poets and novelists. It all depends.

    I have seen “Slam” poetry and enjoyed it several times. But even at that, though I had seen similar things in my life, it wasn’t until recently that I found versions I enjoy until now.

    Not to quibble words, but I think it is important.

    Words have the potential to heal — if they come in terms of novels, poems, songs, conversation, whispers or TV shows. Poetry is not unique or magical any more than these are from that angle.

    Some poetry is violent, some playful, some silly, some morbid …

    Again, I feel it is not the form — but I think JS disagrees.

    When I mention myths about Poetry, I think Poetophiles come running to her defense as some Religionists come running to the defense of their religion upon the smallest criticism.

    On several websites over the last 6 months or so I have found many people who are very religious about their poetry. That is the point of this post.

  29. yeah, that used to be me. i loved art that i would unthinkingly (is that a word) defend it. i think art is a great expression, i think it can be healing and magical and inspire and create a sense of wonder and awe. yet there are those who would take it too far. i think art can be salvific and in any medium: poems, TV, sculpture, paintings, movies, etc. but not for everyone and not every time. How I Met Your Mother doesn’t rate compared to something like Lost; or The Hangover to The Matrix or Star Wars (to use “big” examples), although I’ve been surprised by HIMYM at times.

  30. crl

    Ah, yes, art is directed at another person, which does not stop art teachers from babbling about self expression. The question is, to which person is art directed? If I were to judge whether or not something was art by its’ effects on me, there would effectively be no art left. Perhaps if you were to use another’s judgement, everything would be art. So if there is no objective way to judge a piece of art, than how can you say that any branch of art, such as poetry, is the highest, by anything other than your personal opinion?

    “Nonsense. You’re saying that art must be involuntary and purposeless, and directed at nobody, to be considered art?”

    This isn’t what I’m saying, this is what I understood to be your definition of art. Though I’m not quite sure where you got the purposeless from…

  31. claudia

    I think that certain poetry, like art and classical music, or beautiful churches and religious service, including prayer and singing, create a feeling of awe, both in an individual and in a group setting (concert hall, museum, church). (The art forms are unrelated to belief in a deity.) The artists and musicians are imbued with a god-like quality because of their ability to create something so moving. (This may be one reason they are thought to have knowledge beyond their area of expertise.) I have the sense that some parents encourage their children to excel in classical flute, violin, etc., to bring them (children and parents) closer to the divine, in an abstract sense. Of course in earlier centuries, it was the Church that supported great composers and artists, whose theme was often religious. The art and music, in turn, enhanced religiosity, though it is part of the cultural heritage of the non-religious, too. On a different note, knowledge and apparent appreciation of the “high” arts elevate ones status and allow entrance into elite social groups, at least in western society. Perhaps poetry is obscure so that only the literary elite can claim to understand and appreciate it.

  32. Of course, as you can tell by other posts on this blog, I don’t think there is an DIVINE to be moved closer to. But indeed skilled artist can bring out a huge varieties of emotions and thoughts that others may label as divine.

    Awe is a human emotion — heck, other animals may share it too.

    Thanx for your input.

  33. claudia

    I want to correct something I wrote. Good poets are not to blame. It is (many) literary critics and professors who create the impression that some people are more talented that others at analyzing poetry, its metaphors and meaning. But a poem is not something separate from a poet, who knew what s/he was trying to convey, just as there is no difference between a person and his postulated-to-exist “soul.” To a Mouse, by Robert Burns, is a favorite poem of mine. I thinks its message is clear, yet much is written on how to interpret it.

    Also divine should read as “divine.”

    Finally, I believe that many animals share our rights and many of our emotions and intelligences. I believe that my dog is in awe while sitting quietly, contemplating the water, for example, but I don’t really know what she is feeling.

  34. @ claudia,
    Thanx for the correction and elaboration. Fun writing.

  35. @Claudia

    I imagine most of those literary critics aren’t trying to belittle other readers, but rather they are just sharing less obvious aspects of a work an average reader (and other scholars who are generally their primary audience) might have overlooked.

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