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Two things collided this week. During the week I got a phone call asking me if I would like to think about an initiative to encourage the writing of poetry, an initiative that would be supported by a competition with money prizes. I obviously leapt at the chance, and I have inevitably been thinking about what form it might take, and how best to connect with others interested in such an initiative. I have also been thinking about how philosophy might play its part.
At the same time, by sheer coincidence I was reading a set of lectures delivered by William Ralph Inge in 1925. He was at the time the Dean of St Paul’s, a leading churchman, but also a leading academic and the most broadcast cleric of his time. He speaks of how Wordsworth in his poetry about the beauty of nature is a ‘natural Platonist’ and to his mind a representative of something he calls 'Spiritual Religion' which goes hand in glove with a thread of philosophy that runs through the whole Platonic tradition and beyond. Aldous Huxley calls this thread The Perennial Philosophy. Inge says that if this tradition of wisdom had a beginning one might look to the Indus Valley and the writings of Vedanta. Elsewhere in a letter written in 1941 he talks about the sorrow he feels at the desperate state the world is in at this low point in the war and how he finds consolation in reading ‘the greatest philosophical poem ever written, The Bhagavad Gita.’ All this is remarkable from someone who was in his day a leading voice of Anglicanism.
I appreciate that entertaining thoughts of this nature when considering a poetry initiative sets an enormously high bar for any poet, and yet to provide just a hint of what Wordsworth calls the presence of ‘the immense powers of the universe’ woud be good. It’s a sense of this underlying presence that provides the magic in any great work of art. Here for instance is a short extract by a lovely poem by Ted Hughes called The Horses. The section describes what he discovers on a moorland walk at dawn:
I listened in emptiness on the moor-ridge.
The curlew's tear turned its edge on the silence.
Slowly detail leafed from the darkness. Then the sun
Orange,red, red erupted
Silently, and splitting to its core tore and flung cloud
Shook gulf open,showed blue,
And the big planets hanging-
He ends his poem with a desire to remember that moment of vastness and the awe with these lines:
In din of crowded streets, going among the years, the faces,
May I still meet my memory in so lonely a place
Between the streams and the red clouds, hearing the curlews,
Hearing the horizons endure.
Endure means not only to remain firm in the face of misfortune - an utterly Stoic quality - it also means to remain in existence unchanged. It’s a word associated with what Aristotle calls the ‘unmoved mover’. It’s a sense of this that Hughes would seem to have discovered on the moor-ridge.
There is another expression of this presence in the translation of the Eesha Upanishad by Purohit Swami and another fine poet, W.B Yeats:
Unmoving it moves, is far away and yet near, within all, outside all.
Keeping the feeling for beauty alive by descrbing some sense of this presence strikes me as a good starting point for any poem.
With my best regards, William
Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.
KEEP THE FEELING FOR BEAUTY ALIVE
By dwelling on the beauty of life there comes automatically a deeper appreciation of life’s fullness and an ability to respond more creatively to what comes our way.
And why do we feel it necessary to consciously undertake something like this? Why doesn’t it all come readily to hand? The great German poet and philosopher, Goethe, was certain as to the reason.
Man surrenders so easily to the commonplace, his mind and his senses are so easily blunted, shut so quickly to supreme beauty that we must do all that we can to keep the feeling for it alive. No one can do without beauty entirely; it is only because people have never learned to enjoy what is really good that they delight in what is flat and futile so long as it is new.
Our task must be to find delight in something beyond the commonplace, allow beauty in some form to touch us, for only in this way may we be granted insight into the true nature of love.
By attempting to penetrate the surface of human experience and by exploring the principles that live within our own hearts, we may learn to listen to our own inner knowledge. That knowledge may of itself possess its own beauty.
Existing within us are common features which we all recognise, if but dimly, and even though these features are often ignored they periodically burst through and find their expression. Rather than waiting for events to force an awareness of them upon us, they need to be attended to and understood, in the confidence that, with greater understanding, there follows a more creative approach to life, greater understanding and fullness.
In addition we will be examining the possibility, in experience, that merely the attempt at connecting with these principles is of itself wholly creative and regenerative, and of these principles none is more immediately transformative than the spirit of beauty.
Keep the feeling for beauty alive. Seek it out in any way that suits your nature. Consciously recognise it, whether it be in the form of words or music, art or architecture, the forms of nature. Don’t try to seize it. Simply rest in its presence, even if it is merely momentary.
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