Can poets make philosophers happy?

This morning I chanced upon an essay by Anthony Stevens titled “Cuttings poets to size – Heidegger, Hölderlin, Rilke” (in issue 32 of Jacket, a poetry ezine published by Australian poet John Tranter).

About Rilke, Stevens says within the context of paraphrasing an essay written by Eudo C. Mason, a British scholar, in 1939:

… a very lucid monograph showing that not only did Rilke’s work not offer a coherent vision of life, but that he did not even make the effort to fake one. … Mason’s book is carried by a tone of sustained indignation, since he is writing from a Christian point of view and sees Rilke’s works as mimicking Christianity, but with a lack of religious commitment. Mason was addressing a problem that was already endemic in Rilke-criticism, namely that it was easy to represent Rilke as espousing virtually any world-view current at the time – so long as one did not demand absolute consistency. Rilke is a kind of intellectual chameleon, taking on the conceptual structures of many discourses of his times, but using them purely for aesthetic purposes. Within the individual poem, Rilke’s consistency of thought is perfect. One must, however, exercise extreme caution in assuming that the same word or semantic cluster has a meaning that is transferable out of one context and into another.

My instant emotional responses to this were varied and ambiguous:

  1. I’d always, deep inside, had the feeling that Rilke excelled at taking on poses, and that it was hard to make out the real person behind it all. So that, yes, in essence I’d always thought Rilke to be a faker. One of the best, though, mind you.
  2. Oh, so poets actually have to live up to some philosopher’s demand to offer a coherent vision of life!
  3. I would not come running to Martin Heidegger (or any philosopher I can think of right now with the possible exception of Plato) for answers on anything, including a consistent world-view.
  4. So, who gives a f. f. of what you think, Mr. Mason, Mr. Stevens and Mr. Heidegger. Poets deal with life and this (and other) world(s) in their infinitely varied manifestations and facets and are not necessarily concerned with setting up a terrarium that can be termed cohesive by academia.
  5. Thanks guys, I’ll leave you to your microscopic perusal of semantic clusters, etc.

About James Steerforth

I am an author of poetry and fiction, translator and painter who loves to have fun with borrowed feathers.
This entry was posted in Bland observations, Literature, Philosophy, Poetry, Rant, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Can poets make philosophers happy?

  1. Tia says:

    It would seem to me very suspicious if a poet’s work offered a coherent vision of life, unless all the poems were written at one time in the poet’s life. However, even then, what prevents the poet from experimenting with different stances, or responding to different emotional currents or creative influencs? Sometimes the forms one chooses necessitate a reframing even of current experiences or perceptions (for why should one assume that the poet’s work is always autobiographical?). This fluidity is both exciting and valuable, because it allows the mystery between and behind the points of insight to pulse through. Poetry, like prophecy, is a pointing only, with each poem an introduction to a possible way through, or just into, the unknown.

  2. Very well said, Tia.

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