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Content tagged 'Poetry'

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  1. Post on Prose vs. Poetry in Explore

    By Tzela Vieed, posted
    “I said that the legitimate meanings of the word poetry were themselves so many as to embarrass the discussion of its nature. All the more reason why we should not confound confusion worse by wresting the term to licentious use and affixing it either to dissimilar things already provided with names of their own, or to new things for which new names should be invented.” --A.E. Housmann, “The Name and Nature of Poetry”

    I agree with Housmann. The difficulty of defining poetry doesn’t come from poetry’s nature being indistinct, or hard to grasp, but from the application of the word to too many different modes of writing during the past century or so. There’s practically no common ground between the various kinds of poetry that isn’t also shared by prose.

    By this time, I don’t think there’s any use in trying to narrow its application. Try telling someone that what they wrote isn’t poetry, and they’re certain to assume that you’re making an aesthetic judgment rather than a taxonomic one. ( Davidm, DaveT, I’m afraid you’ll just have to accept that your forum posts aren’t poetry )

    A more constructive approach might be to consider each of the modes of writing we call poetry on its own ground first—if we can’t define what it has in common with all the others, we can at least define what makes it distinct. I suspect that the line-break poem will never be written that says something that couldn’t have been said better in some other mode, or in straight-out prose, but if someone wants to persuade me otherwise, let them. Just don’t ask me to write any.
  2. Post on Relevant Art in Explore

    By Tzela Vieed, posted
    Three Questions:

    1) What does it mean for a work of art to be relevant?

    2) Why is poetry, which is being written in more copious quantities than ever before and studied in universities to an unprecedented degree, read by very few who aren’t practicing poets or academics?

    3) Are the answers to the first two questions related?

    I think many people would answer question 3 with a resounding ‘yes’-- but there would be considerable variation in their answers to question 1. And, as there is no shortage today of poets trying their hardest to be relevant, it could be that those answers are where the trouble lies. Or else the better answer to question 3 is actually ‘no’, and poetry owes its marginal status as an art to other factors.

    All three questions are interesting ones-- of personal interest, for me-- but for the moment, what concerns me is question 1. This thread is for exploring that question, and the ways it might be answered.
  3. Most of us are familiar with Nietzsche's monumental announcements in the Gay Science (#109 and 125), but I am more curious about poetry that is about the death of God.

    This Argentine poet Carlos Velazco has written a collection of poems titled "La Muerte de Dios."

    Theologians claim that his poetry is different to that of Nietzsche, because it is nostalgic, and comes after the death of God.

    Here is a rough translation from the Prologue:

    I miss you in my orphanhood
    as if you life is extinguished
    and was the world
    a grave infinity.

    I see the sun in the evenings
    languishing in nostalgia
    of whom I loved with innocence
    and credulity of a child.

    And waking, the same sun
    my heart bleeds as a wound
    at not finding in any
    I reveal your existence.

    As I cried Job
    no answer to my complaints
    and yet I hope that the miracle of your laughter
    me back the joy of living
    to see that resurrected from the grave
    where to die with you I died.

    Are there any other poems of this caliber?
  4. (Originally posted here)

    Leopardi, wondering if he left the TV on….

    Giacomo Leopardi is one of the greatest secrets of 19th century poetry. Despite being heralded by luminaries like Schopenhauer1 and Nietzsche, his fame remains scattered in Europe and hardly extends to the American hemisphere. Leopardi’sZibaldone di pensieri2 was read by every school kid but they barely cracked open hisOperette Morali.3 The likely culprit is an irredeemable pessimism that was too difficult for interpreters to connect it to contemporary issues. Leopardi wrote mostly moral essays, parables, fables, and dialogues – painting life as a joke of the gods – a darkly comic view of world and its inhabitants. However, instead of leaving the reader sad and pathetic, they are actually funny.

    I will try to assess Leopardi’s unique brand of pessimism by delving into his works, highlighting his anti-systematic intentions as well as analyze Dienstag’s systematic interpretation, and make a few determinations.

    Basically the thesis of his Zibaldone sets out to explore the limits of philosophy, as well as the technique to overcome them. Leopardi argues that we must pursue an “ultrafilosofia” that accepts the limits of analytic reason and knits it together with the synthesizing power of imagination.

    Early in his work, Leopardi was still under the influence of Jean Jacques Rousseau, who attributed reason as the chief culprit of man’s alienation from nature and the cause of human unhappiness. Obviously, in order to return to an original state of nature, we must reject reason. However, Leopardi later developed an ultrafilosofiathat was no longer concerned with Rousseau’s dreams of a return to original nature. Rather than yet another philosophical system, ultrafilosofia was at bottom the realization that all philosophical systems are insufficient.

    Carlo Ferrucci described Ultrafilosofia as an “aesthetic experience of truth” that consists of a creative and fictional activity that brings about a poetical sacrifice of nature & of memory. Once reality is recognized as a meaningless void, and philosophy directly confronts the nothingness of existence, then our only recourse is to create authentic meanings of our own. In other words, we are to know and understand through our imagination. Our knowledge of the world is subjective, or more precisely, conditioned by our subjective faculties. Basically, our pretense to objectivity is naught but an illusion, because we cannot be both the knowing subject and the object of our own analysis. Because we have always created our own meaning, we are at once both poet and philosopher, the ultimate author of our own narrative and the creator of truths.

    Since reason has alienated us moderns from nature, Leopardi claims that
    “Therefore our regeneration depends on an ultrafilosofia, one could say, which knowing things completely and profoundly, brings us closer to nature. And this should be the accomplishment of the extraordinary luminaries of this century.”4

    The early aspects of Leopardi’s poetry – nature and memory – shrivels in his later project of nihilism, an “ontology of nothingness.” The ultrafilosofia’s project of unmasking our anthropocentric illusions about nature will thunder with realization at the emergence of a poetry that is inspired and nourished by the negation of the very aspects of Leopardi’s early poetry.

    Contemporary interpretations emphasize how modern Leopardi’s insights are; they are as sharp and deep as Nietzsche or Heidegger. Since nature is essentially becoming, it is a constant emergence from nothingness and a relapse back into the same. Man, too is a pebble in the gigantic stream of nature, but in order to endure the horror of nothingness, we need illusions, and the best illusion is poetry. Prior to Nietzsche, Leopardi pointed out the necessity of fiction, but Severino claims that he became far more radical in his later poetry – a poetry of nothingness that had surpassed his earlier Rousseau-ish phase of illusion, a poetry that transforms the abyss and silence into inspiration and voice, a poetry that encompasses nihilism by mirroring the very function of nature with the creation of appearances.

    Leopardi asserts that a poetic sensibility is not just compatible with philosophy, but constitutes its very prerequisite. A true philosopher must have “imagination, feeling, capacity for enthusiasm, heroism, vivid and grand illusions, strong and varied passions”5 Basically the philosopher must exceed philosophy itself, for “reason needs the imagination and illusions that she destroys”6 Anticipating Nietzsche several decades, Leopardi equates the great philosopher with the true poet, and the true philosopher with the great poet.7

    Most of the Operette consisted of the dialogue form, which is a discourse that undermines authority and challenges the assumption of absolute truth and permanent answers. If the dialogue is a legitimate form of philosophical discourse, then Socrates (Plato’s as well as Xenophon’s and Aristophanes’) was the product of a fiction, and the creation of poetry.

    A variant of pessimism courses in the veins of Ultraphilosophia, styled as “cultural pessimism” by Joshua Foe Dienstag in his work Pessimism. While pessimism has been a term of abuse in recent centuries, Dienstag rehabilitates it and reconceptualizes it as a “philosophical sensibility” a “stance” to deal with a “world that we now recognize as disorded and disenchanted.”8 For Dienstag, pessimism is more than just skepticism of optimism – it is the incredible burden of time, the naked experience of being aware of time as it flows, as everything changes. The implications to such a principle is that history becomes ironic, that freedom and happiness are not compatible, and that existence is absurd.

    Dienstag interpreted Leopardi as a cultural pessimist who had much in common with Rousseau’s classic critique of the Enlightenment, but without committing to similar misanthropic conclusions. As the grandfather of pessimism9, Rousseau was Leopardi’s most decisive influence. According to Dienstag, both writers were concerned about the prospects of human happiness that take place over time in society. Both thought the Enlightenment accelerated these developments, although both argue with a larger scope that goes further back to origin of civilization and consciousness. But where Rousseau offered fantasies of reversal of time or escaping the effects of time, Leopardi recommended an active embrace of the conditions of our existence. Rousseau recommended a withdrawal of politics while Leopardi supported engagement in circumstances, whether the expected result was possible or not.

    Effects of time

    The burden of time permeates the Moral Essays, and is best expressed in “Dialogue Between Torquato Tasso and his Guardian Spirit.” The transience of pleasure indicates how the passage of time prevents us from experiencing such directly. Pleasure constantly runs ahead of us as they hop along, passing us in time.

    One of the main themes of the dramatic stories in Moral Essays is boredom. Much like laughter, boredom is a characteristic that separates man from the animals. However, this isn’t due to some special, innate capacity for tedium, but that we experience a continuous existence in time. Boredom is one aftermath of this existential condition. Given that boredom emerges from the fundamental fact of self-consciousness, then it must be the baseline condition — a condition from which we can only be distracted, either by pain or by occupation. The latter is no guarantee of happiness, but it is the less bad alternative than either pain or tedium – the two most common conditions.

    For Leopardi, boredom isn’t some neutral compromise between happiness and unhappiness. Instead, boredom is the default condition of disappointment, absent only a present pain. Moreover, this disappointment is due to the duration of conscious existence, in addition to the loss of the animal ability to be satisfied in time. So we vacillate between boredom and pain. There certainly are exceptions, such as Christopher Columbus, who could stave off both with intense activities.

    “I truly believe that by tedium we should understand none other than the pure longing for happiness; not assuaged by pleasure, and not overtly afflicted by distress. But this craving, as we agreed not long ago, is never gratified; and real pleasure is never to be found. So that human life, so to speak, is composed and interwoven, partly of pain and partly of tedium; and is never at rest from one of these passions without falling into the other.”10
    If we lack the enforced projects to divert ourselves, then boredom is the best anyone can hope for. An indifferent reality grants nothing else.

    Historical Irony

    Dating back to its inception in Plato’s Dialogues, philosophy has championed reason or more precisely, knowledge, as a condition of happiness. In Gorgias, the philosophers is judged to be both the most virtuous and happiest of all. However, this is a false judgment in pessimism. Reason certainly has its benefits, but happiness is not one of them. In fact, reason actually destroys illusions and results in disappointment. Leopardi illustrated this in his dark comedy, “History of the Human Race,” a profound historical irony, with the failure of the gods to satisfy their creation. At first, human beings were child-like in their enjoyment of existence. Eventually disappointment with initial hopes were disappointed, forcing them to resort to reason to fulfill desires. But this sparked a chain reaction in which every accomplishment only put off and exacerbated the initial desire. This dissatisfaction increased exponentially at every level, allowing a greater insight into the ultimate meaninglessness of existence. First hopes are dashed, then ideals are exposed, and finally, the very idea of hope itself. Man knows himself to be unhappy, and accepts that this will not ever change.

    Illusion of Freedom

    Leopardi satirizes philosophers in his Sillographers parable, wherein he pokes fun at the old Socratic maxim that because error and ignorance cause unhappiness, knowledge is the solution. As a result of this dogma, philosophers since Socrates fancy themselves independent of the commandments of nature. For Leopardi, via his character Filippo Ottonieri, this tenet was merely another illusion, for he “laughed at those philosophers who held that man can evade the tyranny of fortune, by … entrusting his happiness or unhappiness to… what depends entirely upon himself”11 Even if this ability exists, then that ability would be entirely dependent on the whims of Fortune:

    “Is not man’s reason subject all the time to countless accidents, innumerable sickness that bring stupidity, delirium, frenzy, violence and one hundred other kinds of madness…? It is great folly to admit that our bodies are subject to things beyond our control, and nonetheless deny that the mind, which depends on the body in almost everything, is inevitably subject to anything whatever outside ourselves.”12

    Leopardi confirms that man is utterly a slave to the whims of Fortune. In another dialogue, “Dialogue of Nature and an Icelander,” Nature is unable to satisfy the Icelander’s queries about the significance of human suffering at the hands of Nature, except with brutal realism:

    “You forget that the life of the world is a perpetual cycle of production and destruction, so combined that one works for the good of the other. By their joint operation the universe is preserved. If either ceased, the world would dissolve.13

    Because man cannot accept meaninglessness he will continue to ask questions. In the end, the Icelander is interrupted by a famished lion and ends up dinner. This is Nature’s answer: the death of the individual. In other words, this parable represents the inadequacy of science and philosophy, that the truths they discover are unsatisfactory.


    Dienstag’s category of cultural pessimism is itself useful, certainly, but not exhaustive, because Leopardi’s brand of pessimism is not limited to the analysis of his time, his society. Its scope reaches high enough for the gods and far back into antiquity – a cosmic pessimism that grasps the laws of the universe as determinative to human suffering and wholly antithetical to human hopes for change of their condition. Since science is also a vain pursuit, and Nature is always cruel, then the only possible relief is a poetic re-imagination of reality.

    Moreover, I consider pessimism as one of several possible reactions to existential nihilism, the thesis that existence lacks intrinsic meaning. Leopardi’s response to his beautifully rendered existence seems to parallel that of the Absurdist, who concedes that the individual can create meanings in her life, but she must face the Absurd, and her “Absurd creation” must be individual, or more specifically, authentic in order to have meaning and sense.

    Where most pessimists like Rousseau resign and chant VANITAS, VANITAS, the absurdist like Leopardi rebels against the state of things and establishes his poetry in the middle of what negates it. His imagination exalted himself before what crushes us all. Our freedom or our passion, the imagination joins lucid awareness. Leopardi is already aware that his imagination is ultimately meaningless, yet it serves an authentic life. Perhaps no solution to unhappiness exist. Perhaps it is not necessary either.

    Cliff of Leucas

    However, Leopardi is not content to depress the reader – but to edify her about the human condition and to fortify her for the future. Once we abandon the burden of our goals, then we can live more than ever: “Life must be vital, that is, truly life; otherwise death incomparably surpasses it in merit.”14 Leopardi’s exemplar figure, Columbus strives for an active life, but more that just avoiding boredom he has left the security of dry land as well as the safety of reason itself. Others object to Columbus that he has “staked [his] life… on no more than a mere speculative opinion”15 This embracing of uncertainty demonstrates how much we can value life more than one lived under the umbrella of reason. “Every voyage is, in my opinion, like a leap from the cliff of Leucas.”

    The leap symbolizes the acceptance that our fate will be entirely up to cosmic forces beyond our control. By giving up control we acquire a freedom from fear and acquire a vitality of existence. We may be disappointed idealists in a vain chase of a will o’ the wisp, but by risking ourselves is freeing from the unattainable & forces us away from the familiar.


    Despite the hopelessness of existence, Leopardi draws a positive conclusion from his pessimism – contra the apparent self-contradiction or absurdity as such. Time consciousness does leads to intense and utterly irreversible human suffering, but we can embrace this. Suffering is necessary, yet can be considered as trivial and part of achievement. Then a life of self-directed activity is possible, as long the activity is attempted for its sake, not for some mythical belief in the progress of humanity. Leopardi himself epitomizes one such activity: the thinker as a poet. He took a leap into the fictional and supplemented analysis with a system – a fictitious, artificial one that was useful, even if it was ultimately meaningless.

    1Schopenhauer wrote that Leopardi presented the “mockery and wretchedness of this existence.. but with such a variety of forms and expressions, with such a richness of images, that he never induces displeasure, but instead stimulates and engages us.” The World as Will and Representation, Vol II, 46

    2 Italian for “hodgepodge book;” it was a collection of impressions, aphorisms, philosophical thoughts, analyses, criticism. Traditionally, zibaldone was paper codices of small format consisting of vernacular language, often containing the author’s sketches.

    3 “Small Moral Works,” consisting of 24 dialogues and fictional essays.

    4ZS, p. 115

    5ZS, p. 1833

    6ZS, p. 1839

    7Zibaldone, p. 3383

    8Pessimism, p. xi

    9Walter Starkie described Rousseau as the “patriarch of pessimism.”

    10OM, p. 96

    11OM, p. 144

    12OM, p. 144-45

    13OM, p. 79

    14OM, p. 89

    15OM, p. 160
  5. Post on Sonnets in Read

    By Tzela Vieed, posted
    The sonnet is:

    -a fourteen-line, rhymed poem. (Don’t believe anyone who tells you otherwise!)
    -often, but not always, in iambic pentameter.
    -the most widely-used poetic form in the English-speaking world today.
    -the most widely-used poetic form for the past five centuries of English-language poetry, excepting the Augustans. Their loss.
    -a great place to begin if you want to write poetry, or if you want to gain a better appreciation of metrical poetry!
  6. Poetry Sundays in AllBlue's Blog

    By AllBlue, posted
    A few weeks ago I decided to read poetry on Sunday mornings. I'm trying to get to the library each week to pick a poet or poets whose work I've never read before or maybe read a long time ago. A couple of weeks ago I came across Billy Collins. He wrote a couple of poems about artists. Here's an excerpt from one about Goya:

    from Candle Hat
    But once you see this hat there is no need to read
    any biography of Goya or to memorize his dates.

    To understand Goya you only have to imagine him
    lighting the candles one by one, then placing
    the hat on his head, ready for a night of work.

    Imagine him surprising his wife with his new invention,
    then laughing like a birthday cake when she saw the glow.
    Imagine him flickering through the rooms of his house
    with all the shadows flying across the walls.

    Francisco Goya, self-portrait with candle hat
    Here's an excerpt from a poem about John Constable:

    from Student of Clouds

    The emotion is to be found in the clouds,
    not in the green solids of the sloping hills
    or even in the gray signatures of rivers,
    according to Constable, who was a student of clouds
    and filled shelves of sketchbooks with their motion,
    their lofty gesturing and sudden implication of weather.

    John Constable, Weymouth Bay

    Another poem by Mr. Collins, Walking Across the Atlantic,ends with the stanza:

    But for now I try to imagine what
    this must look like to the fish below,
    the bottoms of my feet appearing, disappearing.

    I don't want to interpret or evaluate these at this point. I just wanted to mention the poet who seems worth reading.