Gathering the Appearances: Poetic Innocence & Tradition (Episode 030)

Gathering the Appearances: Poetic Innocence & Tradition

A discussion of the poetic gathering of appearances in connection with innocence and tradition. Revisiting Heidegger’s treatment of Hölderlin, we compare this poetic approach with holistic approaches to science. The relationship of image to the questions of how we see and dwell in our world also comes up. The pure heart of Hölderlin and the poetic innocence of Yeats come together as well to show an alternative to the ‘flattening’ of our world by technology. In addition, the writing of Kathleen Raine and Philip Sherrard is important in aiding the discussion.

References within this episode presume awareness of previous discussions.  See Love the Questions: Poetic Measure & The Unknown (Episode 029). Also, Poetic Measure and the Sacred: Raine, Heidegger, Sherrard (Episode 028).

I Gathering and Dwelling

The discussion opens with a look at Heidegger’s treatment of Hölderlin. ‘Gathering the appearances’ is means by which poetic dwelling occurs. In this respect, there is a similarity to holistic approaches to science. For instance, Bortoft’s Goethean approach involves ‘Taking Appearance Seriously.’ Barfield writes of ‘Saving the Appearances.’ For more on Bortoft, see (especially). Not Your Grandfather’s Empiricism (Episode 006).  Let It Be (Episode 007). For more on Barfield see (especially). Collective Representation or ‘Is It Really There?’ (Episode 010)Sense and Non-Sense (Episode 011)Dashboard Knowledge and Technology (Episode 013).

There are similarities in discussing the limitations of the modern scientific approach and in explaining the essence of what it means to dwell poetically. They point toward our relationship with nature. The crux of the matter deals with how we see and contemplate that which shows itself to us.  Our aim is, therefore, to relate to experience or appearance without immediately reducing it. We tend to remove ourselves from appearances and return to that with which we are familiar.

II The Image

We then build upon previous discussions of Heidegger, Raine, etc., and the role of image. Furthermore, the mechanistic worldview itself has roots in an image, from which we also see ourselves.  Image is at the root of cosmology. Eventually, we connect this to the notion of the ‘flattening’ and to the work of Philip Sherrard on sacred cosmology.

III Historical versus Metaphysical

In discussing the difficult notion of non-quantitative measure in poetry, we then turn to Kathleen Raine. Raine’s contrast between Eliot and Yeats seems especially relevant. With Eliot, his poetry reflects the ‘known’ and the ‘historical tradition.’ While with Yeats, there is the presence of the ‘unknown’ as well.  Here we have rather the ‘metaphysical Tradition’ (capitalized in reference to the tradition of the sophia perennis).

IV Announcement

In addition to the discussion of poetry, I also address the coming next phase of the Wholly Orders project.


A Prayer for My Daughter,” by William Butler Yeats

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Love the Questions: Poetic Measure & The Unknown (Episode 029)

Love the Questions: Poetic Measure & The Unknown

Rilke’s advice to love the questions is our starting point. Poetic measure and its relation to the Unknown is the main focus. Heidegger’s reading of Hölderlin helps us to understand what it is that poetry measures.

This episode continues a discussion of Heidegger’s essay “Poetically Man Dwells” that I have addressed in several preceding podcasts. Most recently I discussed this in Poetic Measure and the Sacred: Raine, Heidegger, Sherrard (Episode 028).

I Love the Questions

We begin by reflecting on Rilke’s advice to a young poet. This advice includes the call to ‘love the questions.’ It also calls for one to ‘live the questions.’ Questions, rather than answers, provide us with the open disposition to see things poetically. I relate this to my disregard for ideology and systems of thought. Furthermore, I relate this disposition to charity (or love as spoken of in Corinthians).

II Poetic Measure & The Unknown

Here I explore Heidegger’s thoughts on the measure of poetry and its relation to the Unknown via Hölderlin.

Recall the notion of dwelling and its relationship to the Fourfold that we talked about from “Building, Dwelling, Thinking.” (See, for instance: Dwelling and Poetry: Rilke, Hölderlin, Heidegger (Episode 024).) With respect to that Fourfold, we can then understand poetry as measure-taking as follows. It articulates and shows the way for us to build a world in which we then dwell.

But here there is something important to state in terms of the ‘ground’ provided by poetry. For it is not the ‘ground’ provided by logical, abstract thinking, which rests on the correspondence of internal ideas to an external world. It is a ground that is revealed in the measure-taking, by which we are not given over to what we can then ‘know’ but instead made aware of that which is unknown. And of that unknown as unknown.

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Poetic Measure and the Sacred: Raine, Heidegger, Sherrard (Episode 028)

Poetic Measure and the Sacred: Raine, Heidegger, Sherrard

An exploration of the poetic and sacred, with poetry as a ‘measure’ of dwelling in that realm.  Kathleen Raine’s poetry and prose, along with Heidegger, serve as the backdrop to an introduction to the work of Philip Sherrard.

This episode continues discussion of many relevant themes from previous episodes.  See especially: Macrocosm & Microcosm, and the ‘Inner’ (Episode 027) and Language of the Poet, Language of the Heart (Episode 026).

I Kathleen Raine: ‘Rose’ and ‘The Inner Journey of the Poet’

We begin with Kathleen Raine’s poem ‘Rose’ from 1961.  This poem provides an image of the created in relation to the uncreated.  Her meditation upon the Rose transcends the rose as an object in time and space.  It also evokes a sense of sacred by reference to the weaver of the rose.  This is an open-ended inquiry, meant to stir contemplation of the sacred realm.

Then we look at Raine’s essay from 1976, The Inner Journey of the Poet.  This essay helps us to better understand the ‘inner.’   She writes of the importance of image and symbol for that inner journey, and for the inner order of the poet.  Referring to Yeats she contrasts the inner order of the poet with the technological world.  Her understanding is quite similar to what we have described as the ‘flattened’ world of the technological.  Raine writes in her conclusion: “Our modern technological environment is profane because it reflects no inner order in which the soul can recognize and discover itself.”

II Martin Heidegger: Poetry as Measure

We then continue our discussion of Heidegger’s “Poetically Man Dwells.”  We first mention Raine’s discussion of Yeats. The terms ‘measure and norm’ apply to figures of the imagination.  This idea also dovetails nicely with Heidegger’s interpretation of Hölderlin in “Poetically Man Dwells.”  As Heidegger explains, this sense of dimension, of a span, is not an external relationship between the human being glancing at the sky.  It is not meant in the literal sense of thinking. It is a horizon within which we always dwell (in the participative sense).  In this sense, Heidegger quotes the poet: “Man measures himself against the godhead.”

III Philip Sherrard: ‘The Sacred in Life and Art’

Finally, we address the work of Philip Sherrard.  Today’s discussion serves only as a brief introduction to one of his works, The Sacred in Life and Art.  This is a deeply rich work by Sherrard, with many observations worthy of note.  Sherrard’s comments that might help us to better understand the themes we have been discussing not merely today, but also of late in general.  Also, Sherrard’s work can even bring us full circle with our discussion of the nature of holistic thinking.

First, Sherrard makes a point of mentioning that holistic thinking often does not go far enough.  Missing often from the discussion is the grounding of everything in the sacred.  Heidegger puts fundamental ontology and asking the question of Being at the forefront of everything that he does.  Sherrard also grounds his understanding of holistic thinking by asking from the perspective of God.

Sherrard then argues against the separation made between the supernatural order and the natural order made in Scholastic times.  It has had the consequence of reducing thinking to the modern scientific approach with its mechanistic and fragmented nature.  His description of this consequence of reason removed from a connection the to sacred reflects very well the sense of ‘flattening’ that we have discussed previously.

In conclusion, Sherrard regards nature as theological.  Its underlying reality is divine, and it participates in it.  The existence of the human being is theological in the same way.  Whereas Heidegger speaks of ‘dwelling’ in the Fourfold, Sherrard speaks of the ‘mutual in-dwellingness’ of God and nature.

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Macrocosm & Microcosm, and the ‘Inner’ (Episode 027)

Macrocosm & Microcosm, and the ‘Inner’

Discussion focuses on the relationship of the macrocosm to the microcosm, or of the whole to the ‘individual.’  This exploration centers especially on the question of how to understand the notion of the inner disposition or dimension.  The notion of ‘inner’ here is a far cry from being a Cartesian separation or divide from an ‘outer.’

This episode is also a companion in many ways to Language of the Poet, Language of the Heart (Episode 026).  It is to further deepen one’s understanding of the ‘inner’ disposition or dimension one needs for poetic dwelling.  Following that earlier discussion, I address misconceptions about this ‘inner’ life (which is decidedly non-Cartesian).  Also, our discussion of Heidegger’s “…Poetically Man Dwells…” continues from last time.

I. The ‘inner’ dimension or disposition from a non-Cartesian point of view

The inner poetic dimension/disposition of one’s Being is not an ‘inner’ separated from an ‘outer.’  It is not a retreat into a separate, static, Cartesian interior space, nor a flight from the world.  Rather, like the microcosm reflecting the whole of the macrocosm, it opens a space for Being.  It no more presupposes a Cartesian separateness than Heidegger’s Being-in-the-world does a “Being-out-of-the-world.”

The macrocosm-microcosm metaphor of the Renaissance helps us to get beyond Cartesian thinking.  Our use of ‘inner’ here avails itself of pre-Cartesian references such as those that Goethe and Heidegger use.  It is a shorthand for Heidegger’s ‘other thinking,’ for Meister Eckhart’s Gelassenheit, etc.  Those who take ‘inner’ in the literal, and not participatory sense, are prone to falling into a Cartesian misunderstanding of this disposition or dimension of contemplative thinking.

II. Dwelling (and Building, and Thinking) Poetically

We return to a discussion of Heidegger’s “…Poetically Man Dwells…”  Following upon last time, we emphasize the role of listening in dwelling poetically.  This notion of “an ever more painstaking listening” in Heidegger connects to our notions of “decision” and “attention” as discussed previously.

Heidegger’s differentiation between two types of ‘building’ in relation to dwelling is particularly helpful.  He draws a distinction between building in the sense of erecting works (aedificare) and the sense of a disposition of cultivation and caring (colere, cultura).  This helps us to understand what is meant by the ‘inner disposition.’

The ‘poetic’ is, in this sense, not at all a flight from reality.  It grounds us, rather, in opposition to the uprooting effect of the technological way of revealing.

From the contemplative way of seeing, the presence of the earth comes to the fore in a way that makes us belong. Recall the example of the bridge in Heidelberg that Heidegger gives in “Building, Dwelling, Thinking.” Dwelling does not refer to the external sense of space, as with building in the manner of ‘aedificare.’  Neither is it the inner experience of a separate ‘subjective consciousness,’ but instead refers to the nature of our thinking itself.

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Language of the Poet, Language of the Heart (Episode 026)

Language of the Poet, Language of the Heart

We explore the language of the poet as that which opens a space for dwelling. A meditation upon the heart, inspired first by comments from Rilke. Whatever shrines are kept for the gods, they are safe nowhere but in our heart. The Fourfold relationship essential to dwelling, which resists calculative thinking, then finds its place in the heart.

I. The poet Rilke reminds us that: Whatever shrines are kept for the gods, they are safe nowhere but in our heart.

First, the ‘world’ in which we dwell is not merely an external reality. When talking about dwelling and the ‘world,’ I am speaking much more of the macrocosm and microcosm. The human being and world reflect each other. Where one can build a world, one might dwell authentically. This ‘where’ is not a geographical location, but a condition and/or disposition.

II. A discussion of perspectives at work: scientific and technological lenses

I begin here with a response to listener mail.  The question of whether one could properly dwell today came up in  Re-enchanting the World: Dwelling Poetically & Novalis (Episode 025).

Afterward, I elaborate on the relationship of the inner disposition to dwelling.

The flattening of our world threatens that inner disposition, of course. It does so in part by making our familar world too familiar, so that it is flattened in microcosm as well.

Whatever ‘outer’ danger is posed by the technological paradigm, it is that threat posed to the inner self, to one’s Being-in-the-world as care, that most concerns me. One reads these days of AI, or of present and future ‘enhancements’ to ‘humanity,’ that what is coming will be ‘better’ or ‘superior’ to human beings. This supposed superiority is purely in calculative terms, as if this could somehow capture the essence of life, of human being.

III. The Heart and the Will

First, I elaborate on comments from the last program with respect to the will. In connection with comments made by listeners, I then explore what the ‘decision’ is with respect to attention and care. This ‘decision’ is not the same as a subject-centered will. It is an openness, a letting-be.

IV. The language of the poet

How do we then tie this back to language, and specifically to poetry?

We begin a discussion of Heidegger’s “Poetically Man Dwells.” The poet Hölderlin presents us with a sense of dwelling aside from the calculative sense. (See Dwelling and Poetry: Rilke, Hölderlin, Heidegger (Episode 024)). After an initial exploration of dwelling in this essay, we return to Rilke.

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Re-enchanting the World: Dwelling Poetically & Novalis (Episode 025)

Re-enchanting the World: Dwelling Poetically & Novalis

We examine the possibility of dwelling poetically in a ‘flattened’ technological world. How do we go about re-enchanting the world?

Our discussion of this Heideggerian theme of dwelling continues from Dwelling and Poetry: Rilke, Hölderlin, Heidegger (Episode 024).

We look at several important poetic thinkers. We begin with a partial recitation of Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Lord Chandos Letter. A discussion of Novalis’ call to make the world romantic follows. We then end with questions and musings about the possibilities for poetic dwelling by virtue of re-enchantment.

I. We are in need of re-enchanting the world.

Is there not a sense in the Lord Chandos letter of this loss of enchantment with respect to the world? Of our ‘reality’ missing its sense of dynamic wholeness? Of there being a dull, undifferentiated outer world from which the inner self is cut off and unable to connect?

One should not confuse the idea of re-enchanting the world as a form of make-believe or as escapism. It is rather the recognition of the possibility of poetically reawakening our senses to the world around us. This is ultimately what we have been trying to get at with notions of letting-be, dwelling, etc.

So when we speak of re-enchanting the world, it is not that we flee the prosaic world and its problems. Rather, we see that the mechanistic form of thinking and its prosaic worldview is itself the result of a flight into abstraction and theory. Heidegger’s description of the forgetting of Being comes to mind, as does this sense of flattening that we described previously.

II. Novalis: The world must be made romantic.

Novalis and his romanticism came about at the same time and place as Fichte and his subjective idealism. While it would be a grave error to conflate the two, the influence upon Novalis by Fichte was considerable. However, there is a very important shift in perspective here that one must take into consideration. Fichte is operating in the branch of philosophical metaphysics, and Novalis more in aesthetics.

Novalis’ Romanticism, which is also sometimes referred to in comparison with Kantian transcendental idealism and Fichtean subjective idealism as being a sort of ‘magical’ idealism, seeks an aesthetic form through which that which is unrepresentable (which you and I might call the territory) can be brought to some form of expression. In this sense, then, his call to romanticize the world carries with it a prescriptive relationship to the imagination that is quite far afoot from the aims of Fichte.

III. Dwelling Poetically in connection with these ideas

Finally, I don’t mean here to argue programmatically for Novalis and Romanticism. In fact, I don’t consider myself a Romantic. Yet I do think that there are some useful ideas in Novalis’ work for an understanding of poetry that involves re-enchanting the world. For we must approach the infinite by finite means, and with making that which is familiar unfamiliar, as Novalis would say.  Here I might say ‘flattened,’ as a means of emphasizing how our world has become familiar to us.  In our openness to Being, we may find a way of revealing the world to us in a way other than that which is flattened.


Quantum Poetics: Why physics can’t get rid of metaphor. By Samuel Matlack in The New Atlantis, Summer/Fall 2017.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal: The Letter of Lord Chandos

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Dwelling and Poetry: Rilke, Hölderlin, Heidegger (Episode 024)

Dwelling and Poetry: Rilke, Hölderlin, Heidegger

With help from Rilke, Hölderlin, and Heidegger we discuss how poetry relates to Being, or “dwelling.” A continuation of last week’s discussion.

I. Rilke’s poem “To Hölderlin” and how it relates to “the map and the territory.”

We begin with a discussion of Rilke’s poem dedicated to Hölderlin. The images of the poet are not meant to freeze or fix Being into a this or that, but to gives glimpses of the ineffable. We’ve talked quite a bit about the calculative mindset. Most recently we’ve discussed the left-brain approach to the map and the territory. This poem might actually help us to get a better understanding of a possible right-brain mistake, that of holism. (Along the lines of what Bortoft has referred to as the counterfeit whole.) For here, the spirit of Hoelderlin, according to Rilke, is not one to hold on to a perspective in the sense of reifying it. Others might stay inside of their poems, cutting themselves off from a dynamic participation in the whole. While not engaging in the literalist worldview and perspective of subject-object dualism, their sense of participation in Being is not dynamic, but fixed, static. Rilke offers us striking images of how the poet illuminates the landscape. Rather than use the image of the sun, in which all is made clear and shown, he presents the image of the moon. This moon shines over the nocturnal landscape. There is at the same time a brightening and a darkening. This is precisely the sense of the dynamic engagement with the whole that I have been trying to get at from the point of view of the poet. The poet’s language is not meant to represent Being in a left-brain, subject-object sense. Nor is it meant to grant us immediate unfettered access to the ineffable. This latter is a counterfeit sense of the whole in a static, right-brain sense. Poetic language is, rather, that which reveals truth, as that which unconceals. Yet at every revealing there is also a concealing.

II. A brief overview of Heidegger’s “Building, Dwelling, Thinking” in connection with these themes.

For our purpose today, I’d like to focus primarily on this notion of dwelling. Heidegger argues for something far different than our ‘normal’ understanding of the relationship between building and dwelling. Rather than take an architectural viewpoint and say that we build a dwelling, he instead makes the argument that building belongs to dwelling. He locates in the German language the notion of building (the verb bauen is to build) as relating in root to our sense of being (ich bin, du bist).  Let’s leave aside whether this etymological connection is valid.  He then goes on to tie this to our notion of Being as care. Our dwelling is always, for Heidegger, something to understand as part of the Fourfold of earth, sky, gods, and mortals. To talk about one is to also implicitly acknowledge the others. For Heidegger, they come together in this act of dwelling. We then discuss ‘dwelling’ in connection with a ‘thing.’ We explore the example of a bridge given by Heidegger. Finally, we bring in Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary. McGilchrist’s remarks regarding the challenge of philosophy to get beyond what one can grasp or explicitly state serve for a good closing of this discussion.

III. A program note.

For reasons cited in the program, there will be a change in scheduling going forward.  Future episodes will come out on the first and third Thursdays of the month.


Nietzsche poem cited

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Contemplation, Poetry, ‘the Map and the Territory’ (Episode 023)

Contemplation, Poetry, ‘the Map and the Territory’

Contemplation itself is the focus. In answering audience questions about poetry and ‘the map and the territory,’ I draw upon Goethe, Heidegger, Bortoft, and McGilchrist.

There is no prerequisite episode to this. However, the audience questions addressed below related originally to Sense and Non-Sense (Episode 011).

I. The nature of Contemplation

Starting with Goethe’s Epirrhema, we look at the meaning of ‘contemplation.’ We look at the German word betrachten and the Latin root contemplari. I supplement Goethe’s use of the term in poetry with comments from the preface of his Theory of Color. Contemplation involves opening a space for a thing to present itself. The challenge in contemplation is to not fall into abstraction.

II. Revisiting the notion that “The map is not the territory”

Audience questions provide the basis for a deeper examination of this question.

We begin with the following question.

“Languages and cultures themselves are our ways of mediating experience, sharing this quality with maps. If so, is it not then the case that with such mediation there is an infinite regress of maps in our experience? Are we in a situation of ‘maps all the way down’ that separates us from the territory?”

My initial response is this. If we are speaking of language, and especially poetry, as being that which builds a world in which we can dwell (Heidegger), then we have ‘access,’ if you will, to the territory as being the ground for that dwelling, taking it as it is present, as it shows itself. If, on the other hand, we are speaking of language as a tool, which we then use to separate ourselves from the world, in order to represent that world to us ‘objectively,’ then it is ‘maps all of the way down,’ I’m afraid.

Further discussion of the topic ensues in segment two.

III. Poetry: Closer to the Map or to the Territory?

I further address follow-up questions from the audience related to the previous answers.

The core question/observation to which I am responding here is the following.

“Even if we agree that poetry is not a map in the representational sense, it does seem that poetry speaks to the right brain. We might consider then the following. For those more oriented or at least open to right-brain thinking, the poem occurs, in some sense, as the territory. Whereas for others, the more analytical left-brained types, the poem occurs as a map. This would seemingly explain why some find poetry easy to ‘decode’ while others give up, finding it to be nonsense.”

I think that we must admit that there is some truth in the notion that the poem might be far easier for the right-brained among us to appreciate. Yet I am still hesitant with respect to this idea that the poem occurs as the territory. This seems to have some notion of representational identity. I would rather say that it occurs in such a way as to let the territory present itself.

The importance of metaphor

Now that might sound like quibbling or playing with words to some, but let me draw this analogy. For me, to say that poetry is in some sense the territory for the right-brained person is akin to the mindtrap offered by static thinking. Static thinking’s alternative to subject-object dualism is that of static holism. I then discuss Bortoft’s warning against counterfeit holism, and his discussion of left- and right-brain thinking in relation to wholeness via McGilchrist. By analogy here, I am trying to say that the language of poetry, while not being the map, might seem to some to be then the territory. Yet this would be a static interpretation, one that would be, in a sense, a counterfeit understanding of how poetry and the territory relate.

We then finish with a short segment four that includes my reading an excerpt from McGilchrist’s fine work as grounds for contemplation moving forward.


Grimm Brothers dictionary (online) entry for Betrachten


Toward the end of the episode, I refer to Iain McGilchrist’s fine work. I incorrectly use the word ‘the’ in place of ‘his’ in the title.  The correct title is The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.

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Care is not an Algorithm (Episode 022)

Care is not an Algorithm

Poetry as a meditative act of care stands outside of calculative thinking. Pablo Neruda, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Kathleen Raine provide examples of this way of thinking and of seeing. I shall contrast these examples with those of AI compositions.

One may easily listen to this as a standalone episode. Still, it continues and develops many themes explored in Poetic Vision & The Present Time (Episode 020) and Poetry & Nature: Life Feels Itself (Episode 021).

I. The poetic dimension is an inner dimension of the soul / of our Being as care

We begin with Neruda and his call for quiet. In the meditative process there is an activity of the interior sort, in which one builds, cultivates, discovers inner dimensions. I call this the poetic vision. The way that the poet approaches the world, and life within it, comes from this inner dimension. The poetic vision resists giving precedence to the single-mindedness of calculative thought. It calls us to silence, to contemplation. Neruda’s “Keeping Quiet” is a wonderful example of this. This poetic contemplation awakes our sense of care.

II. Calculative thinking (e.g. AI) does not involve care

Here I discuss some of the recent developments in artificial intelligence (AI). First, the use of AI to compose Christmas carols shows a disconnect between the calculative and contemplative realms of thinking. The presumption in media coverage of these stories is that AI will eventually overtake humanity in this sphere of writing carols. This seems preposterous unless we are engaging the world from a flattened perspective in which techne simply speaks to the technical, and not the truly poetic, aspect of our being and engagement.

I then address the recent attempts to teach AI not to kill human beings, but to value our lives, by way of data sets of human stories and algorithm. There is no essential relationship between calculative thinking and care.

III. ‘Flattening’ does not merely apply to our perception of ‘things’ but also to the human image

First, Goethe’s comments from 1828 on Tobler’s letter help round out the poetic vision of nature discussed previously. Viewing the matter in nature as having both material and spiritual characteristics makes a difference in the way that one sees. One must be able to see unity in multiplicity, without then becoming stuck in an abstract holism.

We then find Kathleen Raine’s comments on the use of poetry are quite helpful here. Using Raine’s remarks to build upon Goethe’s, the danger posed to the human image by a view of nature as being lifeless comes into view.  Raine’s call for poetry as a meditative act to awaken love, care, and life, is akin to the ‘saving power’ cited by Hölderlin. Finally, we directly contrast poetry as a meditative act with a calculative composition by AI.


Pablo Neruda’s “Keeping Quiet”

Understanding Poetry – Dead Poets Society

Christmas Carols, generated by a neural network

An A.I. Wrote a Christmas Song and It’s Really, Really Creepy

This AI tried to write Christmas carols, and the results are hilarious

Reading stories can make robots more sympathetic to humanity, and less likely to kill us

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Poetry & Nature: Life Feels Itself (Episode 021)

Poetry & Nature: Life Feels Itself

An examination of the poetic view of nature.  Unlike calculative thinking, the vision of poetry starts from a position of the interconnectedness of life.

This episode complements the previous episode on poetic vision.

I. Poetry does not try to reduce or condense life

We begin with a recitation of Pablo Neruda’s Enigmas (in English translation). Then we discuss this poem in the context of the film “Mindwalk.” (We previously discussed “Mindwalk” in episode seven.) This example of the poetic vision points toward the futility of representing nature from the outside. Poetry does not attempt to represent life, but to present it. The poet in Mindwalk, Thomas Harriman, recognizes that “Life is not condensable. Life feels itself.” Therefore, attempts to control or understand nature by “sets of words” are doomed to failure.

II. A Goethean view of nature: Tobler

We then explore the ‘Nature’ essay often mistakenly attributed to Goethe. The essay, influenced by Goethe, is from his Swiss theologian friend, Tobler. While the essay itself does not touch on poetry, it outlines what one might consider a poetic view of nature. Tobler’s essay describes a participatory vision of life and nature.

III. Language

As we discuss the conclusion of Tobler’s essay, language comes into view. Tobler explains language as having an inherently participatory dimension. Participation is then defined in terms of love. Love, for Tobler, is the way to nature. We also look at this idea in connection with Heidegger’s notion of care as our Dasein.

Additionally, we do not have care, we are care. Similarly, I would say, nature does not have a relationship of interconnectedness to beings, including human beings, it is interconnectedness.

IV. Participatory thought is necessary to understand Tobler (and by extension, Goethe)

If one approaches this essay from a Cartesian perspective, one will not understand it. This presentation presumes a phenomenological point of view. Rather than a solipsism resulting from a subject-object dualism, this vision is of dynamic interconnectness. It is a vision of the whole, with the parts reflecting the whole, and also our participation in it. Finally, we explain this further via Goethe’s Faust and Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “It was a hard thing to undo this knot.”


Mindwalk (1990) [Eng Captions–Spanish, Romenian]

Enigmas – Poem by Pablo Neruda translated by Robert Bly

It was a hard thing to undo this knot – Gerard Manley Hopkins

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