Poetry is Sane

Taken on April 19, 2011

Taken on April 19, 2011

15 September 2013
00:59 AM


Been scurrying around today trying to cross things off my to-do list. The faster I get things done, the faster I can go back to class. It’s been a struggle for me, this week, although I am having fun. But I have yet to find my rhythm, where I can slide out of one activity and into another seamlessly.

I tried to have a schedule, but the class is too immersive for me to set a specific timeframe to study, interact, learn. What I need is some sort of internal compass, so that no matter what I am doing, I don’t feel lost or encumbered with the sense that I’m not doing this right somehow. Last year while taking the class I had nothing else on my plate, so it was easier to latch on to it with everything I have and am. This time–this time I am really trying hard to put my life back together, and there’s a part of me that wonders if taking the class is good for me or have the potential to be a nuisance. (She’s nasty, that one, that singular voice out of many in my head, who always seem to find fault in everything I do.)

So: rhythm. I have to find it. Sooner rather than later would be preferable.

Tomorrow I hope I’ll spend it all day with poetry. Crossing my fingers that my bed won’t hold me hostage.

Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt from a book mentioned in the forums the other day. Someone posted the last few sentences, but when I found the text, I thought the whole paragraph is wonderful. Quoting it in full:

Let us begin, then, with the mad-house; from this evil and fantastic inn let us set forth on our intellectual journey. Now, if we are to glance at the philosophy of sanity, the first thing to do in the matter is to blot out one big and common mistake. There is a notion adrift everywhere that imagination, especially mystical imagination, is dangerous to man’s mental balance. Poets are commonly spoken of as psychologically unreliable; and generally there is a vague association between wreathing laurels in your hair and sticking straws in it. Facts and history utterly contradict this view. Most of the very great poets have been not only sane, but extremely business-like; and if Shakespeare ever really held horses, it was because he was much the safest man to hold them. Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination. Artistic paternity is as wholesome as physical paternity. Moreover, it is worthy of remark that when a poet really was morbid it was commonly because he had some weak spot of rationality on his brain. Poe, for instance, really was morbid; not because he was poetical, but because he was specially analytical. Even chess was too poetical for him; he disliked chess because it was full of knights and castles, like a poem. He avowedly preferred the black discs of draughts, because they were more like the mere black dots on a diagram. Perhaps the strongest case of all is this: that only one great English poet went mad, Cowper. And he was definitely driven mad by logic, by the ugly and alien logic of predestination. Poetry was not the disease, but the medicine; poetry partly kept him in health. He could sometimes forget the red and thirsty hell to which his hideous necessitarianism dragged him among the wide waters and the white flat lilies of the Ouse. He was damned by John Calvin; he was almost saved by John Gilpin. Everywhere we see that men do not go mad by dreaming. Critics are much madder than poets. Homer is complete and calm enough; it is his critics who tear him into extravagant tatters. Shakespeare is quite himself; it is only some of his critics who have discovered that he was somebody else. And though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators. The general fact is simple. Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion, like the physical exhaustion of Mr. Holbein. To accept everything is an exercise, to understand everything a strain. The poet only desires exaltation and expansion, a world to stretch himself in. The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.

– from Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton

I’m putting this on my to-read list.



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