R.B.Perry on Poetry and Philosophy

§ 8. Poetry is well characterized, though not defined, as an interpretation of life. The term “life” here signifies the human purposive consciousness, and active pursuit of ends. An interpretation of life is, then, a selection and account of such values in human experience as are actually sought or are worth the seeking.

For the poet all things are good or bad, and never only matters of fact. He is neither an annalist nor a statistician, and is even an observer only for the sake of a higher design. He is one who appreciates, and expresses his appreciation so fittingly that it becomes a kind of truth, and a permanently communicable object.

The sensuous or suggestive values of nature are caught by the poet’s quick feeling for beauty, and fixed by his creative activity. Or with his ready sympathy he may perceive the value of some human ideal or mastering passion, and make it a reality for our common feeling.

Where the poet has to do with the base and hateful, his attitude is still appreciative. The evil is apprehended as part of a dramatic whole having positive moral or æsthetic value.

Moral ideas may appear in both poetry and life as the inspiration and justification of struggle. Where there is no conception of its moral significance, the repulsive possesses for the poet’s consciousness the æsthetic value of diversity and contrast.

Even where the evil and ugly is isolated, as in certain of Browning’s dramatic monologues, it forms, both for the poet and the reader, but a part of some larger perception of life or character, which is sublime or beautiful or good.

Poetry involves, then, the discovery and presentation of human experiences that are satisfying and appealing. It is a language for human pleasures and ideals.

Starting from this most general truth respecting poetry, we may now look for that aspect of it whereby it may be a witness of philosophical truth (….)

R. B. Perry, The Approach to Philosophy (2008)
Poetry and Philosophy p.25, 27


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