By David Gosselin

The answer to the above question is of course no. Shakespeare and Dante are not dead because every true poet is immortal.

However, much of our contemporary thinkers seem to be under the impression that they are dead, and that they are not as relevant and talented as first thought, but that rather their qualities were simply exaggerated because they happened to belong to a ‘historically dominant gender and ethnic group’. However any discerning eye will notice that such a ‘dead white European male’ argument avoids actually taking on the content of a Shakespeare’s or Dante’s ideas, which in fact have a continuity spanning over thousands of years, through the Golden Renaissance, through the Dark Ages, back to the times of ancient Greece and the Homeric epics. Moreover these ideas address some of the most fundamental questions concerning the human condition.

However, before we continue, I can hear protests saying that the canon above mentioned, really only refers to dead white European males. But the truth is that this kind of humanist thinking has parallels in virtually every culture, from the Confucian traditions in China, to those of Tilak and Tagore in India, to those of Ibn Sina of Persia and the many bards of Moorish Spain. There are great thinkers from cultures across the world.

Therefore, what the contemporary brand of thinking is really dismissing, is not a specific grouping or period, as the ideas embodied by these individuals span virtually as far back as recorded history, but rather they are wittingly or unwittingly dismissing those humanist ideas traced throughout history.

Unfortunately much of what is referred to by the ‘contemporary’ and modernist schools of thinking, renders itself largely irrelevant by virtue of the fact that they wish to treat the recent decades of modernist thinking, which span mere seconds on the scale of human history, as some isolated phenomena detached from the entirety of that continuity out of which it unfolded.

Were they to compare those few seconds with the universal arc of history, they would quickly discover the relevancy of a Shakespeare or Dante’s ideas.

Take but one small example from Shakespeare, which in only 14 lines manages to capture and develop the most fundamental of paradoxes underlying our individual mortal existence:

 

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty’s rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed’st thy light’s flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
Thou that art now the world’s fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
And, tender churl, makest waste in niggarding.
___Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
___To eat the world’s due, by the grave and thee.

 

Shakespeare opens by saying we are all attracted to beauty and long for it, and desiring ‘increase’ i.e. to reproduce, yet even in the first two lines, it’s stated that this beauty fades and that even the fairest of creature’s is no match for time. Yet, in recognizing that this beauty does fade, only then is one ready to discover an even higher order of beauty:  the power to generate new beauty.

What does a world look like, where each individual is acting with the conscious idea that they are responsible for the recreation and continued development of the human species; that they are not a mere individual but are defined and in turn define themselves by this eternal process for which they are now a mediating part. What does that look like versus someone who has a baby because they made a mistake or someone who does not want children because it takes to much time and costs too much? What image of beauty are they after?

The truth is they have not truly considered the paradox of their mortality, likely, they refuse to face it, and prefer to hang on to that ever fleeting image of earthly beauty, which so entices the senses, but ultimately ‘eats itself by the grave and thee.’

 

 

Originally published on TheChainedMuse.com

David Bellemare Gosselin is a student in classics and languages in Montreal.

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5 Responses

  1. David Watt

    Your essay illustrates the fleeting nature of our own mortality, and also of much contemporary thought. Denial of our rich history of literate ideas makes for a poorer world. Well done!

    Reply
    • David B. Gosselin

      There has been a rather vicious assault on classical culture generally, which I think should be seen as an attack against the nature of man and creativity. The popularized idea in art and as a result in the idea of human nature is that man is irrational and ultimately just a product of his five senses; that there is no higher order of intelligibility than that of our direct senses and feelings… What distinguishes classical culture from other approaches is that classical culture recognizes the fundamental difference between man and beast; most others don’t, in fact they do the opposite. I hope to produce a lot more on this question shortly. Do checkout my website for more: http://www.thechainedmuse.com

      Reply
      • James Sale

        Yes, David you are right: there has been a sustained attack on the classic culture and the traditional canon, and one can see why from an historic viewpoint in that it is associated with the feudalism that is so endemic in (and to) England, and which the Mayflower pilgrims (which I believe are now called Americans) sought to escape from so long ago. Your essay is really good and important; the thing is, it’s all very well attacking the canon but what is being offered to replace it? And that is where we find the thinking, and the creativity, to be so thin and insubstantial. Indeed, on the topic of white, middle class males, of which I am one, the attacks seem only to be motivated by one of the three lowest vices: in this instance, the vice of envy.

    • David B. Gosselin

      Hi James,

      I only saw your reply now. You may or may not see this since it’s rather late, so I apologize.

      First I would say we shouldn’t be mistaken in regards to the most general aim of poetry, which Keats succinctly put as “To soothe the cares and lifts the thoughts of man.” Poetry treats the question of creativity as such, which is the same creativity expressed by any true scientist discovering some new universal principle which governs the ordering of the universe. Poetry is concerned with the ordering of the soul, of the heart’s deepest fathoms. It comes from that deep place of insight, which many modern commentators refer to as some sort of esoteric quality, especially in science. It is also traced within all expressions of new technology, which increase the human species’ ability to further develop itself and further uncover the lawful ordering of the universe. All this stems from the root of poetic insight.

      I say this because poetry is that thing that awakes the spirit of insight and creativity inside people, it brings peoples’ minds alive, and develops that instinct for pursuing some great idea, often because they are provoked by its sheer beauty. The result: they are inspired by the beauty and creativity of life and are moved to become an acting part of it and the universe at large.

      However, that being said, much of this depends on there being some meaningful progress and purpose within society. That’s why poetry and politics and the overall economic development of a society are deeply intertwined. If poetry dies, or if it is perverted, then all society suffers. People become denatured, and their ideas become denatured. It becomes like a child who before their reasoning faculties have a chance to be developed, are indoctrinated by some radical ideology. As a result, their ideas can no longer be in coherence with the lawful ordering of the universe, and the universe, so to speak, comes down on that society.

      Therefore the poets should be committed to upholding a truthful image of man, which is creative man, and should as a result be acting based on the knowledge of the lawful ordering of the universe in which he inhabits. Poetry becomes simply a reflection of that beautiful reality, and in fact it serves as beacon and preserver of the highest ideals.

      As Schiller says:

      The dignity of Man into your hands is given,
      Its keeper be!
      It sinks with you! With you it will be risen!

      Reply
  2. Satyananda Sarangi

    Hello David, greetings!

    This essay is a guideline for young poets who pursue the passion and a support to others who have been going on with formal poetry for years. It does bring out some of the strong reasons as to why rhyme, rhythm and meter are closely related to nature.

    Best wishes.

    Reply

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