Hamza Yusuf – The Art and Artifice of Poetry

Hamza Yusuf
AI: Summary © The speakers discuss the importance of poetry in human existence and how it is used to describe characters and create beauty. They also touch on the art of literature and how it is difficult to read and write without proper knowledge of the language. They stress the importance of memorization in language learning and how it is crucial for students to learn the language. They also discuss the importance of decorum in shaping people's behavior and the need for people to recognize its significance.
AI: Transcript ©
00:00:12 --> 00:01:12

You recently wrote an article for us for renovado. And you make an arguments about poetry. So maybe you could just give us a little summation of that. Certainly, I'm very interested in the topic of the of the issue about what what makes a human being a human being. And I wanted to identify language, which I quite naturally rushed to, as that which makes us human. And IE We are the We Are the animal with language. But then I was remembering encountering this mark, remarkable text, the beginning of putnams Art of Posey and, and in it, he, he clearly sees language as central to humanity, that that really constitutes our humanity as such. But he does not focus on the rhetorical

00:01:12 --> 00:01:24

aspect as much as on the poetic, which I found really interesting. And so I wanted to explore a reading of his text. And to just draw from what he says,

00:01:25 --> 00:02:26

an argument about why it may be that it's poetry, that actually makes us human, a particular form of language, which I think he does associate with rhetoric. But he tends and continues to throughout it to emphasize poetry itself. And I decided after following his reasoning that he thinks this is the case, because poetry is particularly concentrated form of ordering language metrically stanzaic, leave figuratively. And I began to see that he thinks that ordering has a way of reordering the human soul of the one who participates in poetry, and then reorders the the soul of others as well. And so it becomes a social order. And I was really quite stunned to see that Putnam thinks that

00:02:26 --> 00:02:29

poetry more or less makes us human.

00:02:30 --> 00:02:36

By re making us through the poetic art itself.

00:02:38 --> 00:02:42

One of the interesting things about human beings is that

00:02:44 --> 00:03:08

I don't think there's a culture or civilization that doesn't have poetry, it's really an argument for for a universality of nature that there is a human nature, because and the interesting thing is almost every peoples and cultures, certainly the ones that all the ones that we know, have the poetry is very similar, it's about three seconds for each

00:03:09 --> 00:03:19

line. And it begins hundreds of years before I mean, we have recorded poetry from China.

00:03:20 --> 00:03:21


00:03:22 --> 00:03:34

like, I think 500 bc and Homer obviously in in the in the Greek tradition is even earlier. And another aspect that fascinates me personally, is that

00:03:35 --> 00:03:44

arguably, every single civilization because we have Aboriginal peoples, and then we have city people, people that create

00:03:46 --> 00:04:37

civilizations have very complex aggregates of people living together and that all of those civilizations are prefaced with great poetry. So for instance, if you look at the Greeks, I don't think I think it's arguable that you cannot have Plato or Socrates without Homer and the number of times that they quote Homer as a as a source book. And in the in the Islamic tradition, the very first book is the Quran but the Quran is preceded in almost immediately the the, the 100 years before the Quran is the pinnacle of Arabic poetry. And right before the the Koran emerges, was considered, they had reached their Acme of poetic prowess. The famous ODEs, the seven ODEs, that

00:04:37 --> 00:04:58

hung in the Kaaba is where the great they call them a cedar and and then if you look at European civilization, I mean, arguably, are in Norton's anthology because of the song of Roland, you know, our literature begins with the song of Roland and then the English

00:05:00 --> 00:05:15

Shakespeare is Ben Marlowe and all these great poets, Ben Johnson. They precede the King James Bible. I mean, it's just amazing that the King James Bible, which is arguably what created

00:05:16 --> 00:05:30

English, civilization, my child, sir, before that, and be a wolf even before that, but arguably, the King James Bible does so much for America without the King James, we don't have Abraham Lincoln, we don't have

00:05:31 --> 00:06:16

so many of the rhetorical greatness that the civilization produced. You have it the point about Homer is extremely interesting, because it immediately raises the question of what do we mean by poetry? And on the one hand, we do mean measured speech. And so so we are, yeah, we are talking about dactylic hexameter verse. So on the one hand, we recognize that Plato's own understanding of music is itself arising from Homeric poetry that is, his musical accompanied or not, it's a liar, exactly because meter meter itself is a kind of liar within the language.

00:06:17 --> 00:06:56

But then, of course, Homer is also a mimetic artist. So not just that it's verse But that it's mimetic or representational of human of human action. And what I find tremendously compelling about the N tag mystic relationship between Homer and especially Plato. And you're absolutely right, Socrates, will quote the Socrates the character will quote Homeric verse regularly. But what I find so intriguing is that it's quite clear that Plato, arguably the first writer of philosophical texts, is clearly imitating Homer.

00:06:58 --> 00:07:48

And not just topically, but by fashioning works that have been influenced by Homeric fashion. Sure, one of the things I like to point out to students is that's why he wanted the poet's exile so they wouldn't see. Yeah, that's right, that he was stealing from them, but also that he's fashioning a new form of poetry, it seems naive to me not to recognize that when he critiques Homer as a poet in the Republic, he knows that his audience realizes that the republic itself is a poem, it's narrated by Socrates as the dramatized narrator, he says, I went down to pi Reyes the other day. And you realize that if you were to explore Greek literature and ask where have we heard someone tell their

00:07:48 --> 00:08:24

own tale before about going down, becomes quite clear that he realizes that his audience will know that he's imitating he's imitating Homer's representation of Odysseus telling his own tangle with the fight Yuki in court. And so I think that Plato actually wants to write a new form of poetry, but the condition of possibility for that is, is, is clearly is clearly Homer. And it's that that quality of making, making music of fabricating, through this mimetic art of representation,

00:08:25 --> 00:08:28

worlds, fictional worlds,

00:08:30 --> 00:08:50

in which we can participate and observe and be moved by characters who are not people that resemble people, that draws us into a kind of intelligibility of, of human action and our, our compassion so often in response to the, to their suffering, that

00:08:51 --> 00:09:01

that I think may actually be central to humanity, which might indicate why it's universal. Why, indeed, storytelling in some form or another?

00:09:02 --> 00:09:10

Is, is there in every culture we encounter? And I think a lot of people have pointed this out throughout the ages that

00:09:11 --> 00:09:59

we speak rhythmically, the human language is by its very nature rhythmic a lot of people are completely unaware that Shakespeare is actually inverse. It's true. Because it's so natural to be or not to be that is the good version. It just it flows trippingly off the tape does indeed and and you can scan parts of Lincoln and Melville, by the way, I mean, you can scan parts of what we're saying. No doubts, it's just especially I am back because this is the the the the meter of the English language tends to fall into the I am back. But the, the use of meter in conveying meaning and before because I want to extend about poetry extended beyond

00:10:00 --> 00:10:14

Verse because certainly it is that, you know, the Greek concept comes from a word which is basically about artifice to create something to make something. And, and, and certainly imaginative literature is all.

00:10:15 --> 00:10:29

If it's good if it's great, it reaches a level of poetry. But the epic poem, which obviously Homer is our greatest in western civilization, the epic poem,

00:10:30 --> 00:10:51

it's, there's so few people have been able to do it. And it's been tried many times. The last time we actually had a chemical character in early American history, Joel Barlow, do I don't know he's famous for a poem called Hasty Pudding, which is very often anthology.

00:10:52 --> 00:11:29

He was part of the Connecticut wits. He was a friend of George Washington, but he had aspirations to be an epic he wanted to be America's epic poet. And and he attempted but it's, it's it was a failed attempt. And it's it's just very interesting than what's called the noble voice. You know that. That was one of the Stringfellow bar I think, wrote a book called The noble voice, no, vandoren, actually, about the epic poem. Why is the epic poem so difficult to do? Now? That's a wonderful, that's a wonderful question. At least in literary studies, we tend to assume that the epic poem

00:11:30 --> 00:11:47

took up, took up residence, if you will, in the novel, and so that the novel began to do the work of the epic of the epic poem. But what's interesting about that is that the novel is really quite essentially composed of prose.

00:11:48 --> 00:11:59

It's its body, if you will, as opposed the body, right? Whereas the epic poem is in his inverse. And so a lot of people will suggest that,

00:12:01 --> 00:12:16

that maybe, for example, Wordsworth's Prelude was the last great epic, but we actually I think, live in an age of a great epic poem, Derek Walcott's, oh meros, which is a magnificent treatment of life in,

00:12:17 --> 00:12:49

in the Caribbean, and, and takes up a number of questions, and does so by means of a central character named as she'll clearly named for Achilles, and is always running Homeric parallel along his own quite distinct contemporary Caribbean culture. Dante two is quite influential in that in that poem, but I think it's very difficult to do, of course, in part because

00:12:50 --> 00:12:53

readers are not accustomed to reading verse

00:12:54 --> 00:13:19

as often as they used to be, and expect their stories to be in in prose. So when people read literature, they tend to presume that means reading novels, imaginative imaginative literature, is I won't say it's reduced to novels. But that's, that really is the form of literature people most gravitate toward, in part because we haven't

00:13:20 --> 00:13:22

taught enough people

00:13:23 --> 00:14:12

recently, how drivers how to read and to write No, that's exactly right. One of the things is an art that has to be taught one of the things about, well, not necessarily, I mean, there are people that do naturally, the Arabs are amazing at that I know some pretty sophisticated Arabic poets that, that really don't know the prosody of that. And it's, it's like Greek, it's not syllabic. So it's, it's not essential. It's, it's related to the actual duration of the word. So it's long short, as opposed to light, heavier, heavy, lighter, heavy. That doesn't surprise me though, actually, because, as you were saying, it indicates poetry itself indicates some natural talent for it, right? Which means

00:14:12 --> 00:14:24

that the measure in language is natural to language. Yeah, exactly. And some people will have an extraordinarily musician, powerful, natural gift, with or without training.

00:14:26 --> 00:14:56

But, but, but art, art will improve it, right. So even those without as much talent can have that talent improve through art. You often hear about musicians that we would recognize as clearly quite talented who don't know music. My first thought is always what if they did? How would it change? How would it How would it change? What would be the accomplishment? If all four The Beatles actually knew how to read music?

00:14:57 --> 00:14:59

Well, I use a song

00:15:00 --> 00:15:08

Cat Stevens, I heard him once say that, he found it so difficult to learn other people's music. So he just decided to write his own.

00:15:09 --> 00:15:47

And I thought that was really interesting because one of the things about classical musicians is that all they lose, they start from day one learning, not really how to make music, but how to imitate music. And, and this is something that the pre modern world was obsessed with, with mimosas with, with artifice, with with actually want one of the things was very common that the idea of creative writing would have been insane to anybody before the 20th century, that the idea that you could teach people how to write, what you could teach them to do is how to imitate. And, and so they would, you know, have a sentence like when in the course of human events, and then they'd have to,

00:15:48 --> 00:16:01

the student would have to write a sentence with completely different words, but following the form of that sentence. And so artifice was not a negative thing. Whereas today, it's become a very negative thing. And I think one of the tragedies of a lot of modern

00:16:03 --> 00:16:48

especially the young people, I actually think it's, it's really unfair to them to encourage them to write poetry, because 99.9% of it is is tripe, and they're not, because their self esteem has to be boosted. We're not allowed to actually say that's doggerland is complete rubbish, we have to say, well, gee, that's wonderful, great, you know, way to go. And instead of doing the traditional way, which would have they would have memorized great poetry, and and internalized. I mean, we talked about learning something by heart. And it's such a beautiful idiom, the idea of internalizing something and one of the things that the Arabs say that if you want to be a great poet, memorize the

00:16:48 --> 00:17:20

corpus of a great poet, and then forget it. That's right. And I think Dylan to me who, you know, there's a lot of debate about Dylan, but I really do think he is he will be in the Canon that's my personal view. And and, and there, there are people like Rick said, risk averse for Rick's and others, I just read a book about him why Dylan matters from the Harvard professor making that argument. And I think that Dylan when he came to New York, I think he knew 200 Woody Guthrie songs.

00:17:22 --> 00:17:53

And he was basically a Guthrie imitator using ramblin jack Elliott style. And then the other major influence on him was Hank Williams, who is also a really, I mean, I think quite an extraordinary lyricist. Rick's that makes makes it I've heard mixed make this case, actually in public that, uh, that he thinks he's influenced as well by a number of number of poets, including, including Elliot, this this dynamic, I mean,

00:17:54 --> 00:18:46

he read for lane Rambo, he was he definitely had a big impact this dynamic of, of imitation, up to a habit. And then a habit, which is no longer consciously imitating and then becomes innovative, I think is actually the classical model for the for education for education itself. It's interesting that we're talking about teaching people how to write but of course, we also want to make readers. And so I think because of fear frequently, of the massive technical vocabulary that's often involved in prosody and prosody. People will be worried, if you will, about, about introducing young people to to poetry, but I think it's a mistake, because for for one thing, you cannot suppress it, right.

00:18:47 --> 00:19:17

So, so in fact, the desire for rhyme, which is a different kind of accord than, than most poetry globally, is, is in blank first. So rimas is Chinese poetry is definitely the Arabs are obsessed with rhyme. It was a great scene in Dead Poets Society, where the character that's played by Robin Williams, Robin Williams rips out that, you know, that kind of Cartesian analytic approach the x and the y.

00:19:19 --> 00:19:59

And whether a poem is great. And even though the message of that film I didn't like but but that one scene I really appreciated because I remember very clearly, the first time a poem hit me in the gut, like I was in eighth grade, and, and it was a literature class. I was actually at a progressive School, where they had four quads. And so based on your aptitude, you went like they had a quad for it was actually pretty horrific now and I think about it is social engineering, but they had a quad for math and science. They had a quad for arts and music and things and then they had a quad for just like

00:20:00 --> 00:20:01

These are like eight

00:20:03 --> 00:20:54

students were divided. But yeah, no, but and so I was in the language arts quad. But I remember clearly reading Ozymandias. And it was just, it just really affected me, you know, in such a deep way. And that was the first time pome had ever done that for me. And well, I was just gonna say, I don't think hadn't been explained to me in that x y, type thing. It wouldn't it was a gut reaction. I think the question isn't whether but when pedagogically, I actually I actually do think that we should bring the art to the to the students. On the other hand, I know we have, we have to do it in a way that actually doesn't kill the spirit.

00:20:56 --> 00:21:26

That that that recognition that you had in your heart was like rhetoric. I mean, I one of the things about rhetoric that when you learn all the tricks, it can, it can it can almost take the magic that but but if if if you if you can also have the opposite effect, where you really appreciate the artifice where you really appreciate what a master is doing. And and when they're when their true masters. There's a reason why

00:21:28 --> 00:22:04

somebody like frost will go from an I am to Anna passed in, in I mean, he knows what he's doing. Because to him. The the form was actually sometimes he said that a great poet, for him the form is, surpasses the importance of the content. And and I think there's a lot of truth to that. I think I think Shakespeare, I mean, you can see Shakespeare is having fun with language, you know, he's, you can see his tongue in cheek, you know, a horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse. I mean, you can hear the horse trot.

00:22:06 --> 00:22:09

In that, you know, and it's such a wonderful.

00:22:10 --> 00:22:56

So to understand what he's doing, yeah, you know, with like a kind of spawn D type of, and you It's interesting, they said you can hear it, which means that that memorization is not enough. Actually, what we want to do, I think as well, is that once a student has memorized a poem, we want them to deliver it the way we want them to recite it. And it's there, I think, where the vocabulary comes in, right as a useful way to explain the recitation that they're that they're doing. I think we don't do enough with delivery, unfortunately, we live in is very important that we live, it's almost nixed from the canon. No, that's right. We live in a we live in a loud culture, the volume may not

00:22:56 --> 00:23:03

have ever been this high in human culture, but the discrimination of sound from sound

00:23:04 --> 00:23:14

act two or more, Lauria, the last two canons are really they've been nixed. And, and they're, it's I mean, all of it really, very few people learn

00:23:15 --> 00:23:49

the invention, which is so central, I mean, the you know, the first and not the dominant, you know, definition but then comparison. And, and in the, in the, in the, in the topics of invention. comparison is, is that's the bread and butter of great poetry, the conceit, finding two things that are so dissimilar, and yet bringing them together in a way that's the aha moment. Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Like,

00:23:50 --> 00:24:40

in fact, in the poetics, Aristotle says, and this I think actually confirms something you were saying before, he says that the power of of metaphor can't be taught. And I'm not convinced of that, by the way, but it's a very interesting idea that indeed the ability to see counterintuitive likenesses, which then become quite intuitive, is is a real gift. But there's no doubt there's no doubt about it. figuration, figuration is crucial and metaphor, metaphor Central, but I still think a lot about this need to ask students to to stand and to deliver to us another teacher movie that that I enjoy, and that is to ask them to speak. Because what I Office of assertion, no, that's

00:24:40 --> 00:24:47

right. More and more, what I find is that the students will, that was a plug for your book, thank you. I appreciate that.

00:24:50 --> 00:25:00

The students more and more actually have trouble articulating them themselves. And again, it's not because they don't have often quite very

00:25:00 --> 00:25:39

intelligent and interesting things to say. But they're frequently intimidated by public public discourse. There are exceptions no doubt, it seems to me that the that any number of young people who are who are particularly naturally gifted at it, but I think to to ask them to memorize, so that they don't have to access their phone. But to ask them to memorize, and to ask them to recite, and to recite artistically, I think is, is itself a great gift because at that point, they're being given their own voice, but it's a voice that's being educated. Bye, bye poetry itself.

00:25:40 --> 00:25:53

I make students memorize to their chagrin, in every class that I do, they have to memorize and I incorporate poetry and all I had my when I taught astronomy, I had a book on all the, the poetry to deal with the stars.

00:25:55 --> 00:26:10

And when I taught ethics, they read The Merchant of Venice. So I always I always have poetry and bring it in Incorporated. I think it's really important. I think one of the things about did you use sonnet 116, for the for the astronomy course.

00:26:11 --> 00:26:18

I can't remember I actually had a book that was just poems about the stars. But

00:26:19 --> 00:26:36

one of the things about poets, I think, is they just have brilliant ears, because people are saying poetic things all the time, or children are saying poetic things. I was I was at the grocery store the other day. And there was this elderly, I think she was probably Filipino American lady.

00:26:37 --> 00:27:04

And she was she was a little plump. And, and she was in front of me and her and her husband, or significant other showed up. She was about to buy things. And he showed up with a Ben and Jerry's cherry Garcia, you know, and she looked at it and just her eyes lit up. And she said, Oh, my favorite. And she said, but I've gained so many pounds hitting that. But happy pound.

00:27:07 --> 00:27:44

Great, right, you know, and I think that's what Dickens was able to do. He just listened to people's conversations, because one of the things that that's so clear from great poets, is their characters are so different to anyone a bad writers always you feel the sameness that's right in the characters, whereas great writers are. Clearly I once saw somebody who was reading dusty skis, the Brothers Karamazov at the airport. So I just said, how's that book going for you? And he just he put it down, he looked at me, he said, this is not fiction.

00:27:49 --> 00:28:07

And that's what great poetry is not fiction in that way. It's like mythology. You know, it's the mythos, my father's definition of mythology was too true to be believable. That's right. And, and, and I think, I Dylan, you know, there's, there's a, there's an old skit from,

00:28:09 --> 00:28:23

from a program where, where they have Dylan at woody Guthrie's bedside, to ever see that know what, well, you know, they're actors, and he says, how's things going woody? And he's like, the answers blowing in the wind. And

00:28:27 --> 00:28:35

he said, I'm so sad to see you in this. He said, Don't think twice. It's all right. He's like writing it down. And, you know, it's it's obviously making fun of

00:28:36 --> 00:29:24

ginsburg once asked him, Do you think you'll ever be tried as a thief? And, and, but I think that's what Dylan had that year. You know, I was so much older than I'm younger than that. Now, I can hear somebody saying that in a conversation. Definitely. And, and, and he's got his notebook out. So it's, I think that's the, in some ways the gift of the poet is that they're showing us something about the world that we we might not have thought about. It's like Van Gogh, because painting is a type of poetry as well. You know, when Van Gogh paints, old shoes, and you It forces you to look at those shoes, and you'll never look at a pair of old shoes the same way. It's right. And I A friend

00:29:24 --> 00:29:52

of mine, we were in West Africa. He's a brilliant photographer, Peter Sanders, and he took a picture of this old ladder, that that was literally two sticks with other sticks tied together on a rope and it was up against an adobe house. And this was it was a primordial ladder. Right? Really, just, it must have been the first ladder.

00:29:53 --> 00:29:59

And I actually had seen that ladder several times but I never really looked at it and his phone

00:30:00 --> 00:30:14

Graf forced me to think about that, that and I think, you know, when when Emily Dickinson is says something like there's a certain slant of light winter afternoons that are presses like the heft of Cathedral tunes.

00:30:15 --> 00:30:38

That slant of light winter afternoons will never be the same for you, right? We all know it. Yeah, no, we know it in a new way, in a new way. And that's the concern, because, you know, the conceit there of death. And you know, that the declining day of a winter afternoon, I think that's the paradox of poetry that though it frees itself, from the real, it ends up

00:30:39 --> 00:31:31

revealing the real. And so what I have more and more come to believe, is that Aristotle is right, that that poetry is actually more philosophical than history. Yeah. Because it's not universal. It does, it's not as bound to the actual particulars. And in that imaginative transformation is a displaced representation that we then can encounter, without the difficulty of encountering ourselves directly. And that's the catharsis, I mean, that was the whole event, whatever was happening at the amphitheater in Greece, the experience I mean, these were really religious experiences and and did the the revelation that occurs not just in the play, but in the spectator,

00:31:31 --> 00:31:41

the one that's experiencing the play that internal revelation, the plays the thing wearing will catch the conscience of the king, that that there's something that's revealed

00:31:42 --> 00:32:13

in the play that that corresponds to something being potentially being revealed in the south. There's a great boar has story, a night in Cordova, you read that story? Not recently, I don't remember he, you know, he's got a very always even Russia is reading the poetics and he's having a really hard time understanding, you know, what, what Aristotle's talking about. And because the Arab tradition did not have theater,

00:32:15 --> 00:33:01

and so he has to go to a dinner and he's not really happy about it, but he goes, he goes to the dinner and, and, and they're having conversation about whether or not generally poetry was still relevant. This pre Islamic poetry at the seventh, sixth century in seventh century Arabia was relevant to end Lucien so we're living in a completely different culture. And he quotes and you know, Barr has is always mixing reality with with his own imagination, but he quotes a famous poet Zuhair from the the the seven ODEs and about that, that he saw death like a blind camel. That fate You know, it was like a blind camel. It just it just stumbles. And did camels really have anything

00:33:01 --> 00:33:27

to do with us here in Cordoba? We're not. And so they're, they're debating this, then the conversation turns to the this character who's just come back from from Persia. And so they asked, oh, what did you What did you see in Persia? So he starts talking about how he saw play, because the Persians do have a tradition of passion plays. And

00:33:28 --> 00:33:39

and so they're asking, well, what's a play? And he begins to explain, it's these people get together on a stage and they and they act out of story. And they're all like, that's ridiculous, I

00:33:41 --> 00:33:46

wouldn't believe something like that. And he said, Well, that's just it, you start believing

00:33:47 --> 00:34:37

the suspension of disbelief. And then and then a light goes off in in a very ways he realizes what Aristotle was trying to convey and is, it's a beautiful story, oh, I'm definitely gonna have to read it. But that that displacement, which then allows us to recognize ourselves in characters and their actions, who who resemble us, but are not us, I think is extraordinarily liberating. More and more realized how difficult it is for any of us to understand ourselves without, without some way of doing it, in which we don't have to look directly at ourselves. And so the therapy of drama, the therapy of both tragedy and comedy, actually, it seems to me is that we are liberated from

00:34:37 --> 00:34:49

ourselves. Even as we're seeing versions of ourselves in the in the mimetic in the mimetic world. I think Shakespeare is particularly good at that.

00:34:51 --> 00:34:59

It did, especially with respect to getting his own play, going and then establishing a play within a play for

00:35:00 --> 00:35:45

Which characters will learn or not learn about them about themselves? It's an obsessive technique of his well, and I think we're going to talk about forcing us to see the play within our own play. I think he's, you know, he, it's a platonic idea that that this is that there's something else going on alongside this. No, that's right. This experience, there's a whole spiritual dimension. I mean, Midsummer Night's Dream is a good example of that, where he, he's got all these dimensions alongside this dimension and the kind of sleepiness I'm that play. That's another play that huge, arguably, when I was thinking about converting to Islam, I actually went and saw that play. And, and in some

00:35:45 --> 00:35:47

ways, that was the play that convinced me to

00:35:48 --> 00:35:50

convert Islam.

00:35:51 --> 00:36:05

Because, because I, you know, I've been in a head on collision. And, and I really felt like I had, you know, it was a kind of a wake up, you know, I was only 17. And, and I really

00:36:07 --> 00:36:20

coined the highway patrol, I should not have survived the crash, but I did. And, and it was very strange experience like that I had after that, you know, for several days I, you know, it's like,

00:36:21 --> 00:36:28

like, am I here? Is this real job spectral? Yeah, very, very strange experience. And

00:36:29 --> 00:36:38

when I, when I, I really started studying religion seriously, at that point, I did that for about a year. And

00:36:39 --> 00:37:26

I went through, I mean, my mother had always told me that she raised us that religion was largely an arbitrary thing that most people just have the religion they were brainwashed into. And they get entrenched in it. And this is the truth because I was born in in Sri Lanka, and therefore I'm a Buddhist or Hindu or to American vention. Yeah, it's, it's, there's, there's, it's a lot less solid ground than a lot of people would like to think. So I decided just to look at the different religions and what they had to say, what was it about the play that terminates it was actually the end when pop comes out and kind of says, you know, if we shadows have offended thing, but there's an

00:37:26 --> 00:37:55

all is mended. Yeah, that you've just slumbered here. There's just a dream. Right. And, and it was, I kind of felt like, that car crash was like, it's time to wake up and I and I realized I could go back to sleep. And easily, and, and it was due, I set out to wake up and make a conscious go of it with my life, to use my life as a, as

00:37:56 --> 00:38:22

a spiritual path of awakening to actually awaken to our true self, whatever that is. And and that's, that's, that's what I, I felt like, I felt I didn't have an option that I that I that I couldn't just go back to sleep by. So by the way, what's fascinating, and it was, it was it was the it was a it was in Santa Barbara. And it was it was actually

00:38:23 --> 00:39:13

the Royal Shakespearean. They would sell production. It was a production from England, and they were really great. Yeah. The interesting thing about that, about that play is that bottom is the is the one character who can actually pass from one order to another when he actually he actually goes from the human to the spirit world, and back again, and has some form of a relationship with a Kwazii acquires identity. And I'm fascinated by that, because he is the player. Well, he's the one who wants to play all the parts, says I can play no Indeed, indeed. And so he's he's the most theatrical Yeah, and yet, it might not be an accidental relationship between his his theatricality and his, and

00:39:13 --> 00:39:28

his spiritual distinctness that he actually can pass back and forth and when he does pass back when he's d metamorphosize. Right from asked to man again, he actually comes back,

00:39:29 --> 00:39:59

revising St. Paul, he comes back with with indeed a vision. And although he's not allowed to share that, that vision by Theseus once they do the play within a play in Act five, he's also the one who can boss the seas around at certain moments, he actually speaks back to her and I've more and more begun to think that he's the unacknowledged King, if you will, of of that of that play. And

00:40:00 --> 00:40:20

And although at first it startled me to hear you say that that Midsummer Night's Dream played an important role in your conversion, I actually think that that play is seriously exploring exactly what it is, that makes it possible for us to experience

00:40:22 --> 00:40:44

this order as not the only order I totally agree and, and to to pass, if you will back back and forth. Well, also, you know, my dad, I, I don't know anybody that didn't come close to his knowledge of Shakespeare, he was convinced that bottom was Shakespeare, right, that he that was his,

00:40:45 --> 00:41:23

that, you know, I shall call it bottoms dream for it has no bottom that that, that Shakespeare was able to dream impossible dreams and continue to dream throughout his life and, and that he the imagination of No, he certainly he certainly certainly identifies with the play, the play adores him, I've never seen a production even bad productions, during which the mechanicals didn't bring down the house. And bottom and bottom in particular, yeah, but to take him seriously as a as a seer, or maybe even some kind of profit

00:41:24 --> 00:41:33

makes us realize that the stakes of poetry may be much higher than we realize that these mere fictions are actually a form of spiritual training.

00:41:35 --> 00:41:45

To catch up to catch the impermanence, the theatrical quality actually of actual life, while the arrows believe that the the poet was

00:41:46 --> 00:41:50

was possessed by a genie, no.

00:41:52 --> 00:42:11

There's actually a great they have a group of Arab poets, they're called the outlaw poets out loud. And they really are, they're, they're amazing care. One was called up a shout out, which means he had evil under his arm, you know, like, the genies he's carrying around, but the,

00:42:12 --> 00:42:37

the, the outlaw poets were, they were like, the, the Dalits you know, they, they were mambu then they were people that were expelled or had rejected the tribal alliances and they became a tribe, for people without tribes. And, and some of their poets are really, really powerful, but they, they definitely saw a relationship between,

00:42:38 --> 00:43:01

you know, the spiritual realm and poetry that a true poet was, was somebody who was inspired that there was something and and undeniably the importance of poetry is accentuated by the fact that the there is a entire chapter in the Quran called the poet's and and and it's recognized that

00:43:03 --> 00:43:10

all of the chapter headings of the of the Quran are our momentous things it's only momentous things get

00:43:11 --> 00:43:56

a chapter like the Jews are, there's a chapter called Benny is sought out because there are momentous people. There's a chapter called the, the the spider, right, the ant and even Arabs asked, like, why is the Raptors named after these little creatures, and it's like, because these are very, very profound little creatures that have great import. And and it's calling attention to those things. And, and the the, the verse about the poets in the poem because they accused the Prophet Muhammad of being a poet. And one of the things that Amir alleges that every one of the great scholars and a poet himself and he fought the French in Algeria,

00:43:57 --> 00:44:29

and was actually honored in this country. There's a city in Iowa named after him, Al Qaeda, Iowa, because he saved Christians that were being persecuted in Syria, but he he wrote a small book called tambien, often, which in it he argues that the reason prophets are accused of being poets is because of the similarity between prophecy and poetry. The poet the Arabs have a beautiful expression for what a great poet does they call it a sad and lump tenant, which means the easy impossible

00:44:31 --> 00:44:59

because it looks like I can do that. But then when you try to do it, you fall short. And and there's something about great poets, and I think, unfortunately for us, lyric poetry, our poetry has been reduced to lyric poetry and and most because of free verse and the loss of prosody. And, and or, you know, somebody like Mary Oliver is clearly capable of writing inverse if she wanted to

00:45:00 --> 00:45:46

And she certainly knows the art, but chooses to write in, in this free verse and I find pre verse extremely interesting. It's undeniably interesting, but I think it's a third category, I think prose poetry and, and to call it verse for me is probably that the Arabs had a third category, which is very similar to free verse which they call they had novom and nothing and such. So they had prose, poetry, and then they had a third category, which is more like rap. Today, it's it's kind of has internal rhymes a lot of asinus, a lot of alliteration, but it's not metered. And it's not. It's not rhymed. In any formalized. I have a colleague who does some very interesting work on Whitman,

00:45:46 --> 00:46:42

Apollo, my, I love and she, she argues, and I think it's quite astute, that we can think of poetry as, as as meter or we can think of poetry as line. So her argument is that free verse avails itself of any number of formal properties of poetry, that what's significant is the line is the line itself. And Whitman, I think, is really quite remarkable for achieving his measure, in in line, as opposed to meter. Yeah. And, and that it has a it has a rhythm. And in that sense, it's like, it's like prose that has a rhythm, but because of the lineation, it's different. So I actually think it may be that free verse is the third category that you're what Well, I mean, I would argue, see

00:46:42 --> 00:46:44

Whitman, who really starts the ball rolling

00:46:46 --> 00:47:21

Whitman to his his free verse, it's clearly versified. But it's free. Whereas a lot of what is called free verse today, that you can't, if you look at, you know, Captain, oh, Captain, that's clearly got strong meter in it, it's just not fixed to any you can't say, Oh, this is pentameter, or tramet. Or, or Demeter or what, what you can't fix it, it's, but it's clearly metered. He's got rhyme going, he's got, it's, and that's why I think what happens later,

00:47:23 --> 00:47:29

when you have people like Ezra Pound, because pound,

00:47:30 --> 00:47:44

pound is like Picasso, Picasso could do the realist if he wanted, you know, he was a trained painter, but he chose to do the abstract. And it made sense, because photography had really replaced realist art.

00:47:45 --> 00:48:36

But, but he could do that. And, and, and lb, could could write in, in, in meter, but what a lot of people today are doing, they don't know how to write in, in, in meter in traditional forms. And so they're just doing it's like modern dancing, where you just get out and do whatever you want. Whereas all traditional dancing, you had to learn how to dance. The waltz is a very specific set, or the cha cha, or even, you know, ballroom dancing, all those forms have, and this is what I think this what this is, the demarcation of the, the modern and the pre modern world is that it's, there's a type of do what thou wilt. It's the abbey of thelema, you know, the, the, the rejection of law and

00:48:36 --> 00:49:03

order, and I'm going to be free. And and nobody's going to put constraints on me. And I think the problem with that, and this is why it's very interesting that the great disciplines of our civilization are called the liberal arts. They're the arts that free you. Because if you if I get on a piano and just start pounding away, that's not music. I mean, maybe George anteil thought it was but it's not music, you know.

00:49:04 --> 00:49:18

But if I, if I discipline myself to master this thing, then I'm free to do whatever I want. And that's what I would. Personally I really feel that to, to,

00:49:20 --> 00:49:25

to encourage people to do these things without learning the rules.

00:49:26 --> 00:49:34

Then you're free to break the rules. It's like if I know grammar, and I choose like Dickens, to have a sentence with one word in it.

00:49:36 --> 00:49:59

You know, I don't the English teacher can say that's not a sentence, because there's no subject and there's no predicate, but Dickens knows what a sentence is. Right? And if he chooses to make a sentence out of one word, he has every right to do that he can break the rules because he knows the rules. And I think that's where I really I think free verse has has destroyed poetry personal

00:50:02 --> 00:50:06

Yeah, I don't agree. No, I wouldn't expect you to

00:50:08 --> 00:50:30

startled me when you came back to the to to that to that to that point, because I don't think that it's fully free. I think, again, I think the line is still a discipline. And what it's freed from is I think if they know what they're doing is metrics. Yeah, no, that's, that's right. But most don't. But I think that's always, always the case in the sense that

00:50:31 --> 00:50:39

only those who have mastered an art can transcend it. And in that sense, I am traditionalist educationally, without a doubt.

00:50:40 --> 00:51:28

But when you look, and I'm identifying Whitman, in particular, because of he ends up being proof of something you said earlier, when you were talking about the influence of the English Bible, especially the King James Version, on on English and American literary culture, which is really hard to overestimate. I mean, he was a great reader of the Bible, including the Psalms, and it's quite clear that he picks up a lot of his phrasing and clausing, from the English psalms in, in the King James Version of the Bible. And so in many ways, I think Whitman is actually a traditionalist that he I would agree not only studied the forms, but he studied, he studied the great the great books,

00:51:28 --> 00:51:39

if you if you will, but but that's always the case, it seems to me that the untrained tend to make for less compelling revolutionaries than trained.

00:51:40 --> 00:52:00

They're the ones who are actually free enough, not only to choose when to obey rules or not, but to invent new rules. My father wrote a book on prosody. And really one of his, one of his lines in there was that he felt Robert Frost scored an ace when he said that free verse was like playing tennis without a net.

00:52:03 --> 00:52:55

I'm just saying there were still lines. I know, I agree. And that's not my point about Whitman. I do and if you take a poem like Kensington Gardens, by Ezra Pound, I mean, that's as good as poetry gets, as far as I'm concerned. It's, it's a, it's a poem of free verse. It's an incredibly powerful poem. But again, Powell knew what he was doing. Yeah. And my argument is that people are, are, it's a default setting, when, when you don't know how to do something, and you go to the default setting of just doing whatever you can. And, and that's where I think you lose artifice is very important. Art. And art is from ours, you know, power, we, the word for army is a cognate of art. Art is power.

00:52:55 --> 00:53:15

And, and, and power comes about from discipline. It's It's, it's, it's a crude by, by discipline, civilization, that's on discipline will never become a powerful civilization. And and, and a writer who's on disciplined will never become a powerful writer. And that's why I think,

00:53:17 --> 00:53:28

great poetry is always there. There's definitely the discipline is there, you can feel it. And somebody like, if you, if you take somebody like

00:53:30 --> 00:53:34

Cormac McCarthy is is a good example of that, who

00:53:35 --> 00:54:21

just from one point of view can drive you crazy with his punctuation, but he knows exactly what he's doing. And he has a purpose behind that. I'd like to ask him if I ever met him. What about particular moments? Yeah, like what what he's trying to convey in that usage, but I really feel like we our civilization has lost so much by the abandonment of rules. And one of the interesting things and Nietzsche brings out this, this idea of the Apollonian and Dionysian is two impulses, right? We've become such a Dionysian culture, that we've lost the importance of the Apollonian that, that there's a balance between the two and wonderfully portrayed in Sense and Sensibility with these two,

00:54:21 --> 00:54:22

Eleanor and Marianne.

00:54:23 --> 00:54:45

Austin does an incredible job at showing us these two ways of being in the world. And, and, and how they're both in essence, flawed, that, you know, the end where there's a recognition of the other's worth, and the beauty of the other than need one and they need one another. And, and, and I think

00:54:46 --> 00:54:59

we have an interesting tradition in Islam. In Sufism, tasawwuf, which is that the Sufi should be outwardly sober, but inwardly drunk or a static and

00:55:00 --> 00:55:46

And I think that is is that incredible balance of the Apollonian decorum. The idea of decorum is important. I mean, one of the things that troubles me about modern culture is the complete loss of decorum. The importance of and Richard Weaver I'm sure you're familiar with that the ideas have consequences, I think he was really getting at the heart of the crises that we're suffering from, in the loss of a sense of hierarchy, that all of life has hierarchy and, and to reduce and level and I think that's one of the things about free verse to me, it levels it makes everybody a poet, because everybody can do it. And, and then you lose something, in, in, in the, in the discipline that that

00:55:46 --> 00:55:51

elevates one over the other not in terms of a kind of

00:55:53 --> 00:56:10

inherent superiority, but in an acquired superiority, the assertion idea of the superior man was a man who had cultivated his character and his being. And, and, and that's, I think we've really lost that in our culture. And, and, and I think,

00:56:12 --> 00:57:04

I think that that loss of, of meaningful life, a life of discipline that actually accomplishments are, are something that are relished because they were so hard earned. When everything becomes easy, when all information I mean, I can just look up the meaning of any poem on the internet, I can find out what meter it's in and what verse it's in, and I admittedly have done that before will, exactly, but that something is lost. When every Well, I share your father's admiration for for Shakespeare and the way that I would approach what you're talking about, which I think is right, I mean, a loss of a sense of decorum is a shame. Unfortunately, we think of decorum as mere manners. We don't think

00:57:04 --> 00:57:50

of it as an ordering an ordering principle of some of some kind. But it's interesting that one of the reasons that decorum got a legitimately bad name is that it too often was used to to support social hierarchies. But what's missed, I think, in in decorum, especially with respect to how to train poets, how to teach poets how to write poetry, how to teach people how to read it, is that the submission to a superior artist is how a lesser artists becomes a greater artist. And in fact, in in Shakespeare's own example, it's very easy to see that early in his career, he was heavily influenced by Christopher Marlowe.

00:57:51 --> 00:58:34

And he took Marlowe as an object of imitation, it's quite clear, Marlowe, in great part because he died, he died young tends to have a verse less mature than the most mature of Shakespearean verse by the had had he live, we don't know where he would have ended up. That's right. And Shakespeare's own imitation of Marlowe made it possible for him to begin to do things that Marlowe did quite less, quite less frequently. So for example, Shakespearean meter tends to be much more regular in the early part of his career, and then he starts to experiment with more and more interesting metrical substitutions, for example, the line changes so that frequently he has n stop lines at the

00:58:34 --> 00:58:42

beginning, and relies much more heavily on rhyme itself, we think of him always writing blank verse when in fact, there's a great deal of variety.

00:58:44 --> 00:59:40

In the earlier frequently in the earlier in the earlier work, Romeo and Juliet, for example, often has very interesting end rhymes early early in the play. And so then you get this experiment with enjambment, that actually comes to define the Shakespearean line, which is really quite distinct. And so what I think we've lost in in, in the very loss of decorum that you're that you're talking about, is not the loss of submitting to illegitimate social authority. Because let it let it go. But the submission to legitimate artistic authority in which you're training requires you to recognize someone's artistic talent is so superior to your own, that you need to pay attention to learn how to

00:59:40 --> 00:59:59

how to do that. And again, intuitively, we all we all know this, Aristotle says in the poetics that the human being is the most mimetic of animals, right? And he says something very interesting that I've actually meditated on your neurons we begin to actually near the person we're sitting with entrainment the hearts begin to

01:00:00 --> 01:00:45

be in sync with the people were standing next to know exactly live in together, their their their periods synchronize. That's right. So that when young when young people are actually trying to learn something, of course, they imitate their heroes. They play their guitar like their favorite hero does they hold the bat that way? You could always see a young person when they're when they're imitate Dylan was imitating James Dean Charlie Chaplin. That's exactly right. Right. But that is itself he became who he was. Yeah, it wasn't just that he became that. But he became it by in a sense mastering his master. I once saw a documentary on on

01:00:46 --> 01:00:59

one of my favorite lyricist, the Hank Williams. And Hank Williams could imitate these two singers. And he said, he realized that he had to find his own voice, he said, so I got right in between.

01:01:00 --> 01:01:27

And then in the documentary, they showed the two singers, and they blend in their voice and it was Hank Williams. It's just amazing. Remarkable. So again, Nemesis like he was. Toynbee goes in great detail about the mimetic importance of Nemesis in a civilization. That's that that I think, is the paradox of originality. And finding one there's no voice at all. Yeah, no, that's right until one masters.

01:01:29 --> 01:02:18

Another artist, one is imitating and then feels compelled to to innovate. And at that point, I think newness is born. The truth of the matter is before Shakespeare, the Shakespearean line of extraordinary metrical volatility, and of varied pacing, it's, it's, it's new. Yeah, it's new the language of things language as he invented words, he been constantly inventing where it was, it was a new, it was a new language. And then we think about somebody like like Milton, who's paying a great deal of attention then to to Shakespeare, much less so tomorrow. And he himself realizes that that metrically volatile in jammed line is something that he himself can do in paradise in Paradise

01:02:18 --> 01:02:37

Lost in his epic poem, but he there finds that the Shakespearean syntax is not complicated enough for the for the elections and the actions that he wants to represent, and his own Latinate, his own Latinate training

01:02:38 --> 01:03:30

at the university, drives him to then create a Miltonic style that's distinctly distinctly his own. But I agree the the liberal arts tradition, is a tradition that's ultimately liberate. But proxr a discipline? That's right, approximately, it requires discipline and, and, and submission and the submission, the submission to a discipline, I think, is something that's a great gift to young people, whether it's the discipline that music, that's my plan, Latics poetry, because that kind of mastery empowers them much more much more fully than how shall I put it, less discipline for sure. forms of expression. You know, frost said, the life is a series of disciplines and the first one is

01:03:30 --> 01:03:47

the acquisition of language of words, and even the nuances of words and the meanings of words and poets, great poets, they know their words, so well. And, and, and they and they, and they reveal that you know, Shakespeare, sister, Mary and Joseph, I think,

01:03:48 --> 01:04:29

compellingly shows the the indebtedness of Shakespeare to artifice to mastering the books of rhetoric of his time, and and Marshall McLuhan in his book on the trivium, the listen Elizabethan age, which created the greatest English literature that we have was an age of rhetoric that that's what they were doing. And, and that's why I really feel, you know, just to close this out, I think what you did with the Office of assertion because I've been looking for a book for freshmen, because there's a couple of things about our college

01:04:30 --> 01:04:59

students today, they don't know English grammar, because they didn't go to Grammar School, which to me is a crime against a young person. And to they, they really struggle with writing, partly because they don't know grammar, but more importantly, because they don't know topics of invention. They don't know how ideas are generated and the discipline of rhetoric and what you did with that very short but incredibly rich little book was

01:05:00 --> 01:05:51

to really give a student in a very short and concise way, the essence of writing a good essay, and I think the essay in the end about telling Marcus and from from the Odyssey is proof in the pudding. So I appreciate that a great deal. Yeah, no, it was it. I mean, that's how we ended up connecting. And you've now written for the journal. And hopefully it'll, you know, it'll continue the dialogue. So I want to really thank you just for coming out. We're here at the upper campus at zaytuna College and I also for inviting me out to the University of Dallas. I really enjoyed it. Your hospitality was wonderful and meeting all those people and hopefully we'll do that again here. Something similar

01:05:51 --> 01:06:00

to that so we hope so wanted to thank you and the community as a tuna for for having me today. It was a delight. Great. All right.

With  Scott Crider

Share Page

Related Episodes