Harrison Middleton University

National Poetry Month

National Poetry Month

We’re excited that you’ve joined the conversation! At HMU, we want to continue the great authors’ conversations in a contemporary context, and this blog will help us do that. We look back to Aristotle and the early philosophers who used reason and discourse to gain wisdom and now we endeavor to do the same every day.


April 28, 2017

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s post.

Did you know that Poetry is listed as one of the Great Ideas in the Syntopicon? If you didn’t you are not alone. However, the importance of this inclusion is often overlooked. Since it is National Poetry Month, now is the best time to better understand why poetry might be considered one of the “great ideas”. For me, poetry is an easy sell. It’s like a puzzle that the reader can assemble and reassemble at will. It may continue to be a puzzle, and maybe the final piece remains missing or blurred. I do understand how annoying it can be when we do not understand something. Yet, I continue to be drawn into poems because of the universality of the emotions and ideas given through a unique voice, experience and vision.

Mortimer Adler links the poetic conversation back to Aristotle and Socrates. In the Syntopicon, Adler suggests that authors like Kant and Plato judge poetry by its contribution to knowledge. Poetry, without a doubt, creates connections that can lead to knowledge. Furthermore, Adler suggests that poets have an obligation to speak or find a truth. Poetry brings this about not through fact alone, but by imaginative associations. For Bacon, poetry leads the imagination of the reader through the imagination of the author. This is important because it is precisely this technique that defines the great ideas themselves. All of this learning, education and fact-finding is founded upon the idea that great ideas have traveled and changed throughout history, by a variety of peoples and cultures. These great writers transcribed their thoughts, experiences, facts and data into conversations. Poems, then, are simply structured rooms of play that allow one to learn, grow or understand through someone else’s eyes and experience.

The following examples give just a taste of some poetic voices that we discuss.


“So, on you move/ Over the seas and mountains, over streams/ Whose ways are fierce, over the greening leas,/ Over the leafy tenements of birds,/ So moving that in all the ardor burns/ For generation and their kind’s increase,/ Since you alone control the way things are./ Since without you no thing has ever come/ Into the radiant boundaries of light,/ Since without you nothing is ever glad,/ And nothing ever lovable, I need,/ I need you with me, goddess, in the poem/ I try to write here, on the Way Things Are.” – Lucretius, The Way Things Are


“I and my company were old and slow/ When at the narrow passage we arrived/ Where Hercules his landmarks set as signals,/ That man no farther onward should adventure./ On the right hand behind me left I Seville/ And on the other already had left Ceuta./ ‘O brothers, who amid a hundred thousand/ Perils,’ I said, ‘have come unto the West,/ To this so inconsiderable vigil/ Which is remaining of your senses still/ Be ye unwilling to deny the knowledge, following the sun, of the unpeopled world./ Consider ye the seed from which ye sprang;/ Ye were not made to live like unto brutes,/ But for pursuit of virtue and of knowledge.'” – Dante Alighieri, “The Inferno”


“Our terrors and our darknesses of mind/ Must be dispelled, not by the sunshine’s rays,/ Not by those shining arrows of the light,/ But by insight into nature, and a scheme/ Of systematic contemplation. So/ Our starting-point shall be this principle:/ Nothing at all is ever born from nothing/ By the god’s will.” – Lucretius, The Way Things Are


“What are the stars? There is the sun, the sun!/ And the most patient brilliance of the moon!/ And stars by the thousands!/ Point me out the way/ To any one particular beauteous star,/ And I will flit into it with my lyre,/ And make its silvery splendour pant with bliss./ I have heard the cloudy thunder: Where is power?/ Whose hand, whose essence, what divinity/ Makes this alarum in the elements,/ While I here idle listen on the shores/ In fearless yet in aching ignorance?/ O tell me, lonely Goddess, by thy harp,/ That waileth every morn and eventide,/ Tell me why thus I rave, about these groves!/ Mute thou remainest – Mute! Yet I can read/ A wonderous lesson in they silent face:/ Knowledge enormous makes a God of me./ Names, deeds, gray legends, dire events, rebellions,/ Majesties, sovran voices, agonies,/ Creations and destroyings, all at once/ Pour into the wide hollows of my brain,/ And deify me, as if some blithe wine/ Or bright elixir peerless I had drunk,/ And so become immortal.” – John Keats, “Hyperion”


“Let’s talk of graves, of worms and epitaphs;/ Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes/ Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth,/ Let’s choose executors and talk of wills: And yet not so, for what can we bequeath/ Save our deposed bodies to the ground?/ Our lands, our lives, and all are Bolingbroke’s,/ And nothing can we call our own but death/ And that small model of the barren earth/ Which serves as pste and cover to our bones./ For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground/ And tell sad stories of the death of kings:/ How some have been deposed; some slain in war;/ Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;/ Some poison’d by their wives; some sleeping kill’d;/ All murder’d: for within the hollow crown/ That rounds the mortal temples of a king/ Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,/ Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,/ Allowing him a breath, a little scene,/ To monarchize, be fear’d, and kill with looks,/ Infusing him with self and vain conceit,/ As if this flesh which walls about our life/ Were brass impregnable, and humour’d thus/ Comes at last and with a little pin/ Bores through this castle wall, and farewell king!” – Shakespeare, “The Tragedy of King Richard II”


“And no rock/ If there were rock/ And also water/ And water/ A spring/ A pool among the rock/ If there were the sound of water only/ Not the cicada/ And dry grass singing/ But sound of water over a rock/ Where the hermit thrush sings in the pine trees/ Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop/ But there is no water.” – T. S. Eliot, “The Waste Land”


“Enter: two rivers, gracefully bearing/ countless little pellucid jellies/ in cut-glass epergnes dragging with silver chains./ The flight is safe; the weather is all arranged./ The waves are running in verses this fine morning./ Please come flying.” – Elizabeth Bishop, “Invitation to Miss Marianne Moore”


“proud flesh,/ as all flesh/ is proud of its wounds, wears them/ as honors given out after battle,/ small triumphs pinned to the chest – / And when two people have loved each other/ see how it is like a/ scar between their bodies,/ stronger, darker, and proud;/ how the black cord makes them a single fabric/ that nothing can tear or mend.” – Jane Hirshfield, “For What Binds Us”

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