[Milton-L] Fetishizing Greatness, was Re: Is Paradise Lost

Nancy Charlton ncharlton2009 at hotmail.com
Fri Apr 24 17:00:50 EDT 2009


As the latest salvo in this exchange, Larry Gorman admonished:
> 
> But aren't the concepts "poetry" and "prose" very much like the concept
> of "game" as discussed in Philosophical Investigations?  

This little squib by Robert Penn Warren from the bartleby home page today seems apposite:

The poem … is a little myth of man’s capacity of
making life meaningful. And in the end, the poem is not a thing we see
— it is, rather, a light by which we may see — and what we see is life.

This is perhaps not the last word on poetry, but I felt is does offer a more directed criterion by which the poetry or non-poetry of Wittgenstein might be assessed. I got a kick out of Jim's pulling of jonnyangel's leg, but even if in jest a formula or equation can become "a light by which we may see" then it accomplishes this end of poetry whether it is a formal poem or not. Most poets are not mathematicians, but many are observers of nature. Math, perhaps, cannot be experienced in any tactile way, but "nature" can. If Emily Dickinson can write "A bird came down the walk/ He did not know I saw" the reader can see, and so marvel at the bird's sang-froid in eating the worm "raw." But for many readers the malarkey of the equation has to be followed closely because we can't see all of the equation, but enought that this following is rewarded by a laugh--a distancing laugh, together in most cases with a covert scratching of the head. The abstraction of mathematics is out of most people's emotional ken. This is a different thing from the satisfaction of working out, say, a quadratic equation in all its symmetry and sense of resolution. That is a beautiful thing, but hardly a poem.

I see no direct connection in all this to Milton, save to wonder just how much he knew of mathematics. He certainly knew well that a poem may be a "myth of man’s capacity of
making life meaningful," and it probably embraced a high level of abstraction.

Nancy Charlton


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