The Poetic and the Real

Michael Martin (See here) in his most recent blog post (See here), writes:

“…And by ‘poetic’ I do not mean less real than what we’re accustomed to. On the contrary, I mean more real than what we’re accustomed to.”

Modernity tells a story about what is “real.”  And that story goes something like this:

Before the Enlightenment, before modern science, people were superstitious and believed fables, myths, and fairytales.  And, they believed religious fables, myths, and fairytales too.  In fact, they were all of one piece.  Were they interesting and imaginative?  Yes.  Were they colorful and even beautiful, some of them?  Sure.  Were there some historical, cultural, and sociological strands of information contained within, that were at least helpful in giving a “true” or “factual” picture of their time?  Yes.  But, most importantly, they were false and not true in any empirical, scientific, or factual sense.  And for the modern, that is the only description of “true” one is allowed or will be tolerated.

This is what is meant when we hear of the “disenchantment” of the world.  Modernity broke the spell if you will.  A tree was now just a tree.  A rock was just a rock.  A river was just a river.  People, the ocean, the night sky, the snow-covered forest, the sunrise, the sunset were just that: Matter in motion, over time.  Nothing more (If we were to speak “truthfully” and “factually”).

To speak of any of these facets of existence, in any way that went beyond their mere physical appearance and substance, was to speak poetically.  To say the wind is whispering, or the sky crying, is to speak metaphorically, poetically.  And such is fine.  But what modernity will not tolerate is to say, at the same time, one is speaking, truthfully.  For modernity, the poetic can never be true, at least, in any important or significant sense.

To break the spell of modernity, we must again speak poetically and, at the same time, let it be known we are also speaking, truthfully.  We are saying something more real, something more substantive, than simply noting pieces of reductionist information—that matter is in motion.

As we have already been discussing, this is what the FG world doesn’t understand either.  They think any reading of Scripture that isn’t literal (meaning empirical, scientific, historical fact), is false or misguided—which is another reason they are more modern than they realize.  When they hear that the first chapters of Genesis may be speaking of something other than a literal, scientific, description of God’s creating, what they hear is it might as well be false then, as a poetic reading or any reading that is not literal, cannot be true.  An atheist or modern could not had said it better and is in complete agreement with them.

Cher was in a charming and funny movie in the 1980’s entitled “Moonstruck” (See here).  I love that movie.  I suppose we could describe the movie as one containing people, set in New York, and that at one point, a full-moon is shown/discussed…for some reason.  That might be how modernity would review the movie.

But we must (and most do) see the movie differently.  We must speak of being “moonstruck”—and what that means.  To speak this way, is to speak the truth of the moon and its perception, in a much more real way than we ever could by listing facts about the moon, i.e., how big the moon is, how far from the earth, orbit, topography, type of soil, or any other mere measurement we could note.  Are all those “facts” true?  Of course.  Are they important?  Of course.  But there is something truer, more real, than those mere facts.  There is the enchantment of being “moonstruck” and all the mystery, depth, and the sublime contained (but not held) therein by that word.  It is the difference between speaking descriptively (mere facts) and truthfully (poetically).

We must re-enchant the world, which is simply to say we must point out that which already is—it is right in front of us.  The world, existence, is enchanted.  There is a depth to things.  There is a mystery to things that science or empirical “fact” cannot capture.  And when we speak of that depth and mystery, we speak the truth, the real.

As Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it:

“…Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,

And daub their natural faces unaware…”


2 thoughts on “The Poetic and the Real

  1. Dear Darrell,

    Yes, yes, and yes! Poetry is a deeper, fuller truth—a truth that cannot be spoken of directly. We have no more words when we stand before the poetic truth. Metaphor and allegory. These are languages that say what cannot be said. Go where we cannot go in any linear way.

    Thanks, Jean

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  2. Hi Darrell,
    Thank you for this…yes, we seem to have forgotten that everything is iconic, meaning both material and spiritual. And everything is participatory. Imagine how we might live differently if we knew this!
    Thanks for writing.

    Liked by 1 person

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