What’s the Connection?
“Something poetry and philosophy have in common is that our relationship with them doesn’t start early enough.” – Kyle Kaplan
For me, what links poetry and philosophy is that they are both how we make sense of the world around us. Poetry gives us a vehicle to express our confusion, grief, wonder, and inexplicable joys – and philosophy helps us sort out what we really mean. Philosophy helps us figure out what our questions are; poetry helps us explore them when the literal and the linear escapes us.
Poetry and philosophy, at first blush, could seem in opposition to one another. Philosophy is often based in logic, a way to order our understanding. We strive to put together questions and arguments in order to make them clearer – and more persuasive – to someone else. Poetry (often) couldn’t be less linear. Poetry is a mode of creative expression that breaks the rules. Still, I think they are similar in more important ways than they differ. When I have a question that cannot be answered with the scientific method or a formal logical argument, I go to philosophy and to poetry to explore these questions from a new angle. What distinguishes philosophical inquiry from the sciences is that there are rarely, if ever, definitively correct answers (although I have heard persuasive arguments that some answers can be plain wrong – particularly if stating a known falsehood about the material world or a proven logical fallacy). Likewise, poetry is subject to our subjective experiences, and must be thought through and discussed to garner deeper meaning.
Sadly, both poetry and philosophy have picked up a reputation in our modern Western culture of being stuffy, esoteric fields of study, accessible only to the privileged, ancient, boring elite. Thankfully, there are a lot of people out there doing really great work to demystify poetry and philosophy a little bit, and get us to reclaim their inherent whimsy and wonder. Philosophical questions pop up in our lives every day, no matter who we are or where we come from. When a five-year-old asks how we know the sky is really there, when a thirteen-year-old demands to know why it is considered fair that she is not allowed to vote, when we wonder how we can be sure that other people really exist (and we have not dreamed them up), or whether there is a God – any time we engage with questions that require discussion rather than just empirical observation or research, we are doing philosophy. And when we engage with these kinds of questions, they often push our creative buttons. We write about the things that really bug us, that pull at the strings inside of ourselves that can’t be untangled by science and textbooks. Philosophy opens the door to metaphors and figurative ways of thinking that support poetic creativity, and vice-versa: when we talk and write about our world from the figurative perspective of poetry, we open the door to new dimensions of thought and understanding about our experiences and beliefs.
I would love to hear what you think about the relationship between poetry and philosophy! Check out “Poetry, Philosophy, Truth” by Troy Jollimore at Philosophy Talk, and continue the discussion in the comments below!