Thursday, July 13, 2017

On Plato and Poetry

Plato avows that poetry is a sham;
a mirror of a mirror, twice removed
from Truth. Of course, if you believe, like him,
reality is really that realm of Ideas,
And poetry represents this world of gross
material, then what can it seem to you
But counterfeit of counterfeit of Truth?
Yet Aristotle tells us poetry is
the mash of history and philosophy:
the universal lumped into the concrete.
If that is so, why poetry has no choice
but lie, and in so doing tell the truth.
So Plato plays the Socrates, and Ion,
Glaucon, Protagoras, Crito, Meno,
servants, slaves, kings, Athenians and Greeks
and foreign menlying to us, because
the fact is they are not themselves but Plato,
Plato who knows full well his dialogues
are plays, his characters are parts, the actors
are his reader's minds, and knows that he
can show the truth by telling lies. You see,
when Socrates expelled the poets from
his city, he did so in poetry,
and he himself was Plato's poem
he was inviting us to view the truth
behind his lie, and see that poetry,
like some old man who tells some kid
a made-up fable to instruct, who could
be you, or me, or Socrates, does lie
in story, but it leaves instruction for
the taking. So does Plato, never saying
what is it that he means or where he stands,
to show that since the universal in
concreteness lives and by concreteness is
perceived, and poetry never aims
at being true in the concrete, it's free
from truth to show the truth by saying false:
the truth is that in fiction lies the truth.