The Best Revenge, Episode 3: Why Poetry Matters Part I

In this episode of our regular series, The Best Revenge, Dr. Fleming makes the case for poetry. Not just the “poetry” that is the affectation of the dirty hippie, but the poetry that yearns to breathe deep within our souls. Dr. Fleming prescribes poetry as a “mental health remedy” and points out that there is indeed such a thing as “good poetry” that goes beyond a matter of subjective taste. If you are what you eat, so too poetry can enrich the rational animal that we are. Listen too if you wish to hear one of the rare times that Dr. Fleming disagrees with Aristotle!


Original Air Date: April 14, 2016
Show Run Time: 1 hour 1 minute
Show Guest(s): Dr. Thomas Fleming
Show Host(s): Stephen Heiner

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The Best Revenge℗ is a Production of the Fleming Foundation. Copyright 2016. All rights are reserved and any duplication without explicit written permission is forbidden.

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2 Responses

  1. Avatar Robert Reavis says:

    Thank you Stephen and Dr. Fleming,
    Some this conversation reminded me of an old essay by a famous Shakespeare teacher from Columbia.

    WHENEVER poetry has been good, it has
    had good subject matter-good for
    anybody, and it has not agonized about
    numbers. Today, I think, we do not hear
    enough about the subject matter of poetry.
    Criticism tends to ignore the question altogether.
    Poets are damned or praised for
    their way with language, as if language
    were the aim and end of all their art. Language
    is a lovely thing, and only human
    beings have it; but they have it, presumably,
    for something better still, and the
    greatest poets are those who have best
    understood this. There is no lord of language
    like Shakespeare; he could and did
    do everything with it; but what finally
    moves us as we read him or watch his plays
    is the knowledge he has of us, on a level
    deeper than words. We adore Shakespeare
    because he is wise, and because the world
    of men is given its right value in his works.
    It was for the same reason that the Greeks
    all but worshiped Homer, whom they knew
    by heart even though they knew nothing
    about the world of which he had written.
    The truth was, of course, that they did
    know his most important world, for it was
    the human world, and as such it was not
    different from theirs. Again they had in
    him a lord of language, but they noticed
    this less than they noticed how well he
    understood the passions, the ideas, and the
    absurdities of men. They watched Achilles
    learning what honor means; they watched
    Odysseus coming home; and they saw the
    soul of Hector reflected in the love of those
    around him-his family, his comrades, and
    his friends among the gods. By the same
    token, what is it that in modern times convinces
    a true reader of Dante that his reputation
    is deserved? His verbal cunning, and
    the peculiar fitness of his rhymes, his syntax?
    These of course; but at last it is the
    knowledge of the man, and the pity; the
    power of his feelings, the unwearied work
    of his thought, and the deep lake of his
    heart. Without these he would merely be
    ingenious, as without them Homer would
    be sound and fury, and Shakespeare nothing
    but incessant bustling in the scenery.
    But those three are the greatest poets,
    one of you may say-the very greatest;
    and what can we learn from them? They
    are too far removed, they are monsters of
    perfection, they are studied more than they
    are read, they are statues whose pedestals
    only may be approached. I do not doubt
    at all that one at least of you is saying
    these things now. And nothing could be
    more mistaken. Yet it is the custom of our
    time. We do not believe that we can learn
    from the greatest things. They are not for
    us. Which is why so few discussions of
    poetry today, even among those who ought
    to know better, even mention the names of
    Shakespeare, Homer, and Dante; and why
    the poet is defined in terms that exclude
    those masters; and why the impression is
    abroad that it is somehow bad taste for
    poetry to be interesting to people. Subject
    matter is itself an embarrassing subject,
    from which quick: refuge is sought in the
    techniques of rhythm and image, of caesura
    and ambiguity. Those things all have
    their fascination, but it is secondary to the
    further fascination of the art when ultimate
    demands are made upon it. The ultimate
    demand is that it be faithful to its ancient
    trust; that it treat of human truth, and
    more wisely and movingly than most men
    treat it even when they know, as ideally
    all men know, the content of such truth

  2. Avatar James D. says:

    Dr. Fleming,

    Thank you for recommending Stevenson’s collection. I purchased it for my daughter. My mother read Longfellow’s Paul Revere’s Ride to me so many times as a child that it still sticks with me. As far as modern songwriters, I recommend James McMurtry. He is the son of the novelist Larry McMurtry.