This page is for my praiseworthy sister Truong thi Hong Nhung, ex-teacher of school
Is poet, a prophet or a crafman?...
Since ancien times, the theories abour poetry have revolved around the notion
of the poet as a deliberate crafman, or an inspired seer, or the combination of two. In the ancien word, poetry
meant making,and included all forms of human productivity- that mens making vases as well as making poems.
But it soon came to mean the Art of literary making, the imaginative representation
of human action, charactere, ane emotion - through words. Such making included dramatic works, both comedy and tragedy
and epic narratives, as well as the lyrical verse to which we commonly ascribe the term poetry...
In the ancient sense of poetry, the use of verse patterns and rhythms by themselves
did not regarded as poetry. They were descriptions of actually rather than imaginative creations, which imitated
the universal aspects of human action - the essential function of poetry, according to Aristotle.
Leaving aside the question of whether poetry can be written in prose as well as in verse,
there is no doubt that we mean something special and unique by the terms " poetic" and " poet". The ancient
philosophers recongnized this and tried to investigate just what this uniqueness consists of. Although the poet in the original
language of Plato and Aristotle is literally a maker, they did not see him as identical
with other makers -with the shoemaker, the shipwright and other artisans.
Indeed, the idea that the poet is a kind of madman or an inspired visionary comes to us from Plato.
And so sober a thinker as Aristotle allow that " a strain of madness", instead of " a happy
gift of nature ", may in some cases account for a poet's ability to stand outside of himself and enter into the personalities
of his imaginary characters. What Plato and Aristotle called " madness " is equivalent to what
we call "inspiration ". We should note, however, that "inspiration ", and thre similar term " enthusiasm
", connoted direction by an external, supernatural force.
Jacques Maritain, a distinguished modern philosopher, has dealt in recent years with this question
of whether the artist is a seeror a craftsman. Maritain 's basic theory had been that the artist or poet is a " maker
", a workman similar to other makers of things, with a skill in turning out objects. But obviously there is something
different about poetry, since it is a mental, rather than a manual art. It involves a unique action of the human mind.
Hence, Maritain emphasized the element of " creative intuition " i art and poetry. By
this he means a special disposition, capacity or openness to the deepest levels of the human spirit. But he insists that this
is a strictly natural and human process, and he throws up his hands in horror at any pretense of the poet to be s seer possessing
special insight into ultimate mysteries. He accuses modern poets, such as Poe, Baudelaire and Rimbaud,
of indulging in just this presumption.
The critic Harold Rosenberg, however, retorts that these poets had no supernatural pretenses,
that they were primarily technical innovators and systematizers, who tried through their own deliberate efforts to bring about
the state of " inspiration " through which poetry has always been achieved. They emphasized conscious
technique , devices and exercises, and tried to construct a systemic discipline for the making of poetry. The modern poet,
says Rosenberg, is a sensitive technician who combines the " maker " and the " seer " in the new
the uses of music...
In ancient Greece,
the term music originally referred to all of arts presided over the nine Muses.
As a specific term, however, music meant the arts of singing and dancing, and wasd intimately associated with poetry
and dramatic performances. For the Greek philosophers, music in this sense was a concrete expression of the order
or disorder that is present in the universe and in the human soul. For them,mathematics and astronomy were musical arts too,
and they talked about a musicof the spheres as well as of sounds.
Music, therefore, played an important role in the Athenian
program of education. As literary education cultivated the intellect, and gymnastics developed the body, so music
cultivated the emotions and the moral virtues. The educational program proposed by Plato for his
ideal republic assigned to music this function of moral education.
Plato argued that musical harmonies and rhythms imitate basic patterns
in the universe and the soul. In his view, the growing child is influenced by the melodies he hears so that he assumes
the feeling and character traits expressed by them. Certain musical modes engender grace, temperance, courage, and other
virtues. Other modes induce clumsiness, intemperance, cowardice, and other vices. Thus music does for
the mind what gymnastics does for the body.
" Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other " Plato
wrote," because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul on which they mightily fasten, imparting
grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him, who is ill - educated ungraceful;... he who
has received this true education of the inner being will most shewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and nature,
and with the true taste... in the days of his youth, even before he is able to know the reason why; when reason comes he will
recognize and salute the friend with whom his education has made him familiar."
Aristotle acknowledge the importance of the music as a mean of moral education,
but he also stressed the aesthetic and the psychological values of music. In his view, music is the art especially fitted
to moral education because of its unique capacity to imitate moral qualities. But it is also important because it provides
pleasure and relaxation, and on the higher level, intellectual enjoyment in leisure as part of a liberal education.
Finally, music performs a purgative, or therapeutic function, in arousing and releasing feeling of pity, fear and enthousiasm.
Aristotle insisted that musical appreciation requires some skill in musical
performance. Hence, children should be trained to play musical instruments. However, this is to be a liberal,
not a professional education in music. The students are tolearn to play instruments only in order to learn what is good music
and to delight in it, not to acquire the skill of a virtuoso.
Among modern philosophers, Immanuel Kant ranked music below poetry, painting
and other arts, because it depends more on the play of sensations than on objective ideas and forms. he ranked music
high in immediate enjoyment and agreeableness, but low on the scale of mental culture. Schopenhauer and
Nietzsche, on the contrary, ranked music highest among the arts for the very reason that it expresses deep realities
that cannot be expressed in the other arts...
The seriousness of ' Plays "
We sometimes forget that drama
was originally an element in public worship. In ancient Athens, drama was enacted in an outdoor theatre centered
around the altar of the god Dionysius. The themes of Greek tragedy were derived from the stories
of Gods and Heroes and were handled with grave seriousness.
Greek comedy developed out of revels in honor of Dionysius. By
the time of Aristophanes, it was an amalgam of something like our burlesque show, comic opera, and Mort
Sahl humor. It combined broad jokes and clowning with barbed satire on the social and political foibles of
Because classical tragedy and comedy had serious moral and
social implications, ancient philosophers - guardians of public morality and defenders of the political status
quo - advocated restriction or even suppression of dramatic performances. This censorious
attitude taken by Plato towards literature in general, usually became intensified when applied to drama, because
of its public enactment and influence.
On the other hand, Aristotle argued against the view that the purpose of drama
- or of the imaginative arts in general - was to provide moral edification. He held that drama is an imginary
portrayal of human actions, which achieves its purpose by an effective use of plot, characters, language plot, and
other elements. Our enjoyment of it depends on the plausibility of its characters and actions within
the fictional world constructed by the dramatist.
In addition of the technical or objective conditions of good drama, Aristotle said " there
are certain sunjective or psychological conditions ". Drama affects the spectator through an appeal of his emotions,
feelings and pleasure. In the case of Tragedy, the spectator experiences and emotion " purgation
" or release, through the arousal and subsiding of the feelings of pity and fear. Our sympathetic participation in violent
and painful actions within the imaginary world of the dramatist gives us enjoyment, emotional release and awareness
of fundamental aspects of human existence.
That does not mean that Aristotle regarded drama merely as
entertainment. He believed that drama portrays univeral aspects of human characters, mind, and action
. Its power derives from its imaginative rendering of what is universal in human life. Working in this way, the dramtist
complements the philosopher, who deals with the universal through abstract thought.
As for comedy, Aristotle saw it as a portrayal of ridiculous and vulgar actions
on the part of men below, rather than above, the average. Far from downgrading comedy, he held that its universal character
is even clearer than that of tragedy. It conveys a critical awareness of the way [people act - of their
pretensions, hypocrisies, and others weaknesses. Aristotle pointed out the pleasure we derive
from witnessing comedy , but he did not specify the emotional " purgation " that
it provides. For this, we can refer to our own experiences of the Marx brothers, W.C. Fields, Jonathan Winters
and other great comedians.
the definition of beauty...
Most of those who
have attempt to define beauty agree that it involves a response of pleasure. We call something beautiful when
it delights us or pleases us in some special way. But what causes this response on our part? It is something in the object
itself? Is it merely a subjective action on our part? Or is it some combination of these two?
We know from common experience that all persons do not find the same objects
beautiful. What pleases some fails to please others. This is sometimes taken to mean that beauty exists only in the eye of
the beholder. But it can also mean that when a person' s taste is cultivated, he is able to appreciate the elements of beauty
in oobjects which fail to please others because they have not yet learned to appreciate that beauty.
In the tradition of the great books, the two outstanding theories of beauty
are found in the writings of a Christian Theologian, Thomas Aquinas and in the works of a German Philosopher,
Immanual Kant. Aquinas and Kant teach us that beauty has both a subjective and objective aspect. The aesthetic
pleasure certain objects give us is related to the intrinsic excellence in the objects themselves.
The subjective aspect of beauty is covered by Aquinas when
he defines the beautiful as that " which pleases us upon being seen ". Here, the word " seen " does
not refer to seeing with the eyes . It refers to vision with the mind - a kind of intuitive apprehension
of the individual object which is being contemplated or experienced aesthetically. The satisfaction or pleasure that the beautiful
object gives us lies in its knowability - in its being so constituted that we are able to apprehend it in its unique individuality.
This lead Aquina to the objective aspect of beauty. What is it in the object
that makes it knowable thus - in a manner that is so satisfying or pleasing to us? Aquni ' s answer is that
beautiful things have three main traits: integrity, proportion, and clarity.
The easiest way for us to understand what he has in mind is to remember
the rule we learned in school for writing a good composition.
We were told that a good poece of writing should have unity, order
and coherence. It should be a complex whole in which all the parts are properly
related to one another and in which the unified structure of the whole stands out clearly. What is true
of a good piece of writing is equally true of a good piece of painting or a good musical
composition.. What any work of art is thus " well made ", it is beautiful; and when it has this excellence,
it is eminently capable of being known and giving pleasure to the beholder.
Immanuel Kant ' s theorie of the beautiful is expressed in somewhat different
terms. Like Aquina, he defines the beautuful as that which gives the observer a certain type of disinterested
pleasure; that is, the pleasure which comes, purely and simply, from our satisfaction in knowing the object
we are contemplating. But where Aquina gives an analysis of the objective elements of beauty,
Kant appeals to certain universal traits of the human mind as his basis for elevating the true
aesthetic judgment of the beautiful above the merely subjective reaction of pleasure in the object. For him, as for
Aquina, good taste can be cultivated and persons who have ot have a truer appreciation of what is really beautiful.