01 February 2008

Poet, prophet, reader, scientist

Here's a bit of deep dialogue from William Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell:
The Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel dined with me, and I asked them how they dared so roundly to assert that God spake to them; and whether they did not think at the time, that they would be misunderstood, & so be the cause of imposition.
Isaiah answer'd, I saw no God nor heard any, in a finite organical perception; but my senses discover'd the infinite in every thing, and as I was then persuaded, & remain confirm'd, that the voice of honest indignation is the voice of God, I cared not for consequences but wrote.
Then I asked: does a firm persuasion that a thing is so, make it so?
He replied, All poets believe that it does, & in ages of imagination this firm persuasion removed mountains; but many are not capable of a firm persuasion of any thing.

The poet and the prophet speak with utter conviction: if they didn't, they simply wouldn't be poets or prophets. They don't care about consequences or complications. Their task is to make their infinite visions clearly visible to others.

But what about the philosopher and the scientist? Do they believe that a ‘firm persuasion’ of anything makes it true? And how about you, dear reader?

Science, being a way of inquiry, can only begin where the poet leaves off, with a hypothesis to be tested. But a fresh hypothesis can only come in a flash of insight, like the poet's or prophet's vision. The source of this creative insight is what Blake calls the ‘poetic Genius’, and what the prophets call ‘God’. The flash is so bright for the poet, the need to write it down so compelling, that it blinds her to everything else, including the possible consequences of her utterance.

The honest reader's need, though, is to carry those consequences forward. First the flash of insight must illuminate his own experience, and then its truth becomes testable. The very possibility that the poet has expressed a deep truth or wisdom compels the reader to try it out by thinking and living it through. Will it really move mountains? He can only find out by interpreting it in some way that will make a difference to the conduct of life.

In the case of a scripture such as the Bible, the honest reader is well aware of the possibility (nay, the history!) of misinterpretation—which entails a need for reinterpretation. And that is exactly what Blake is doing here, as both poet and reader, in his dialogue with the prophets who went before. He knows very well that their writings, or some readings of them, have indeed been ‘the cause of imposition’. His own ‘honest indignation’ lies behind this inquiry, and leads to his own reinterpretation, not only of those writings, but of prophecy itself.

Poetry and philosophy, prophecy and science, writing and reading, each has its role to play in the semiotic cycle. And now it is your turn to test the wisdom at which Blake's inquiry arrives. What difference will it make to the way you read, think, write and live?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting texts and subjects , nice ..