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POETRY AS THE NAMING OF THE GODS by Phyllis Zagano There have been many attempts to define poetry, and there is copious advice to would-be poets. Horace writes somewhere "Sit quod vis, simplex dumtaxat et unum" which can be comfortably rendered as "make anything at all, so long as it hangs together." The hanging together is the quality most writers point to as evidence of success: simply, it works. What poetry does is the more complex question, since it is the understanding of its internal kinesis which allows for its definition. Essentially , it takes an object from objective reality (insofar as we can agree such exists) and creates an oxymoronic entity: a static consciousness. This is always seen in phenomenological terms, that is, it must be consciousness of something. The poet recognizes this in deference to the common consciousness and the common understanding of the everyday , by the use of metaphor, simile, and the other accouterments of the trade. Things must be as they appear, and they must be as they appear to some majority of the people, in order for the poet to argue his private vision with clarity. The analogy must have some common ground before it has meaning, before the "naming" takes place. For Martin Heidegger the activity of creating poetry, dichten, is not only an indispensable part of human life, it signals the humanness of the person. He has two principal essays on poetry which show how this activity ofdichten combines his concepts Dasein and Vorhandenheit (despite his later abandonment of Dasein for Lichtung). Heidegger's essay, "Hölderlin and the Essence of Poetry," seeks to determine what is common to poetry, that is, what constitutes its essence. 340 Phyllis Zagano341 Another ofhis essays, "What are Poets For?" begins where the first ends (with considerations of Friedrich Hölderlin's "Bread and Wine"). Each essay comments on specific poems and somewhat imperfectly attempts a poetic theory in consonance with the rest of Heidegger's work. Since "Hölderlin and the Essence of Poetry" concentrates more on poetic theory than "What are Poets For?," investigation of it will prove more helpful in understanding and appropriating Heidegger's contention that "The writing of poetry is the fundamental naming of the Gods____"· In his "Letter on Humanism," Heidegger calls language the "House of Being," while man is the "Shepherd of Being." This understanding ofthe function oflanguage and the methodweuse tocreateand recreate ourselves and our world recurs often in Heidegger's work. The essay, "Hölderlin and the Essence of Poetry," stands as a seeking after what is common to poetry and, while Heidegger recognizes that Hölderlin's work is "only one among many others" (p. 294) and therefore cannot be used as the sole criterion to determine what constitutes poetry, he says that if what we recognize as the "essence of poetry" is present in a universal concept, then it ought to be able to be extrapolated from Hölderlin's poetry as well as from that of any other poet. What constitutes the "essence" of poetry, Heidegger argues, ought to be equally valid in every poem, but it is perhaps well to remind him that what ought to be equally valid in every poem is only equally valid in every poem which "hangs together," that is, every poem which performs its function as poem. Such insistence is ofcourse mere definition of terms, but in this case, without prior argument on the metaphysics of art, it is necessary. In any event, Heidegger concludes that the essence of Hölderlin's poetry is the "essence ofpoetry" itself (p. 294), and that what is common to poetry is found in it. While some critics might argue that Heidegger makes too much of Hölderlin here, the more dangerous weakness in this method of argumentation is the possibility that an idiosyncrasy might be mistaken for an essential element or, more probably, that too much will be generalized from this particular example or set of examples . The trained literary critic can cast a cold eye on such magnification of a single poet as the presenter of both form and content for the meaning of the "essence of poetry." In fact, it...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 340-349
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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