Tuesday, December 30, 2014

More poems about philosophers

Last June, I noted some poems about philosophers. Here are some more.

Robert Browning's Bishop Blougram's Apology makes reference to Schelling, Fichte, and D. F. Stauss

Delmore Schwartz was one of the most philosophical poets of the 20th Century. Among his poems that name philosophers are 'In the Naked Bed, In Plato's Cave', 'Socrates Ghost Must Haunt Me Now', and 'For The One Who Would Not Take His Life In His Hands' (which mentions Socrates and 'knock-kneed Hegel'). Here are more of Schwartz's poems.

Schwartz's best philosophical poem is 'The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me', which, while its epigraph quotes Alfred North Whitehead, has no proper names in the poem itself. Here's an excerpt, in which the heavy bear (the poet's body)
Moves where I move, distorting my gesture,   
A caricature, a swollen shadow,
Last September, I mentioned Edgar Lee Masters' poem 'Imanuel Ehrenhardt', which mentions Sir William Hamilton, Dugald Stewart, Locke, Descartes, Fichte, Schelling, Kant, and Schopenhauer in its first five lines, after which Masters sets aside these philosophers in favour of John Muir.

In search of 'scientism' in 19th-Century periodicals, I happened upon a dismissive poem about John Stuart Mill. It was said to have been originally published anonymously in Blackwood's Magazine but I can't locate it in that source. Here's the poem as re-produced in the American Presbyterian Review (1871, pgs.  613-614):
His system by some very shallow is reckoned;
  Three facts, or three fancies, fill up his cast;
Sensation comes first, Recollection is second,
  And then Expectation, the third and the last.
    We feel something present
    That's painful or pleasant —
We repeat or recall it by memory's skill;
    What happened before,
    We look for once more —
  And that's the whole Soul of the great Stuart Mill.

At a glimpse of things real we never arrive,
  Nor at any fixed truth that we try to explore;
In some different world two and two may make five,
  Though appearances here seem to say they make four.
    Our mental formation
    Has small operation;
  The mind, if we have one, is passive and still.
    We are ruled by our senses
    Through all our three tenses —
  Past, present and future, says great Stuart Mill.

What we never have witnessed, we can not conceive;
  What we can not conceive must a nullity be;
In a God or a Devil can any believe,
  When the one or the other they don't feel or see?
    A future existence
    Had best kept its distance
  Till there's ocular proof that the thing" s a true bill.
    Any childish emotion
    Of faith and devotion
  Is fully explained by the great Stuart Mill.

Three different stages of changing opinion
  Are traveled by men in this planet of ours;
In the first, Superstition exerts its dominion;
  In the next, metaphysical forces and powers.
    When these two are passed,
    Comes the best and the last —
  Comte's positive laws every purpose fulfill;
    But about the Great Cause,
    That founded those Laws,
  There's nothing in Comte, and as little in Mill.

Yet without any God a religion may be,
  Which in priesthood and power with its rivals may cope;
Which in dead men and women may Deities see,
  And have Comte for its prophet, and Mill for its pope;
    But what's called Right and Wrong,
    Is just an old song;
  Nor tell me of Duty, Good Actions, or Ill;
    Being useful or not,
    Determines the lot;
  So Bentham found out, and so thinks Stuart Mill.

Now, let all men have freedom to speak and to write,
  And let others who differ stand up for the truth;
But I think we should pause as to those we invite
  To make laws for the land, or to train up our youth.
    To the helpless and young,
    You do a great wrong,
  To give them a teacher, false views to instill;
    And I won't by your leave
    Pin my faith to the sleeve
  Of so godless a guide as the system of Mill.

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