Philosophy and Poetry

-by María Zambrano-

translated by D. Ohmans
(c) copyright 2008

Text imprint Mexico City, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 4th ed. (1939) 1996


THIS BOOK, it is permitted for me to say, was born, more than constructed, in
what was a moment of extremity, I dare not say, impossibility, which does not
seem so exceptional to me, when it does not proceed from the possible to the
real, but instead from the impossible to the actual. Therefore I say born,
which is what for a living being is the most impossible, including animals,
plants, perhaps stones themselves, that form the orbit of the actual universe
and thus, so as not to dispirit the always improbable reader, I must tell a
little of how it was born in the city of Morelia, capital of the state of
Michoacán, in Mexico, during an autumn of unutterable beauty.
     She who writes this had gone, also in an unlikely manner, to Mexico. And
improbably too, this very edition was readied to be published in a Mexican
collection. Why and how did I write this book then, that is, in the warm autumn
of 1939. Towards the end of the war in Spain I was invited to go to Cuba and
even insistently recruited for some North American university as a professor of
Spanish. I had gone, at the beginning of the war in Spain, when I married, in
September of 1936. After a long and eventful crossing in a Spanish ship, which
departed from Cartagena, or that is, which had to cross the straits of
Gibraltar and emerge into the waters of imperial Spain, to arrive at Havana, in
that boat which, as we later learned, went on to Veracruz. And on arriving in
Havana, beneath the power of the general Fulgencio Batista, the ship was
detained, its crew jailed, and we, only spared that fate by a diplomatic
passport. I believe we have already related, how prodigiously in a place called
the Village of Enmedio, we were offered a dinner by some leftist
intellectuals, among them, the very young and unpublished José Lezama
Lima, who surprised me by his silence and by referring to the little I had
published in the Revista de Occidente. And still more, he had seen my name
among the professors--I was simply an assistant--who were to give a philosophy
class in that favored spot. I was also invited to present a conference at the
Women's Lyceum Club, which I did not accept until advised by the Spanish
ambassador who still resided there. I shall never forget, and I can also say it
was not forgotten for many years, that conference of mine on my teacher Ortega
y Gasset. Beyond, the aim of the trip was Valparaíso, Chile, and so, in a long
and costly journey, we came through the Panama Canal by ship. The travels of
"Pablo y Virginia" were read in completeness by me there. And the arrival to
the other side of the Ocean, in Balboa, was when the sun came out. We went down
cities whose names seemed unreal to me, and even though I well knew that in
Antofagasta, where the soil had to be brought in from the north because its own
was completely sterile, they spoke Spanish, I remained dumbfounded as if I did
not know it, before that deed. And at last, so as not to linger more on that
unforgettable and decisive voyage, we arrive at Valparaíso. And from
there, across a countryside of candelabra cactus, to Santiago Chile. At the
same instant we were climbing the stairs of the Embassy building, the
ambassador descended, who told us "do not unpack your bags, for the President
of the Republic just called me, to break off relations with Spain." It was not,
again, like this, yet the danger was afoot.
     In consequence, what does all this have to do with the book Philosophy and
Poetry? Just that it treats of its genesis, of its birth. Months later, when
the regiment of my companion was called to the ranks, we decided to return to
Spain, in the moment when the defeat of the cause in which we believed was most
evident. Any why do you return to Spain if you know very well that your cause
is lost? Just for that, for that itself.
     And so with that, I approached this book Filosofía y Poesía
which was written when, after the defeat, we went to Mexico. And it had to
be intimately because I wrote my book in the Mexican autumn as homage to the
University of San Nicolás de Hidalgo, a direct descendant of the
Humanities curriculum founded by Sir Vasco de Quiroga not far from the shores
of Lake Patzcuaro, who went there from Spain, to the region of the Tarasco
indians, to attempt the utopian Christian Republic of Thomas More. Utopian for
me to write this little book, in that, my philosophic vocation in life being
unchangeable, it was perfectly utopian that I would write it, and even defend
it, as I did, at the University of San Nicolás de Hidalgo, in philosophy.
     By Utopia I understand irreducible beauty, and even the sword of destiny
of an angel who leads us toward that which we know is impossible, like the
author of these lines has always known that Philosophy, she, and not for being
a woman, would never be able to do. And the coincidence is revealed even in the
words, so that in my adolescence someone would ask me, sometimes with
compassion, sometimes with a slightly cruel irony, And why are you going to
study philosophy. Because I cannot stop doing so, and in this book have
written, in that precious autumn of 1939, what seemed utopian to me, in the
highest grade that could be written. And with Utopias, when they are by birth,
one cannot argue even though one rebels against them. The occasion was that in
the year 1940 there seemed to be three universities founded by the "Spanish
barbarians," San Marcos in Lima, San Carlos in Guatemala and the University
which owed its existence to the Humanities curriculum founded by Sir Vasco de
Quiroga. I had to please them somehow and accept it, at last, even though
occasionally I would rebel against the Imperative of writing a book, not
academically but personally required for my then companion, who without any
means was printing it at a press that could only handle a few titles. I
trembled, as I had trembled in Mexico City at having to explain, as a member of
the Spanish delegation, the three conferences that had gone to form the volume
"Pensamiento y Poesia en la vida Española." More precisely when it was the
moment to submit the course as completed to the University, I was solicited, by
a tacit mandate incarnated in my then companion, for this which I offer today
to the reader, after its having been published in Morelia itself, then
recovered and now some of the chapters comprising the book hand-corrected, in
the copies given to me as a gift by the University.
     The first chapter of this book was published with greater confidence in
the magazine "Taller," founded and directed by my admired friend since then,
Octavio Paz. But, in the moment of proceeding, it was already about a book,
already about the invisible and implacable angel who demands it. Now obligation
was insufficient, now it was only a question of vocation, of utopian vocation.
     This little book in a second edition was to be published in the collected
works of Editorial Aguilar, with a certain security on my part, to which this
Aguilar edition has in no way corresponded.
     Further now there is reborn in me the trembling of birth, as if I were
writing it now, and I only dare to do this believing that the born deserves to
be recovered, respected. Who can judge something this way? I do not want to
slip away from my responsibility. This is due to condescension, not to a search
for height. Granted that the most difficult is not ascending, but descending. I
have also discovered that it is condescension that grants legitimacy, more
than seeking the heights. The virtue of the Virgin Mary was not her submission,
but rather the condescension; that, yet not alone. I do not pretend that in
myself virginal virtue is achieved, nor in this book in particular. It could
not be. Yet I do see clearly that it is more valuable to condescend before
impossibility, than to walk in error, lost, in the hells of light. May the
eventual reader judge me from this angle; that I have preferred a darkness
which in a time now past we described as a saving penumbra than to walk in
error, alone, lost, in the hells of light. It is my justification. Judge, then,
the love, and if I am not still worthy of that, judge then the compassion. I
say no more, I believe this will be enough, for the improbable, but not
impossible, reader.
                         MARÍA ZAMBRANO
               Madrid, 15 February 1987.


DESPITE THE FACT THAT for some fortunate mortals, poetry and thought may have
been given at the same time and in parallel, despite that for others yet more
fortunate, poetry and thought may have been able to be merged in a single
expressive form, the truth is that thought and poetry are in serious
confrontation throughout the length of our culture. Each of them wants for
itself eternally the soul where it nests. And that double pull may be the cause
of certain mis-allocated vocations and of much anxiety without end drowning in
     But there is another more decisive motive whose theme we cannot abandon
and it is that today poetry and thought appear to us as two insufficient forms;
and there seems to us two sides of man: the philosopher and the poet. The whole
person is not found under philosophy; the totality of the human is not found
with poetry. In poetry we directly encounter the concrete, individual human. In
philosophy the human in his universal history, in its wish to be. Poetry is
encounter, mastery, discovery through grace. Philosophy searches, inquiry
guided by a method.
     It is in Plato where we find the struggle displayed in all its vigor,
between the two forms of the word, resulting in triumph for the logos of
philosophic thought, determining what we could call "the condemnation of
poetry"; inaugurating in the western world the eventful life, as if on the
margins of the law, of poetry, its path through narrow roads, its erratic and
sometimes deranged walking, its growing madness, its curse. Ever since thought
consummated its "seizure of power," poetry has remained to live in the barrio,
surly and unkempt, saying in a shouting voice all the inconvenient truths;
terribly indiscreet and in rebellion. Because the philosophers have still not
governed a single republic, the reason established by them has exercised a
decisive influence upon knowledge, and that which was not radically rational,
with certain exceptions, has undergone its fascination, or they have elevated
their rebellion.
     We do not attempt to create here the history of these exceptions, although
it would be of great importance, above all studying their intimate connections
with the rest of the phenomena that stamp the character of an epoch. Before
committing to such an enterprise it is more worthwhile to clarify the basis of
the dramatic conflict that motivates such changes; it is more worthwhile to
attend to the struggle that exists between philosophy and poetry and to define
somewhat the terms of the conflict in which a being needful of both is
involved. It is, however, worthwhile to express the reason behind the
irreducible double necessity of poetry and of thought and the horizon that is
illuminated as an escape from the conflict. An horizon which, so as not to be
an hallucination born of a singular eagerness, of an obstinate love which
dreams of a reconciliation beyond the actual disparity, would be simply an exit
into a new world of life and understanding.
     "In the beginning was the verb," the logos, the creative and
ordering word, which puts into motion and legislates. With these words, the
purest Christian reason comes to grapple with Greek philosophic reason. The
arrival on the earth of a creature who carried in his nature an extreme
contradiction, unthinkable, of being at the same time divine and human, did
not with its divine absurdity hold up the path of the Platonic-Aristotelean
logos, did not break with the strength of reason, with its primacy. Despite the
"mad wisdom" of the flagellant of San Pablo, reason as the ultimate root of the
universe continued afoot. Nevertheless something new had appeared: reason, the
creative logos, confronted with the abyss of nothingness; it was the word of
one who could perform everything through speaking. And the logos remained
situated beyond man and beyond nature, beyond both being and nothingness. It
was the principle beyond the principled.
     What root do thought and poetry have in ourselves? At the moment we do not
care to define them, but instead to discover the necessity, the extreme
necessity that comes to define the two forms of the word. To what mendicant
love does it come to grant satisfaction? And which of the two needs is the more
deep, that born in the profoundest zones of human existence? Which the more
     If thought was born solely from admiration, according to venerable
texts,(1) that which was soon to take shape in the form of systematic
philosophy is not easily explained; nor could one of its major virtues have
been abstraction, that ideality obtained in the glance, yes, more a species of
glance which has ceased seeing the things. Because the sociability that
produces for us the generous existence of life, in its turn does not permit
such a rapid encompassing of the multiple marvels that sustain it. And just
like existence, that sociability is infinite, insatiable and does not want to
decree its own demise.
     Yet, we encounter in another venerable text--more venerable for its triple
aureole of philosophy, poetry and..."Revelation"--, another root wherein
philosophy was born: we refer to the passage in book VII of The
Republic, where Plato presents the "myth of the cave." The force that
engenders philosophy there is violence. And already now, indeed, sociability
and violence together as contrary indestructible forces, explains for us that
first philosophic moment in which we already find a duality and, perhaps, the
originating conflict of philosophy: the being's primary ecstatic astonishment
before actuality and the subsequent violence in order to liberate himself from
it. One could say that thought ignores the thing it most has before it as
nothing more than a pretext and that its primitive astonishment subsequently
finds itself negated and who know whether betrayed, due to that hurry to launch
itself into other regions, which causes it to break with its newborn ecstasy.
Philosophy is an ecstasy shipwrecked by a heartbreak. What force is it that
breaks its heart? Why that violence, the hurry, the impetus to dissolution?
     And thus we already see more clearly the condition of philosophy:
sociability, yes, astonishment before the immediate, to violently pluck oneself
from it and launch upon another thing, upon a thing that must be searched for
and followed, which does not give itself to us, which does not offer up its
presence. And here the demanding road begins, the methodical effort for this
capture of something that we do not have, and need to have, with such urgency
that it makes us uproot ourselves from that which we already have without
having sought it.
     Just this without indicating for the moment what may be the origin and
significance of violence, is already sufficient so that certain beings among
those who remained captivated in the original sociability, in the primitive
zaumasein do not submit before the new orbit, do not accept the path of
violence. Some of those who felt their lives suspended, their sight entangled
in leaf or water, could not attain the second moment in which interior violence
causes one to close their eyes seeking another, truer leaf and water. No, not
everyone followed the road of laborious truth and remained chained to the
present and the immediate, to which they award their presence and give their
person, to what trembles in its nearness; they did not experience any violence
or perhaps did not feel this form of violence, did not spring forth to seek the
overarching ideal, nor were disposed to strongly climb the hill that leads from
the simple encounter with the immediate toward that permanent, self-identical
Idea. Loyal to things, loyal to primitive, ecstatic sociability, they never
decided to obliterate it; they could not, because the same thing had already
settled within them, was printed in their interior. That which the philosopher
pursued they already had within them in a sense, the poetic; in a sense, yes,
in quite a different manner.
     What was this different manner of already grasping the thing, which justly
made philosophic violence unable to be born, and which produced on the
contrary, a special genre of unease and an unquiet plenitude, almost
terrifying? What is this sweet and restless possessing that calms and does not
suffice? We know that it was called poetry and, who knows what other erased
name? And from then on the world would divide, cut by two roads. The road of
philosophy, on that where the philosopher, impelled by the violent love for
what he sought in abandoning the surface of the world, the generous immediacy
of life, basing his ultimate total possession upon a primary renunciation.
Asceticism had been discovered as an instrument of that species of ambitious
knowledge. Life, and things, would be excluded in an implacable way; almost
cruel. The primary astonishment will be converted into persistent
interrogation; the inquisition of the intellect has begun its own martyrdom
and also that of life.
     The other road is that of the poet. The poet did not renounce nor even
search, for he had. He had for now what appeared before him, before his
eyes, ears and touch; he had what he saw and heard, what he touched, yet
also that which appeared in his dreams, in his own interior fantasies mixed
with the others in such a way, with those that wandered outside, that together
they formed an open world where everything was possible. The limits were
altered such that it ended with them not existing. The limits of what
philosophy discovers, by contrast, advance in precision and distinctions such
that a world has been formed with its order and perspective, where principles
and the "principled" already exist; the form and what is beneath it.
     The road of philosophy is the more clear, the more secure; Philosophy has
triumphed in the self-understanding that it has conquered something solid,
something so true, compact and independent that it is an absolute, that is
grounded in nothingness and with everything now grounded in it. The bitterness
of the road and the ascetic renunciation have been largely compensated.
     In Plato thought, violence for the truth, has rendered as tremendous a
battle as poetry; its clamor is felt in innumerable passages of his dialogues,
dramatic dialogues where ideas struggle, and beneath them it is sensed that
even greater ones contend. The greatest perhaps is having dedicated to
philosophy that which seemed to be born for poetry. So much so, that in each
dialogue this is touched upon, so to speak, testing its reason, its justice,
its strength. Further it is also ostensible that in the most decisive passages,
when the path of the dialectic seems already exhausted and like something far
from its reasons, the poetic myth erupts. Thus, in the Republic, in the
Symposium, in the Phaedo... in such a manner that on completing
the reading of this last, the most overarching and dramatic of all, we remain
doubtful concerning the intimate truth of Socrates. And the idea of the
itinerant teacher, his vocation of street thinker, vacillates. What was his
intimate knowledge, what the source of his wisdom, what was the force that kept
his existence so clear and beautiful? He who says that "philosophy is a
preparation for mortality" abandons this philosophy upon arriving at its
fringes and already almost treading on them, makes poetry and laughs. Was the
truth otherwise? Was some truth beyond philosophy suggested, a truth that only
could be revealed through beautiful poetry; a truth that cannot be
demonstrated, but instead only suggested by that more that expands the
mystery of the beauty of reason? Or is it that the ultimate truths of
existence, those of dying and of love, although persecuted are pursued to the
end, voluntary, by adventurous deed, by what later will be called  "grace" and
that in Greek was bestowed the lovely name, jaries, carites?
     In any event Socrates with his mysterious interior "daemon" and his
definitive demise, and Plato with his philosophy, seem to suggest that pure
thinking, without any mixture of poetry, has barely made a start. And what
could be a "pure" philosophy did not come to account with sufficient forces to
broach the most decisive topics, which would be presented to an alert man of
his time.
     Poetry, amidst everything, pursued the scorned multiplicity, the
under-appreciated heterogeneity. In love with things the poet attaches to them,
to each one of them and follows them through the labyrinth of time, of change,
without being able to renounce anything: not one creature nor one moment of
that creature, nor one particle of the atmosphere that surrounds it, nor one
penumbra of the shadow that is cast, nor the perfume that expands, nor the
specter who already moves in the absence. Is it perhaps that to the poet unity
does not matter? Is it that he remains committed like a vagabond--immorally--
to the apparent multiplicity, due to apathy and laziness, for lack of the
ascetic impulse to pursue the beloved of the philosopher: unity?
     With this we touch upon the perhaps most delicate point of all: that which
derives from the consideration, "unity-heterogeneity." We have noted in the
preceding lines the divergences between the road that directs the philosopher
to the occult being behind appearances, and that of the poet remaining immersed
in these appearances. Being had been defined as a unity above all, therefore
was occult, and this unity undoubtedly was the reviving magnet for philosophic
violence. Appearances destroy one another, are in perpetual war so he who lives
in them, perishes. It is required to "save oneself from appearances," first,
and then to save the appearances themselves: resolve them, make them coherent
again with that invisible unity. And whoever has attained unity has also
reached everything that is, just insofar as they participate in it and are it,
that is one. Whoever therefore possesses unity possesses everything. How else
to explain the urgency of the philosopher, the terrible violence that brings
him to break the chains that tie him to the earth and to his companions; what
rupture would not be justified by that hope of possessing everything,
everything? If Plato seems so seductive in the "Myth of the Cave" it is,
neither more nor less, because in it the hope of philosophy comes to us, the
hope that it is the last, total justification. Philosophy's hope, to show us
it exists, becomes religion, poetry and even that special form of poetry called
tragedy as a form of hope, while philosophy remains hopeless, indeed desolated.
And the greatest philosophers, perhaps, have done nothing different; at the end
of their chains of reasoning manufactured to break the chains of the world and
nature, there is something that breaks them as well and which is sometimes
called the theoretical life, sometimes "love of wisdom," sometimes "autonomy of
the human person."
     One must be saved from appearances, says the philosopher, in favor of
unity, while the poet remains an adherent of them, of seductive appearance. How
can he, if he is a man, live being so scattered?
     Shadowed and scattered is the heart of the poet--"my beating heart,
astounded and dispersed"(2). Indubitably this first shadowed moment is much
prolonged in the poet, yet let us not be fooled believing it is his permanent
state from which he cannot emerge. No, poetry also has its flight; it also has
its unity, its overworld.
     Without the poet taking flight, there would be not be poetry, not be
words. All words require an alienation from the reality to which they refer;
every word is also a liberation for whomever speaks it. Whoever speaks, even if
it of appearances, is not completely a slave; whoever speaks, even if be of the
most motley multiplicity, has already attained a certain fortune in unity,
whether it be imbibed as pure astonishment, caught in what changes and flows,
it states no certainties, but this statement shall be a song.
     And we have already considered something related, very related to poetry,
since they walked together for a long time, music. And it is in music where the
unity is most softly resplendent. Each piece of music is a unity and
nevertheless is composed of fleeting instants. Music has not needed to posit an
occult being identical with itself, to attain to the transparent and
indestructible unity of its harmonies. Doubtless they are not the same, the
unity of being to which the philosopher aspires and that accessible unity
reached through music. For the moment that musical unity is already realized
there, as a unity of creation; from the scattered and transient something unity
has been constructed, eternal. Likewise the poet in his poem creates a unity of
the word, those words that try to capture the fleetest, the most tenuous, the
most distinctive in every object, in every instant. The poem is already a unity
not occult, but present; the realized unity, incarnated we would say. The poet
did not exert any violence against heterogeneous appearances and without any
violence obtained the unity as well. Like the primal multiplicity, it was
donated, graciously, through the work of charity.
     But there is, at this point, a difference; like the philosopher, if one
would obtain the unity of being, it would be an absolute unity, without any
admixture of multiplicity, the unity achieved by the poet in the poem always
being incomplete; and the poet knows it and that is his humility: in conformity
with the fragile unity attained. From there to that tremor which lies beneath
every good poem and that limitless perspective, the trail all poetry leaves
behind it and which carries us along; that open space which surrounds all
poetry. But even this actualized unity however complete always seems gratuitous
in opposition to philosophic unity so assiduously pursued.
     The philosopher wants oneness, because he wants everything, we have said.
And the poet does not want precisely everything, for fear that in this all not
every one of the things and their matrices are in play; the poet wants one, but
each one of the things without restriction, without abstraction nor any
renunciation. He wants a whole in which each thing is possessed, furthermore
not understanding by "thing" a unity built on subtractions. A thing for a poet
is never the conceptual object of thought, but instead the very complex and
real thing, the phantasmagoric and dreamed thing, the invented, that which was
and that which will never be. He wants reality, but the poetic reality is not
simply what there is, what exists; but instead what is not; it balances being
and nothingness in admirably charitable justice, for everything, everything has
the right to be until it cannot be any more. The poet extracts the humiliation
of not being what groans in him, takes nothing from nothingness itself and
gives it name and face. The poet does not wish of things which are, that some
exist and others do not obtain this privilege, yet instead works so that
everything that there is and is not, shall attain being. The poet does not fear
     Appearance, presence which has its beyond to support it. The mathematics
supports the song. Would not poetry also have its there, its beyond to support
it, its mathematics?
     It is so, without a doubt: the poet reaches his unity sooner in a poem
than the philosopher. The unity of poetry then descends to be incarnated in
the poem and is quickly consumed. The communication between the poetic
logos and the concrete and living poetry is more rapid and more
frequent; the logos of poetry is of immediate, daily consumption; it descends
daily upon existence, so daily, that, sometimes, the two are confused. It is
the logos that is given in order to be devoured, consumed; it is the logos that
disperses misery and goes to whomever needs it, to all those who need it.
Meanwhile that of philosophy is immobile, does not descend and is accessible
only to those who can reach it with their steps.
     "All men have a natural desire to know," says Aristotle at the beginning
of his Metaphysics, in this way justifying in advance this "search for
wisdom." Also, assuming that in effect all people need this wisdom, the
question we apply to philosophy immediately presents itself. That if everyone
needs you, why do so few attain you?
     Is it that once Philosophy was for everyone, is it that once the logos
sheltered the fragile life of every man? If we choose to listen to what the
philosophers themselves say, undoubtedly not, rather that beyond they
themselves, it may have existed on some dimension, in some way. In some manner,
in something very alive and worthy that now when it appears seems destroyed
--with unconscious neglect by some "philosophers" who seem indifferent as to
what does philosophy serve today, when we see its absence in the lives of men,
when we most notice it.
     Yet with poetry, however, this question remains. In humility poetry did
not implant itself, did not establish itself, did not begin by saying that
everyone naturally is in need of her. And it is one and is distinct for each
person. Its unity is so elastic, so coherent that it can adhere to you, expand
and almost disappear; it descends down to your flesh and blood, down to your
     Therefore the unity to which the poet aspires is so far from the unity
towards which the philosopher strives. The philosopher wants unity, nothing
more, on top of everything.
     And it is because the poet does not believe in the truth, in that truth
which presupposes that there are things that exist and things that do not and
in the correspondence of truth and deception. For the poet there is no
deception, yet he is the one who excludes as lies the mention of certain words.
From there when up against a man of thought the poet produces the first
impression of being a skeptic. Yet, it is not so: no poet can be skeptical,
loving the truth, moreover not the exclusive truth, not the imperative truth,
selective, the selector of that which will proclaim itself owner of all the
rest, of all. And would one not have wanted entirety for that: to allow being
possessed, boarded, dominated? There are some indicators of it.
     Whether or not it is so, the "whole" of the poet is quite different, for
it is not just like a horizon, not like a principle; yet instead in every case
an a posteriori "whole" that only will be itself when each thing will
already have reached its plenitude.
     The divergence between the two logos is sufficient for the roads to
diverge in the long run. Philosophy had "truth," it had "unity." And even still
had ethics, because philosophic truth was painfully acquired step by step, in
such a way that upon reaching it one feels oneself, one's own self, to be who
discovered it. The grandeur of philosophy! And the unity and grace that the
poet finds are miraculous springs along the road, are given, suddenly
discovered in the all, without preparatory routes, nor steps nor detours. The
poet has no method... nor ethics.
     That is the appearance, the first face-to-face of thought and poetry in
their original encounter, when splendid Philosophy frees itself from what had
been its matrix quality; when Philosophy resolves to be reason that captures
being, being which expressed in the logos shows us the truth. The truth... why
has not holding it been for philosophy the only path for man, from the earth to
that high immutable sky where the ideas shine? Indeed the pathway was made, but
there is something in man that is neither reason, nor being, nor unity, nor
truth--that reason, that being, that unity, that truth. Further, it was not
easy to demonstrate it, nor was that desired, because poetry was not born in
polemic, and its generous presence was never affirmed polemically. It never
combated anything.
     It is not polemic, poetry, but it could become desperate and confused
before the dominion of the cold clarity of the philosophic logos, and even
experience temptations to retreat to its quarters. Quarters that never had been
able to contain it, nor define it. And when philosophy felt that it was
escaping, it was confined. Wandering, erratic, poetry underwent large cycles.
And on this day, sadness and distress on contemplating its limited fecundity,
because poetry was born to be the salt of the earth and large regions of the
earth still do not receive it. The quiet, hermetic truth, still is not
received... "In the beginning was the Word." Yes, but... the logos was made
flesh and lived among us, full of grace and of truth.(*)


SOMETIMES, a few ignored words acquire an echo that resounds through space for
ages. It is that through them shines an essential activity. Words that are
deeds and like deeds, although they may have been expressed by someone of a
very marked personality, always seem to be somewhat impersonal. One can forget
who spoke them and may forget even the words themselves. But continuing to act,
live and durable, their meaning.
     Such has occurred with the Platonic condemnation of poetry in the name of
morality in the dialogue The Republic. In the name of morality: of truth
and of justice. It comprises one of the most decisive world events and as it
was told in luminous Greek, it is perfectly transparent, that is: it allows
all its causes to appear; displays perfect justification. From Greece the light
comes to us, and thus, all that occurs in her is presented with a dazzling
clarity, which does not mean that we are going to understand it without effort,
nor even that we understand it. Yet, we then perceive that it is fully
intelligible. And before we attempt to penetrate its interior we are surprised
by that mystery of the light in which it comes bathed. The surprise before the
revelation that informs us how miraculous is that clarity, that transparency in
human things. Surprise that preserves us from "obviousness," of considering
very natural and obvious that which appears so luminous, which is one of the
dangers into which we can fall with what comes forward to receive us, and gives
us the gift of its presence: which notifies us of its grace, of the generosity
of its gift. And from there, to the belief in the "collective conscience" there
is no more than a step. Though, before the facts of Greece, the fantasy of a
"collective conscience" retires defeated by the mystery of that revelatory,
resplendent light.
     Thus the Platonic condemnation of poetry, of the poet. Its root is so deep
that it has merited the adherence of all those who, throughout the ages "join
in public opinion" triumphantly, yet its own strength, its sharp clarity has
driven them back to a certain degree, and luckily so. This has been admitted,
but only rarely discussed.
     It would be better, nevertheless. With discussion an important distinction
would have been made patent at this point: that the Platonic condemnation is
one thing, and the resentment of the philistines of all the nations, united,
another. That the terrible battle of poetry with truth and justice is one
thing, yet quite another of very different rank and standing is the poorly
dissimulated envy of those who do not attain to it, without thereby attaining
truth by this, nor justice.
     But we shall abandon consideration of this backward glance, with which
certain beings favor the highest things of human life, in order to submerge
ourselves, as far as we can, in consideration of the grave conflict.
     It is in The Republic where Plato formulates his condemnation
explicitly and sharply, with the sharpness with which we usually detach from
that we most love. It is in The Republic, in establishing the basis for
the perfect society. And these bases are nothing but one: Justice. Poetry then,
goes against Justice. And it goes against justice, poetry, because it goes
against the truth.
     And it is that the idea of being determines the entire situation of Greek
philosophy and sets up many things for it. Being is the Greek discovery par
excellence (for this they indeed have invoked the vulgarity of "common
sense," as if common sense had ever been capable of discovering it; as if it
were not simply the ultimate level, the decadence of the prodigious discovery
of being and of all the consequences that follow). Plato will be loyal to it,
unto its last consequences; and will deliver himself to this discovery in all
plenitude, with total loyalty. And of this loyalty part is, without doubt, the
consideration and display of Justice as the maximum virtue. Justice is nothing
but the correlate of being in human existence.
     This is not to forget that in previous times, another philosopher, a
philosopher from the first beginnings of that clear aurora of Greek thought,
would think something that could appear as inverse to this ethical
interpretation of being. That is, the injustice is precisely the being--the
being of things--and to correct it, it would be necessary for things to
reintegrate in a certain manner, out of the dark, indeterminate apeiron.
There is no reason for something to exist independently, for it to separate
from everything and destroy its harmony. There is no cause for the existence of
anything determinate to be conceded, and that something exists is already an
injustice. Because every something has its being at some cost; being at the
cost of another something not being.
     Heraclitus appears also thus wrapped in this subtle beauty. Being is
contrary being. Unity is never complete, because it continually has to be
referred to "the other." That which exists make continual allusion to "the
other" that it is, and even to that which is not, and no more. Unity, the
inseparable companion of being, does not reside integrally in any being, but
only in the whole. Only the harmony of contraries exists. Justice would be this
total harmony, exclusively.
     Plato also seeks it in harmony. Nothing is just, except with reference to
the whole. Yet this whole does not represent the integration of contraries, and
much less that of being and not being. It is a whole defining that which is.
Even being harmony, justice is vindictive, punitive. It recognizes disparity in
the set, besides the unity. It affirms and negates, splits up. And part
of what it negates is poetry.
     Because it represents the lie. Every representation is already a lie.
Nothing is more true than that which reflects for a being what it is. The
remainder is almost a crime. The human creation is purely reflective; man a
clean mirror, in his reason, in his ordered world, reflective in turn of the
loftiest ideas. That which is not reason is mythology, that is, stupefying
deceit, fallacy; the shadow of the shadow on the stony wall of the cave.
     And furthermore, for Plato, in reality it is not that poetry is a lie, but
instead that it is the lie. Only poetry has the power of lying, because
it alone has the power of escaping by force from being. Only she escapes from
existence, eludes it, mocks it. An unfortunate thought can lead to error, to
confusion, to the half-concealed, incomplete truth. But to lie, what they call
lying: only poetry. It alone pretends, provides what there is nothing of,
pretends what is not; transforms and destroys. Because, how will it be possible
that the deception exists in rationality, if reason does nothing but adjust to
being? How could reason deviate from reality, if the reality is being and this
being is by nature analogous to that of reason? Man is a fortunate creature and
his only downfall consists in having to wait and in waiting revealing,
revealing what is hidden from him, yet, how propitious of being revealed!
     The person is not such an, if you like, incomplete creature, as simply
encumbered, wrapped in the veils of forgetfulness. The truth, stripping its
veils returns him to his origin, unity, reintegrates him. To know is to
accommodate, and to accommodate is to know again what one is, as being; it is
to know again in unity. To know is to dispel the veil of forgetting, the
shadow, so as to be, in the light, whole. Because man, is, and only needs to
recall it. Philosophy travels this road, shortens it, and thanks to it, it is
not necessary to leave this world to exist in plenitude. The philosopher, he
who already knows, need not feel impatience because the last wall of time
falls, as he knows and the determination of the moment is not going to reveal
to him anything new. Time is nothing that has being, and once we know that,
little matters, for life is a sickness which with time is remedied. This same
time collaborates with the philosopher in his trajectory.
     And so, we see that in Greece the optimism, the hope, gave way to the life
of thought. Reason, the very handsome Greek discovery correlative of being, was
a liberator. Reason and hope then advanced, together. The contraposition that
later, in the Christian world, has been realized between reason and hope,
between reason and faith, pretending to extend them to the births of both, is
completely unfounded and constitutes an error of perspective. When reason was
born in the halcyon days of Greece it was the depository, the vehicle of hope
and appears as such splendidly in Plato. The myth of the cave, the last chapter
of the Phaedo, and so many other passages clearly manifest it to us. And
two facts are reaffirmed: its meaning in the world of the Greek tragedy and the
very rapid and portentous union that will be realized later between Greek
reason and Christian hope - faith.
     The pessimism, the melancholy, the anxiety, in the tragedy are in the
world of the pitiless Gods. Human, all too human these gods had, in actuality,
been near to man. They interrupted his steps, watched him and squeezed him.
Poor humanity beneath the terror of so much jealous, vengeful divinity, of so
much merciless justice! A justice also godlike, yet divine justice, that is,
irrational, purely vindictive. The human was less than the gods and had, in
consequence, to be flattened by them.
     As against this, Platonic justice meant the humanization of justice. His
Republic was the city constructed by man with his reason. It was human
independence, the domain that man, at last, had found; his dominion; the city
where he would actualize his being. It was still impossible to think of an
individual human realization. The individual person still did not exist, but
instead there was man, humanity. Plato was too close to the gods and to the
myths, to the world of tragedy for which he prepared, in his ardent youth, to
be one more voice. He was still too close to all that to have the audacity to
consider being in the concrete individual, in the vague and weak reality of
each man. It had been enough that humanity existed, for itself. The ideal city
of the Republic was, from this point of view, a sort of guarantee of
appeasement of the Gods. Man would exist, but it was as if there were only a
single man.
     And whenever something is revealed it is done integrally, yet is
indeterminate. The silhouette is drawn, however the content with all its
differentiation does not appear so rapidly. Thus Plato in his urge for human
independence, by causing man to leave the orbit of tragedy, reunited the human
content and placed it beneath the direction of reason. So that at last, man
existed for reason, and liberated himself from the tyrannical gods.
     The poet was the only agent of this tyranny, the only one who with his
voice did not proclaim reason. The only voice of the past, of the tragic and
melancholy past. The poet was the representative of the gods. Of all the gods;
of the ancients, of the modern and of the unknowns, since they were capable of
inventing others. The logos turned against itself in poetry, functioned
illegitimately. For it is that although poetry was the word it was not reason.
How is this divorce possible?
     The logos--word and reason--was split by poetry, which is the word, yes,
but irrational. In truth, it is the word placed in the service of
And in drunkenness man is already something other than man; someone comes to
inhabit his body; someone possesses his mind and moves his tongue; someone
tyrannizes him. In drunkenness man sleeps, has lazily ceased his effort and now
does not force his rational hope. Not only does he adapt to the shadows of the
cave wall, but exceeding his sentence, creates new shadows and even comes to
speak of them and with them. He betrays reason using his vehicle: the word, to
establish that with it the shadows speak, to make of it a sort of delirium. The
poet does not want to save himself; he lives in his punishment and even more,
extends it, engorges it, deepens it. Poetry is in reality, hell.
     A hell, which is--as centuries later a Platonic poet would say--"the place
without hope," also the place of poetry, for poetry is the only rebel before
the hope of reason. Poetry is intoxication and only intoxicates one who is
desperate and does not wish to cease being so. One who makes desperation his
way of being, his existence.
     And it is thus in the world of tragedy. Yet also the world of the Greek
lyric. Drunkenness and song; song, drink, panic, immense melancholy of living,
of threshing the instants, one by one, so they will pass without remedy. And
mortality. Poetry does not accept reason for dying; reason as that which
defeats mortality. For poetry, nothing defeats mortality, except momentarily,
love. Only love. But that desperate love, the love which also advances
irreversibly, toward mortality.
     Reason as hope. Yet at the cost of how much renunciation. And who will
console the poet for the minute which passes, who will persuade him to accept
the demise of the rose, of the fragile beauty of the afternoon, of the odor of
the beloved's hair, of that which the philosopher calls "appearances."
     Anacreon says: "Of what use is he who teaches me the rules and the
sophisms of the rhetoricians? What need have I for all those words that do me
no good? Teach me, above all, to drink the sweet liquor of Bacchus; teach me
to fly with Venus, the one with golden braids. White hair crowns my head. Give
me water, empty the wine, young adolescent; put my reason to sleep. Soon I will
have ceased to live and you shall cover my head with a veil. The dead indeed
have no desires."
     Poetry clings to the instant and does not admit hope, the consolation of
reason. Upon approaching reason and poetry in their beginnings, in their
splendid Greek dawn, they appear with different credentials from those we
imagine. In modern times, desolation has come to philosophy and consolation to
poetry. Yet here we see the contrary, poetry as the voice of desperation, of
melancholy and the love of the fleeting which rejects consolation for losing it
and losing oneself. It thus becomes intoxicated. "Bring my cup near, since it
is better for me to be stretched out drunk, than dead."
     Existence, marvelous life which cannot be saved, travels towards the dead
and when old age arrives--"white hair crowns my head"--desire has not
disappeared, nor anything that has matured in my soul. No other life appears
behind the burning fire of desire. Only mortality and intoxication.
     And delirium. Reason is nothing but renunciation, or perhaps the impotence
of living. Living is to be delirious. That which is not intoxication, nor
delirium, is caution. And, what is the good of caution about nothing, if all
must end? The philosopher conceives existence as a continual alert, as
perpetual vigilance and caution. The philosopher never sleeps, pushes away
every flattering song which could lull him, every seduction, in order to remain
lucid and awake. The philosopher lives in his conscience, and conscience is
nothing but caution and preoccupation.
     Caution and preoccupation, for there is something that the owner of this
conscience never lacks. Because it has its beginning in something imperishable
which nevertheless for its achievement depends on him who achieves it. Because
the philosopher feels that he has been given, along with life, a reminiscence.
A remembrance of his origin, which will carry him to the end, if he takes care
to arrange his life around it. But the poet does not experience the
reminiscence except as a guest entirely from this world, and loves it and feels
attached to its pleasures. Has the poet, possessed by his enthusiasm,
nevertheless been left behind by the hand of the gods? Or is it perhaps that he
is entirely possessed by the divine of this world and by no means, therefore,
wishes to abandon it?
     They do possess him, the gods of this world which, without doubt, it has.
The same Plato who in the "Phaedo" speaks of the effects of beauty due to its
splendor, and of the sacred terror that the beauty of the beloved produces in
the lover. And comparing beauty with wisdom, he suggests that beauty attracts
us more because it is visible. "With regard to beauty, it shines, as I have
said, above all the other essences of our terrestrial home, eclipsing them with
its brilliance, so we know it as the most luminous of our feelings. And sight
is, in effect, the most subtle of all the bodily organs. It cannot, however,
perceive wisdom because our love for it would be incredible, if its image and
the images of the other essences worthy of our love were to be offered to our
sight, as distinct and as alive as they are."
     Vision perceives the beauty that shines, yet cannot perceive wisdom.
Toward that wisdom which shimmers before our eyes--the most subtle of our
senses--philosophy is directed through remembrance. Through remembrance, for
the philosopher still does not accept that something existing is to be known by
more than its immediate presence. Yet since it is not here, nor now, when that
presence is offered to me, it must have been previously, before this time. If
the immortal essences are not now revealed and nevertheless I love them and
tend unstoppably towards them, it must be that they had been present, familiar,
in some other time and in some other place.

     Yet the poet, he is possessed by the loveliness that shines, by the
resplendent beauty which shows between everything. And he knows, it is the only
thing he cannot forget, that he shall have to cease seeing it, or enjoying its
brilliance. The poet is, by his misfortune, consecrated to a divinity which
perishes, in the double sense that we see it going before us and we also go
where it will not be.

     The poet forget that which the philosopher is eager to remember, and holds
present in every instant what the philosopher has forever taken apart. The poet
is oblivious to the remembrance that awakens reason, and is awake before
everything that philosophy has forgotten. They tell of an emperor of China who
ordered that a tender melody be played to accompany the flowers which
were opening. The poet does nothing different; he remains alert and
preoccupied before the changes, before the trifles and tremendous changes in
which all things are consumed, are born and die.
     And therefore, the poet asks the painter to capture beloved appearance
for her, the appearances that philosophy disdains. The "phantasm" of
the appearances, that Plato says imitates painting, which is thus a "ghost of
a ghost." With what cruelest severity did Plato decree the abolition
of illusions, with what a judicial urge does he advocate the primacy of the
real. Only the real should exist, that is, the real, that which exists for
itself,that which has a complete presence without man going to its assistance.
Not for a moment does Plato concede to the "phantasms" that man needs to
persist. Not for a moment does he concede to the man who needs his illusions to
continue. With what cold inexorability does he establish their demise without
becoming persuaded by the suspicion that the phantasms adhere to the entrails
of man, that, if indeed they are "phantasms" confronted with the invulnerable
reality of what is, they are something intimate, immediate and immersed in the
heart of man. That those phantasms are reality for the love that would seek
them. Anacreon says the following: "...Skilful painter, famous painter, king of
this art that flourishes in Rhodes, paint while I trace the image of my
absent beloved. Depict her smooth, black hair, and if it is possible even her
perfumed exhalations; depict her shimmering hair with purple cascading from her
marble forehead to the length of her sunlit cheeks. Do not separate her
eyebrows too much, yet take care not to merge them; follow the black curve of
her eyelashes just as they are with her, shyly raised." In sum do not stray,
maker of phantasms, from the most insignificant and therefore precious details
of this phantasm so real to my heart, to my eyes: this phantasm, these
appearances, more real than anything else in the world.
     How to convince the lover of the unreality of the phantasm of the beloved
beauty? Of her demise it is not necessary to convince him, for he already cries
over it; but that something dies does not mean that it is, therefore, unreal.
     Because the nude is within mortality. The philosopher scorns appearances
because he knows that they are perishable. The poet knows it too, and therefore
clings to them; therefore laments them before they are gone, cries over them
while he still has them, for he is feeling them depart even in their
possession. The black hair of the beloved turns to grey while being caressed
and the eyes imperceptibly are losing their brilliance. And for that they are
loved more, are more inseparable.
     From this melancholy funeral of handsome appearances philosophy is saved,
through the avenue of reason. Reason is actually hope. Yet at the cost of so
much renunciation. However, the poet does not renounce. No one will convince
him to renounce. No one will console him for seeing the day of her passing
approach, nor will persuade him to accept the conversion into ashes of the
beloved eyes; the disappearance in the mists of time of the cherished phantasm.
No one, nor anything.
     And this failure to conform before the inexorable disappearance of beauty
brings for life a fatal consequence: destruction, the perpetual threat to all
established order. Destruction of order, because it is the destruction of
     The Platonic words are decisive. There is a contradiction in man between
what in his soul leads to reason and law, and that which is passion. The most
inseparable from poetry is pain and feeling; for it poetry maintains the memory
of our disgraces. And even more, it makes us sympathize with that which we have
prohibited, with all that we have torn from our soul, with the passions from
whose tyranny reason has liberated us. In the tragic protagonist we contemplate
the passions in their free course, in their frenzy. And we secretly enjoy
ourselves before the spectacle different from what is prohibited for ourselves.
This is incoherent and dangerous, and runs the risk of forgetting what we have
gathered for ourselves beneath the imperium of reason, and following, instead,
the example of the protagonists of tragedy at the hour when pain calls at our
     A threat to the governing of our individual lives and to that of the ideal
city one wants to establish: "And at the moment when he receives the
voluptuous muses, be they epic, be they lyric, pleasure and pain will rule in
your State instead of law and reason"(4). The condemnation is taxing, having no
escape clause. Because poetry goes against justice; it is the agent of
     This is not meant to surprise. When the moment of establishing the perfect
society arrived, Plato was to formulate with complete rigidity what was already
implicit in all Greek Philosophy. And he adds that it is not of today, but
instead the enmity of poetry and philosophy is very ancient, and enumerates
some of the insults and jokes impertinently cast by poetry at the
Yet this does not mean that those poets were swept to extremity, that is,
poetically, by something which they perhaps perceived before the philosophers
themselves: the condemnation of poetry that philosophy contained in its
fundamental ideas - being, truth, reason. Poetry remained on the margin of all
this and if all this triumphed, it would bring with itself the forced
depreciation of poetry.
     The poet could not successfully observe the discovery of being, because
the poet knows that there are discoveries that devastate, that things exist to
which there is no alternative but to remain loyal to the end, once we have
discovered them. And thus, being carries in itself the aspect of a decision in
one's own life. Given the primacy of being and affirming that being is unity,
nothing was left for man but to violently disengage--doing and suffering
violence--from all that is not it. A person must insist upon a decision that
causes him to approach that being, that causes its realization. For mere
contemplation has never existed; the more pure the contemplation, the more
executive, the more decisive. One contemplates to be and not for another
reason, however weighted with love the contemplation may be. And furthermore,
that contemplation is weighted with love belongs to poetry.
     And thus it occurred. Philosophy did not delay long in establishing an
asceticism which is not only fidelity, loyalty and the unity of being. The poet
always sensed it and therefore never wanted to recognize that being, nor its
unity. And not only due to the renunciation and the scorn that he brought with
him regarding appearances, but even more because of the human decision which
would immediately follow for him. The poet has never wanted to make a decision
and when he has done it, it was to cease being a poet.(5) Such a moment of
decision, central in ethics, drives away poetry. The poet is, yes, immoral. It
is just that he wanders about the outskirts of the city of reason, of being
and of decision. Especially because the poet cannot live beneath the dome of
justice, we should not think that he lacks justification, for not to be thus
is not to be a person. He has his justification because he has fidelity.
     Through fidelity to that which the poet already has, from the beginning he
cannot cast himself towards invisible being. What he has, was not necessary for
him to go out and find, nor has he tired in its pursuit, except that he felt
weighted with something that distressed and filled him, equally. An infinitely
celestial possession, as if it would exceed human strength. His living begins
not with a search, but instead with intoxicated possession. The poet has what
he has not searched for and more than possessing, feels possessed.
     The poet therefore does not resemble a man, or if he is a man, then it is
the philosopher who appears inhuman. The philosopher defines human life by its
disability, by its insufficiency from which it departs to encounter, to
encounter by itself, the road that leads to completion. Philosophy is
incompatible with the practice of receiving nothing by donation, from grace. A
man is he who emerging from his self-centered alienation, from his distress or
shipwreck, discovers being for itself and his being. In sum, he saves himself
through his decision.
     And the poet is loyal to what he already has. He does not find himself in
deficit like the philosopher, but, in excess, electrified, with a charge, it is
true, he does not understand. Therefore, he must express it, therefore he must
speak "without knowing what he says," as the reproach goes. And his glory is in
not knowing it, because, with that, the words that emerge from his mouth are
revealed as quite superior to a human understanding; with that we are shown
that it is more than a human that inhabits his body.
     From there, let him speak of mysterious divinities, of muses that possess
him, of forces that inhabit his interior like one's own land. While the
philosopher tries to become himself, the poet drenched in grace does not know
what to try. He seem occupied, inhabited by something that possesses and drags
him. And once this delivery of oneself is consummated, the poet can no longer
want anything else. He could not want more than to be a man. And perhaps he
thereby feels some nostalgia, or may wish to rest. Yet he pursues, like the
cicada, his interminable song.
     All the more, nostalgia; the poet does not work to be human. He does not
try to know what he would be with independence from that force which speaks
with his voice. And if perhaps that force abandons him, he only feels empty.
Empty like an uninhabited room. Time, then, converts him into something like a
glove without a hand. Empty time, pure waiting for the miracle to return, for
the delirium to return. As for wanting something, he wants nothing else but
that which annulled his desire, that which vanquished it so completely. Because
the glory of the poet is in feeling vanquished. Anacreon also tells us of it:
"It is told that Attis, that effeminate youth, in his romantic madness called
at the top of his voice in the mountains to the enchantress Cybele. Those who
in Claros drink from the prophetic well, at the streams where Phoebus with her
forehead bedecked in laurel reigns, are filled with delirium, emit their
clamor. And also drowned in perfumes, drunk with the liquors of Linaeus and
with the kisses of my beloved, I wish, wish to be delirious."
     I wish to be delirious, because in delirium life and lucidity are
reached. In a delirium nothing is your own, with no secrets; nothing opaque in
your being. One is consumed with desire as is told, sung and said. For the poet
lives suspended in words; he is their slave.
     The philosopher wishes to possess the word, convert himself into its
owner. The poet is its slave; he consecrates and is consumed in it. One is
consumed entirely, outside of words not existing, nor wishing to exist.
Wanting, wanting delirium, because in delirium words emerge in all their
original purity. One might think that the first language had to be delirious. A
miracle witnessed in man, annunciation, in the person, of the word. A
witnessing before which man, already a poet, could not but say: "Form yourself
in me." Form the word in me and let me be no more than its home, its vehicle.
The poet is consecrated to the word; his only deed is this forming within
himself. For this reason the poet cannot make any decision, also for this he is
     It is the accusation of so many centuries against the poet, even more than
against poetry. Plato more internally consistent, more loyal until the ultimate
consequences, more extremist, believer in everything, also decreed the
condemnation of poetry. Afterwards no one has dared so much, but instead have
accepted poetry, defeated by its enchantment, and have confined the poet
because the poet, in truth, is not responsible. Hhe does not know what he
says. Plato embodies it with no one less than Homer, the venerable, and asks
him for stories. You possess, he says, all wisdom without any purchase on
     And it is painful to say that Plato did not know how to extend justice to
the poet. The poet does not know what he says and, nevertheless, has a
conscience, a sort of conscience. A special, private lucidity of the poet
without which how many pages Plato might not have written. And if the poet has
gained anything throughout the ages it is this lucidity, this awakened
consciousness, constantly more awake and lucid as the modern poets testify, as
is testified by the father of them all, Baudelaire. Lucidity that becomes more
worthy, more sorrowful, fidelity to the divine superhuman forces--divine or
demoniacal--which possess one, that make one's bumbling and downtrodden
existence more heroic. And thus, this genre of self-consciousness of the poet
has also engendered an ethics of the poet, an ethics that is now not the calm,
secure ethics of the philosopher. For, in the end, the philosopher pursues
security. This poetic ethics is nothing else than martyrdom. Every poet is a
martyr to poetry; he delivers his life, his entire life, without withholding
any being for himself, and continually and with greater lucidity assists in
this delivery. And so intimate is his cohabitation with the divine forces that
they engender delirium, which with Baudelaire has come to be transformed into
"inspiration" at work. Which is not, by any means, to negate inspiration, but
to fully deliver oneself to it, deliver oneself to it heroically with all one's
faculties awake. It is to employ in her service that which was to be used in
her evasion, in the flight from her. In Baudelaire the process of the poet
seems to have been consummated. He is the father, on a par with the redeemer,
of poetry. And he had redeemed it with what is had seemed to lack:
     This consciousness that in Baudelaire attains the plenitude of its
luminosity, and hence of its martyrdom, was no less heroic since its beginning.
And thus, the reproaches of Plato against Homer refer to other acts of praise,
to various tests of his fidelity, of his martyrdom. Plato accuses the divine
minstrel of wandering around the roads, from village to village, singing. He
accuses, one who would leave no model for living, as Pythagoras would leave, as
guide and example for the other men. He presents as established that the only
pastime important to man shall be to discover the means of governing one's days
and enabling transmission of this to others to help them in the identical task.
And Homer, daring to speak of all things divine and human, did none of this.
And even further, he asserts that if the company of the minstrel had been sweet
and beneficent, friends and disciples would have gathered around him without
letting his leave, would have kept him together with them or, wretched with
love for the master, would have departed with him on his travels. Plato
insists, insists, with the stubbornness of one who wishes to hammer in an
argument: if Homer had really known a science or had been capable of achieving
grand exploits, he would not have been dedicated to singing those of the
others, for doing is superior to singing of it.
     And with all these reproaches and accusations--so pointed--from Plato,
what it does is put in relief the poet's way of life, his generosity, his
fidelity to that which he received without asking for, which will lead him to
donate it to the world, without them looking for it, charitably. A lovely,
venerable image of the poet, is this which Homer draws. Without waiting to be
sought, he advances like poetry itself towards meetings with all, with those
who believe it necessary and with those who do not, to pour the enchantment of
his music upon the daily human sorrows, to scrape the clouds of tedium with the
light of words, to quicken again the heaviness of the hours. He is also moving
to console mankind with the commemoration of its origin. For poetry too has its
reminiscence. He will bring them memory and forgetting.
     The poet never makes a decision, it is true. The poet simply supports that
erratic and almost unmanageable living. Instant to instant he supports living,
dependence on another whom one does not even know. One spies something in the
fog and to this which was seen is loyal unto one's demise,(6) loyal for life.
And you need not, as with philosophy, see its face to be delivered to it. He
does not fight, in the manner of Jacob, with an angel. He accepts and even
delights in being defeated.
     Plato is right, that the poet and poetry are immoral, are outside of
justice. As against--and this "against" is of the philosopher, not the poet--
the unity discovered through thought, poetry clings to dispersion. As against
being, it tries to focus solely on the appearances. And confronted with reason
and the law, it is the irresistible force of the passions, frenzy. As against
the logos, speaking in tongues. As against the vigilance of reason, to
the caution of philosophy, perennial ecstasy. And it sets the non-temporal
against that which is realized and unrealized within time. He forgets what
philosophy remembers, and is the memory itself of what the philosopher
forgets. Vagabond, bumbler who never decides, out of loyalty to obscure
divinities, those with whom he will not fight to discover their face. And
poetry is not given like a prize to those who methodically seek it, but instead
comes to deliver itself only to those who never desired it; it gives to all and
is different for each one. Certainly it is immoral. It is as immoral as the
flesh itself.
     Yet, do they not have--poetry and poet--their justification, their own
kingdom? Shall there not be in all the universe, in that universe that the poet
so loves and with so much fire, a place for him? Out beyond justice, shall
there be nothing for the poet? The poet does not ask, yet rather grants; the
poet is pure concession. Would he not be one were he to concede nothing? One
can ask in the name of justice. Yet whoever truly gives something does not do
so in its name. He who gives and who gives more than what is requested, and
almost as much as is hoped, does it because his giving comes from further
beyond justice, beyond where everyone is remunerated with what they deserve.
Because this giving of poetry is not for no one and is for all. No one has
deserved it and everyone, sometime, encounters it.


AND IT IS SO that poetry throughout all time has been, to live according to the
flesh. It has been the sin of the flesh made word, eternalized in the
expression, objectified. A philosopher of the stature to which Plato had
arrived had to view it with horror, because it was the contradiction of the
logos itself when applied to the irrational. The irrationality of poetry was
thus concretized in a most serious way: the rebellion of the word, the
perversion of logos functioning to discover what should be kept quiet, because
it is not. In sum, a false truth. True because it is shown as the truth in the
word, via the road of its apparition. And false because it discovers that
which, by not attaining the supreme rank of being, has no reason to manifest
     Poetry was a heresy as against the Greek idea of truth. It also was that
before the requirement of unity, because it brought dispersion in the most
dangerous way: paying attention to it. Heresy also before morality and before
something more serious than morality itself and anterior to it, against the
religion of the soul (Orphism, Dionysian cults) because it was the flesh
incarnate, made being through the word.
     The Greek, in reality, did not dare to reject the flesh as centuries later
the Christian would do, primarily through the mouth of Saint Paul. They never
did, but it could be said they were wishing that someone would find reason to
do so. That someone, before Saint Paul, was Plato. And in truth, the
incomprehension that "the Apostle of the people" would find in Athens for his
perspective was in a sense contrary to that of depreciation of the flesh. It
was because he came precisely to announce its resurrection. Because he sought
to explain Christian mysticism in its most foreign aspect for the intellectual
asceticism that the philosophers had left embedded in the Greek mind, and
equally to contradict the religious aspiration that emanated from the best
circles: the horror towards the flesh and of the passions; the dreamed
liberation of the soul from its corporeal tomb.
     The body as a tomb was an Orphic image which Plato himself(7) came to use
energetically. Consideration of the passions as contrary to the pure image of
the soul appears continually and in all clarity, poetic clarity, it must be
confessed. Thus, speaking of the soul he says in The Republic: "...but
to see her as she really is, not as we now behold her, marred by communion with
the body and other miseries, you must contemplate her with the eye of reason,
in her original purity; and then her beauty will be revealed, and justice and
injustice and all the things which we have described will be manifested more
clearly. Thus far, we have spoken the truth concerning her as she appears at
present, but we must remember also that we have seen her only in a condition
which may be compared to that of the sea-god Glaucus, whose original image can
hardly be discerned because his natural members are broken off and crushed and
damaged by the waves in all sorts of ways, and incrustations have grown over
them of seaweed and shells and stones, so that he is more like some monster
than he is his own natural form. And the soul which we behold is in a similar
condition, disfigured by ten thousand ills"(8).
     Through this poetic image Plato shows us the very sad state of the soul
upon landing in the body; its tomb, its prison. However, a prison active in its
passivity, like the ocean. The body of Glaucus being a lizard submerged in a
foreign medium, like the sea, as its primary environment. And the sea, in its
apparent passive neutrality, digests, alters, changes. Nothing is more
disconcertingly melancholy than some beaches at the hour of the low tide;
extremely strange creatures have been left abandoned upon the moist sand and an
air of destruction seems to float over everything. The ocean appears to be the
cosmic agent of destruction, of the slow, cautious and inexorable annihilation
or that solid, basic something which seems to comprise human nature. A newt, an
old encrusted vessel, disfigured by algae and all the alien beings which the
sea loosens from its bed; beings strange and seductive at the same time. The
sea destroys through seduction, with the subtle violence of enchantment. And
the power of the flesh over the soul has not been conceived by Plato as the
firing squad confronting their prisoner, but instead as the slow and
irresistible disfiguring force of the maritime depths. The soul submerges
itself in it, and it dissolves and destroys, yielding in change aggregates of
things that adhere to it, yet which are not its own, which transform it giving
it the appearance of a monster. The soul dissolves and is altered in contact
with the flesh. And that which must submerge itself into the marine medium has
that contact; upon encountering something unfathomable. The walls of a jail
imprison, yet they are something perfectly limited; their action is merely
isolating. It is more when one submerges in the sea, falls into a corrosive
medium of destructive action without limits: unfathomable. One falls into
something where one loses their bearings, where their situation cannot be
clearly established. If one can remain afloat the fate of the monster will
befall him, that of the encrusted boat: he will be disfigured and destroyed.
     Therefore it is necessary that the soul who has shipwrecked thus fight
incessantly against that terrible and seductive force. It is necessary that
with a continuous action one is saved from shipwreck, first keeping oneself
afloat, and then isolating oneself insofar as possible from the destructive
medium; remaining loyal to that which is one's nature, defending the original
parts from alteration and violently rejecting the foreign creatures which try
to affix themselves. The battle is even more difficult than that of the
prisoner who, deprived of light, is in possession of himself, alone with his
nature; free in short within his confinement. The prison is the separation and
the solitude. Especially in solitude and in separation, the soul remains true
to itself, and is free to remember its lofty origin, to feel nostalgia for its
companions and for its remote country. The combat is even more difficult that
in the Cave of the Myth, where the prisoner has before himself nothing but
shadows, appearances, and chains subject his limbs so that he cannot look
toward the place from where the light emerges. In this painting that Plato
already offers us at the end of The Republic, the soul seems enchained
by something not limited to its confinement. Enchained with some active chains
that destroy it, by a world, finally, filled with strange creatures and even
though Plato does not say it in this passage, filled too with seduction. There
is something in the soul that sympathizes with this medium that is foreign to
     It will be necessary for it to implement a supreme effort to reintegrate
with its nature. Thus, Plato pursues his soulful image: "But not there,
Glaucus, not there must we focus. 'Where then?' At her love of wisdom. Let us
see whom she affects, and what society and converse she seeks in virtue of her
near kindred with the immortal and eternal and divine; also how different she
would become if wholly following this superior principle, and borne by a divine
impulse out of the ocean in which she now is, and disengaged from the stones
and shells and... Then you would see her as she is, and know whether she has
one shape only or many, or what her nature is. Of her affections and of the
forms which she takes in this present life I think we have now said enough"(9).
     "Her love of truth, what converse she seeks in virtue of her relationship
with what is divine, immortal and eternal." The nature of the human soul, then,
is precisely in its relationship with that which is divine, immortal and
eternal. Plato repeats this idea throughout the length of his discourses as
something obvious and decisive, like the truth upon which he will ground his
intimate and profound longing. Longing, it is not difficult to state, longing
and hope of saving the soul. The present picture seems to him solely an image
of decadence, of degradation. That is why he had to reject the poetry that
attempted to perpetuate it. Poetry, a copy of the degradation, the decadence of
decadence. "The soul is similar to the divine." "The soul is almost divine," he
reiterates in the Phaedo.
     And the truth is that this image of life as shipwreck, as a fall, was not
original with the Platonic philosophy, nor with any philosophy. It was the idea
which as metempsychosis appeared since Antiquity and that would reach Plato
through the Mysteries and through Orphism. Plato does nothing more--nothing
more!--than ground it, than to find a rational basis for it. He only
rationalizes the hope into assurance, twisting it into certainty; and still
into something more: into a certainty I can force. The hope in which we keep
quiet and passive is turned into certainty through the effect of philosophical
violence; into active certainty, for he who achieves it must depend on a human
     And this effort is accomplished across the road of philosophy. Philosophy
is born, truly, of a paradox in human nature. The nature of a person is reason.
This identification of human nature and reason is one of the decisive battles
that Plato wins, and wins for all the centuries that separate us from him.(10)
By its  nature we understand a thing's manner of being which it is in itself,
that is, that its being is not made with human hands. And human nature--reason-
-is something that man will not continue having, except by recovering, by
reconquering it.
     This reconquest begins with the separation from the foreign medium into
which one has fallen, begins with a catharsis of the passions, product of their
link with the body-tomb. Later will come the path of dialectics that reason,
now alone and recognized in itself, runs toward the idea of the good, that is
the divine, of which the human soul is, sui generis, the parent.
Philosophy achieves, then, nothing less than the encounter of the soul with
itself, the rediscovery of its own nature. Plato repeats the same idea
innumerable times throughout the various dialogues, but most especially in the
Phaedo, which is where this hope rationalized by philosophy is revealed:
"And what is purification but the separation of the soul from the body, as I
was saying before; the habit of the soul gathering and collecting herself into
herself, out of all the courses of the body; the dwelling in her own place
alone, as in another life, so also in this, as far as she can; the release of
the soul from the chains of the body?"(11) Understanding is thus, purification,
separation of the soul from its chains in order to reintegrate itself with its
true nature. "Disinterested knowledge" comes to be the most profoundly
interested of all, such that in reality nothing is being added, but simply a
conversion of the soul, its becoming being, since "one who contemplates comes
to resemble the object of his contemplation"(12).
     The pathway to such contemplation is that of the dialectic, the movement
of reason for itself being detached from everything: "And so with dialectic;
when a person starts on the discovery of the absolute by the light of reason
only, and without any assistance of sense, and perseveres until by pure
intelligence he arrives at the perception of the absolute good, he at last
finds himself at the end of the intellectual world, as in the case of sight at
the end of the visible. 'Exactly,' he said. Then this is the progress which you
call dialectic? 'True'"(13).
     The starter in this dialectic is in the violence with which one of the
prisoners in the cave is shown forced to separate from the chains that hold him
at the shadows and its terminus is in the contemplation of the idea of the
good. The stricken prisoner first laboriously ascends the path that leads to
the light. The description of this prisoner in his ascension towards the truth
is something that could not lose its power throughout so many centuries of
Platonic topics, a depiction memorable for its realism. This ascent is that of
being forced to be a philosopher: "And suppose once more, that he is
reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he is
forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and
irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will
not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities. 'Not all
in a moment,' he said. He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the
upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of
men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he
will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and
he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of
the sun by day? 'Certainly.' Last of all he will be able to see the sun, and
not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper
place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is."
     The purification has reached its end and he who has come to contemplate
the good face to face and to know that he is the cause of all that somehow is,
now has nothing of the properly human, or that is in common with those who
continue enchained in the cave, except pity for their miserable condition. And
the return to the dark cave places him in a very strange situation among men:
upon his coming from the light, those who bring him will not recognize him. And
his strangeness is such that it irritates them, up to the point that they may
come to kill him. It is not very risky to say that the execution of Socrates,
his teacher, took place along these lines. Is it then so strange that whoever
is engaged in such a tremendous battle to affirm the road of philosophy should
be hostile towards justifying any other road? It was philosophy, it was the
life of the philosopher which had to be justified and clarified as against the
blind human multitude. It was the hope placed by philosophy within the reach of
every person. For hope now depending neither on the gods nor on destiny, that
selection of a higher existence was done for oneself. Any person could choose
on the condition they would choose in truth; that is to say, that they would
resolve to choose to exert violence against their actual condition and
miserably climb the pathway, bleak at the beginning, luminous and limitless at
the end. It was the salvation of philosophy through human effort: "...The power
and capacity of learning exists in the soul already; and just as the eye was
unable to turn from darkness to light without the whole body, so too the
instrument of knowledge can only by the movement of the whole soul be turned
from the world of becoming into that of being, and learn by degrees to endure
the sight of being, and of the brightest and best of being, or in other words,
of the good. 'Very true.' And must there not be some art which will effect
conversion in the easiest and quickest manner; not implanting the faculty of
sight, for that exists already, but has been turned in the wrong direction, and
is looking away from the truth?"(14)
     The untied prisoner, free from the oppression of the chains and of the
deceit of the shadows, takes pity on his longtime companions and educates them,
converts them. Conversion through philosophy, via the dialectic, which goes
beyond it, for this rough gradient towards arriving at the light itself, this
conversion which each person can realize in his soul, and which philosophy
piously guards, seems founded on something which yet is not of this world.
Because that light of the good is not integrally contemplated except after
     And therefore, if in The Republic Plato defines the justice of this
world and not the reasons for living well, in the Phaedo the same
dialectic now has the feeling of a training for dying. Philosophy is a
preparation for dying and the philosopher is the man who is ripe for it. And
this conversion cannot be finalized except when "we have separated from the
madness of the body"(15), a phrase we would think was from Saint Paul, if we
saw it separate from the Platonic text.
     Separated from the insanity of the flesh, from the deceit of the shadows,
the philosopher recaptures his nature, the true human nature. A nature that
cannot be possessed, as we have seen, without effort nor violence. That of
which the soul is the parent is on the other shore of the river of life.
Philosophy is an exercise in dying and the stance of the philosopher among men
is very similar to that of someone who has died and who by special privilege
has obtained the grace to return together with men as messenger of the violence
that is needed to effect conversion, like a call from what on the other side is
parent to an altered human nature. Philosophy is clearly and duly established
in the "Phaedo" as knowledge concerning dying: Is it not true that the precise
sense of the verb, to die, is, "as I was saying before; the habit of the soul
gathering and collecting herself into herself, out of all the courses of the
body; the dwelling in her own place alone, as in another life, so also in this,
as far as she can; the release of the soul from the chains of the body? 'Very
true,' he said. And what is that which is termed 'death' but this very
separation and release of the soul from the body? 'To be sure,' he said. And
the true philosophers, and they only, study and are eager to release the soul.
Is not the separation and release of the soul from the body their especial
     The situation has been aggravated more and more: now the philosopher
cannot content himself with the separateness of things just as they appear at
the first glance which we cast upon the world. Now, not only must he renounce
the sensible appearances, but also a true asceticism is imposed on him.
Knowledge is not an occupation of the mind, but instead an exercise that
transforms the entire soul, which affects life in its totality. The love of
knowledge determines a way of life. Because it is, before everything, a way of
dying, of going towards mortality. To be ripe for dying is the proper state of
the philosopher.
     The consequences had to be innumerable, not only for poetry but for life
as a whole. Now poetry was not at issue, except insofar as it continued being
life of the flesh in the most dangerous manner for philosophic asceticism: to
live according to the flesh, yet not by virtue of that first spontaneous
movement of all living beings to dwell in their own flesh. No, poetry is to
live in the flesh, drilling into it, knowing of its distress and of its
     The consequences had to be now innumerable not for poetry, but for all the
fundamental questions of life; the destiny of unborn Christianity was decided
there, to remain philosophically founded upon asceticism.
     And this asceticism had to be the strongest and most profound bond to be
spun between Christian religion and Greek thought. And if sometimes the
asceticism was drawn with the greater firmness and clarity, it cannot be
doubted that that was in Platonic thought, so alive and growing at the moment
in which Christianity appeared.
     Also, this asceticism and the same road traversed by the dialectic in
Plato, what does it mean? We have already seen: it is not in knowing the
interesting, it is not the being of things, nor the laws of the world which the
understanding pursues. What it attempts is to recover human nature, rescue the
soul. That which Plato does, in reality is theology and mysticism; theology
inasmuch as he thinks or means to think using reason, the divine. Mysticism,
insofar as he offers us the pathway to convert ourselves to it. Catharsis and
dialectic are only means for arriving at being. And this alone will explain the
violence that philosophy engenders, the force that serves to detach us from
what surrounds us, from our own wrapping, from our passions. If Plato condemns
the passions it is simply because he wants to rescue the site where the
passions are seated, because he wants to save the soul. Already in antiquity.
it seems that this longing germinated: to save the soul. And not always among
the poets, but instead amount certain religious circles which we have already
considered. Plato seems to be their instrument, who rationalized and thereby
made those longings secure, albeit somewhat delirious. He took the certainties
of thought--being, unity, idea--to that which was their undercurrent, like an
undeniable yearning in the Orphic and Dionysian cults. For the first time what
was felt obscurely was thought clearly. The symbols evolved into clear thoughts
and the ideas succeeded the mysteries. Mathematics and irrational desire were
united for the first time. Plato made theology.(17)
     Now one understands why he renounced poetry, why he declared it his
irreconcilable enemy. It was not in the name of knowledge, was not in the name
of being, of unity, of the truth of this world. If Plato had not been the
carrier of a gigantic religious design he would never have condemned poetry.
Moreover: he would never have ceased being a poet. (In truth, he never ceased
being one, for if he abandoned poetry, poetry never left him, and this is what
constitutes the major justification for Plato in this respect.)
     The Platonic condemnation of poetry is manifested in The Republic
in such a disconcerting fashion that it seems to conceal that which now we see
so clearly. And it is that the situation in the ideal City was, in fact,
double: there were in it two structures: one the purely earthly structure, let
us say, of a city ruled by justice and another that in Book VI is established
around the philosophers and philosophy, which is lifted, truly, above justice
     It is already theology and mysticism. The mysticism of reason. Parmenides
and the ancient beliefs gave it support, and they were mutually justified. It
may seem a little bold. Yet in truth, there are marvelous parts in the book
that seem interpolated, which perhaps could be subtracted leaving the other
parts intact, those that refer to the primary structure, to the human city. One
could say it is a "revelation" added to that which the man Plato thought on his
own account.(18)
     The condemnation of poetry found in The Republic seems in the first
place with its force within the first structure, within the human city governed
by righteousness [dikaiosyne], because the poets transformed, with their
picture of the frenzy of the passions, the order imposed by reason. It is a
moral and political condemnation that is manifested.
     But that which is more than justice, the "revelation" of the Myth of the
Cave and the definition of philosophy as apprenticeship for mortality, is what
must reject poetry in the most inexorable, most irreconcilable form. Before the
dikaiosyne, poetry could offer the defense of appearances, its apology
for beauty, could demonstrate its delirium of love.
     Also, in this condemnation without exception, there is as basis the
mystical design. The renunciation is greater still, more profound, more
irreconcilable, as theology that wants to save the apparent, the realities both
of the world and of the human passions: the beauty that lurks in the sensible,
the beauty that the poet loves without achieving its eternalization. And the
soul of what the poet only depicts as agitation of the passions.
     Because in that rejection, wrapped in a bitterness a little suspect, is
the urge to save all that is disdained, that is: the appearances, the passions,
in a truer, more profound manner than that of poetry. It doubtless seemed to
him empty to pretend to save appearances, capturing their ghost, fixating their
shadow, creating another appearance of lesser range than being. For in the end
however live is the portrait there always exists the abyss existing between the
living and the painted.
     Imitation is not the road, for in imitation decadence multiplies, non-
being is authenticated, extinction is precipitated without being ripe for it.
No; another road must be sought through which appearances may be placed safe
from destruction. The perennial reality must be sought, where these brilliant
appearances do not perish.
     No is it a remedy to express the passions. Establishing the passions and
their melancholy, their inexorable flux, in the word. Because that word--shadow
of shadows--of poetry cannot give them eternity, because its true unity has not
been extracted. It is an antinomy to want to save the passions, for behind the
passions is that that is most important: our soul which suffers them and
undergoes them. The passions are something strange within our soul and because
of them our soul does not complete becoming ours. The passions are self-
contradictory and one single passion already is contradictory within itself and
with the very soul it inhabits. The soul agitated by passion, by one alone, is
torn, turns against itself, lacks unity; and is, at each moment, "other" in a
terrible monotone. It is monotonously contradictory.
     To save appearances and save the soul. He could not arrive at more, even
at the cost of the condemnation of poetry and of the detachment from the
"insanity of the body." The logos could not even descend towards the flesh. It
was necessary, irremediable, that in Plato that philosophy which is theology
and is mysticism should appear with irreconcilable enmity toward the poets and
their dream. The decisive reason was that he proposed to save that which the
poets only lamented; tried to give life, not transient life, but instead
another life beyond the bite of time, to that adored world of beauty of which
only poetry knew how to bemoan its destruction, lament its continuous dying,
its shipwreck in the seas of time. Because poetry and above all lyric poetry
was in Greece an outcry, the agony of the soul before the beloved reality that
is fleeting. An outcry above all: against the pain, against the pleasure,
against the love, against love more than anything. Because in love is the true
     In love is the true question. Love is a thing of the flesh; that is what
desires and agonizes in love, for which it is affirmed as against mortality.
The flesh for itself, living in dispersion; for love it is mostly redeemed, for
it seeks unity. Love is the unity of carnal dispersion, and the reason in the
"insanity of the body."
     Thus Plato is given to understand it, as two roads: that of beauty and
that of creation. The first is the Phaedo, the second in the Symposium.
Beauty and creation are the redemption of the flesh through love.
     Lately philosophy is the voice of optimism, the exit from fatality.
The philosopher is also going to save the flesh, finding what seemed
impossible: its unity, in love. Poetry absorbed in it, living tragically in
dispersion according to it, could not find it. Because poetry is pure
contradiction; the love in poetry urges toward unity and revolts against it,
lives in dispersion and distress. Cries for that which it does not want to
abandon and rebels against what would save it. Poetry is the most accurate
measure of human contradictions, because it is the martyrdom of lucidity, and
accepts reality such and as it is given at the first encounter. It is accepted
without ignorance, with knowledge of its tragic duality and of its final
     The poet feels the anguish of the flesh, its ashes, before and more than
those who want to annihilate it. The poet wishes to annihilate nothing, nothing
above all of the things which man has not made. A rebel before the things that
are human constructs; he is humble, reverent towards that which faces him and
which he cannot unseat: towards life and its mysteries. He lives, inhabiting
the interior of that mystery as within a prison and not attempting to leap the
walls with disrespectful questions. Eternally in love, needing nothing. But
this love penetrates very slowly.
     The poet lives according to the flesh and even more, within it. However,
little by little he penetrates it; begins to enter its interior, proceeds to
become owner of its secrets and to make them transparent, spiritualizing them.
He conquers it for man, because he appropriates it, causes it to cease being
     Poetry is, yes, a battle with the flesh, trade and commerce with it, which
from sin--"the insanity of the body"--arrives at charity. Charity, carnal love
of the self and the other. Charity that cannot resolve to break the
relationships that unite the person with everything living, partner in origin
and creation.
     Because the sin of the flesh is followed by the grace of the flesh:
charity. Carnal sin and charity are Christian fruits, but the two are on the
verge of emerging from their dream in the pages of the Phaedo, of the
Phaedrus or of the Symposium. From one moment to another it looks
as if the two words only brought by Christianity are about to emerge.
     They are approached--sin, charity--insofar as poetry is approached. Poetry
indeed carried them with it; they are its own entrails, constituting it.
Furthermore poetry has lagged greatly in recognizing it; burdened with its
treasure, it never stopped to count it. It never turned its eyes, its sad eyes,
towards it. Never--generous and desperate--did it occupy itself with them such
as philosophy would do from the first instant.
     The poet is not concerned with performing a recitation of its pluses and
its minuses; the inventory of its fortune. Because the poet cannot know who he
is; nor even knows what he seeks. The philosopher, at least, knows what he
seeks and defines himself by it--philosophía. Since the poet looks
for nothing except what he finds, he does not know what to call it. He would
have to adopt the name of that which possesses him, of that which seizes and
overwhelms the dwelling of his soul; of that which captivates him. Yet it will
not be easy, for sometimes he feels captivated, fulfilled; at others instead
feels forced, wrapped in dreams without form nor even energy, seems to live in
the flesh while the flesh is still opaque and is not made transparent by the
light of beauty. How to describe the poet? Lost in the light, confused by
beauty, poor through excess, mad due to too much reason, a sinner opposite
     The philosopher seeks because he feels incomplete and in need of
completion, because he senses his altered nature and wishes to conquer it. But
the poet swims in abundance, in excess. And perhaps because of this
superabundance the poet cannot choose. From living drowning in grace he cannot
recover within himself, attempt to be himself, nor know what this "himself" may
be which is the obsession of the philosopher. Lost in the richness, blinded by
the light. Sinner with grace, living according to the flesh and according to

     The Platonic path is quite different. If it seems that it crosses the very
borders of the word "sin" and of the word "charity" and does not fall under
them, it was that it could not. This slight distance that separates them is
essential to all their philosophy. Had it been crossed everything would have
had to begin establishing itself from the root.

     If Plato wants to save appearances, he cannot renounce the love that is
born in the flesh to save them, yet he must separate them from it. The entire
Platonic theory of love is his disengagement from the body, its incorporation
into the dialectical process of the knowledge that leads towards being - to the
being which is and to being oneself with that which is. Coupled to the
dialectic runs the scale of beauty. Beauty has the privilege of being entirely
visible. True being is occult, unity and the good, the divine, are not visible.
Also, only beauty has the privilege of fully manifesting itself to the senses
without falling into non-being; we would say that it is the only true
appearance. "But of beauty, I repeat again that we saw her there shining in
company with the celestial forms; and coming to earth we find her here too,
shining in clearness through the clearest aperture of sense. For sight is the
most piercing of our bodily senses; though not by that is wisdom seen; her
loveliness would have been transporting if there had been a visible image of
her, and the other ideas, if they had visible counterparts, would be equally
lovely. But that is the privilege of beauty, that being the loveliest she is
also the most palpable to sight"(19).
     It is, truly, as if true occult being allowed itself to be seen through a
tear in the veil that covers it. Therefore it is possible to begin on this new
ascent from visible beauty. It is the only thing visible that can support us.
It is more to soon leave it for a unitary beauty: "He who further wishes to
aspire to this object...should, from youth, begin to look for beautiful selves.
He should, furthermore, if he is well guided, love only one.... Soon he should
come to understand that the beauty that is found in any body is sister to the
beauty which is found in all the rest. In effect, were it necessary to discover
beauty in general it would be great madness not to believe that the beauty
which resides in all bodies is one and the same." In this manner the scale of
love through beauty begins, releasing from the particularity of one body, to
conclude: "He who through the mysteries of love has been elevated to the point
where we stand, after having traced in sequential order all degrees of the
beautiful, and having arrived at last to the point of initiation, will perceive
like a lightning bolt a marvelous beauty, that O Socrates, which was the object
of all his previous exertions; eternal uncreated and imperishable beauty,
exempt from growth or diminution; beauty that is not beautiful in one part and
ugly in some other, beauty only in a certain time and not in another, beautiful
in one relation while ugly within another, beautiful in one place and ugly in
another, beautiful for these and ugly for those; a beauty not of the senses as
with the face or the hands, and in no way corporeal; which is neither this
discussion or that science; that does not reside in any being different from
itself, in an animal, for example, or in the land, or in the sky, or in
something else, yet instead which exists eternally and absolutely for itself
and in itself"(20).
     With this what seemed most impossible is already achieved, the
generalization of the perceptible. The perceptible is contrary to and
rebellious towards unity, unity in which, once achieved, all things participate
that before we saw dispersed, each one existing for itself. Through beauty this
unity has been attained. The perceptible world has found its salvation, but
even more, that love of appearing beauty, the love born in the separation of
the flesh.
     The love born out of the dispersion of the flesh finds its salvation
because it follows the road of knowledge. It is that which most resembles
philosophy. As such, it is poor and needy and pursues riches; as such, it is
born in darkness and terminates in the light; it is born from desire and ends
in contemplation. As such, it is a mediator.
     And now, after reading The Symposium, the doubt arises that there
may be, in fact, two roads to salvation: that of the dialectic and that of
love, the other romantic dialectic, that purification of the soul within love
itself, without which its destruction would be necessary.
     Love serves the understanding, arrives at the same end as it by a
different road, by the road that seemed least appropriate, that of mania or
delirium: "Thus far I have been speaking of the fourth and last kind of
madness, which is imputed to him who, when he sees the beauty of the earth, is
transported with the recollection of the true beauty; he would like to fly
away, but he cannot; he is like a bird fluttering and looking upward and
careless of the world below; and he is therefore thought to be mad. And I have
shown this of all inspirations to be the noblest and highest and the offspring
of the highest to him who has or shares in it, and that he who loves the
beautiful is called a lover because he partakes of it"(21).
     There is a divine delirium that is love. As to how to get here, did not
Plato feel the necessity of justifying to the poets as persons enslaved by this
delirium? Delirium of love that exercises the same function as the violence of
philosophy. Through it, man remains prostrated, in suspense, "ecstatic" as
according to the mystics had to be repeated during ages, innumerably.
     We thank Plato for The Symposium, the Phaedrus. Through them
love was saved from its total destruction. In the dominant asceticism that
engaged Greek philosophy and Christian religion, love and its cult, the
religion of love, the ancient religion of love, of the mysteries, had a place.
For Platonic thought, not only are Greek philosophy and Christianity united,
yet also the religion of love and of the soul, which existed under diverse
names, and Christianity. Without this mediating thinker it would have remained
completely spiritualized, occult, and producing, it may be, serious distortions
with inexplicable, partial and desperate apparitions.
     For Christianity, the triumphant religion that has lived in the triumphant
culture of the West, annulled some previous religions, whose trace today has no
form, nor name, yet that doubtless are interlaced with the Catholic religion
which had the flexibility of absorbing the particularities of wherever it was.
And today without a doubt, there are forgotten cults to unknown deities which
live obscurely under other names. Thus it must have been with love, had it not
been mediated by the truly mediating thought of Plato.
     Love has been saved by its "idea," that is, by its unity. It was saved
because beginning with the dispersion of the flesh leads to the unity of the
understanding, because its irrational impulse became already divine when it
made the divine ascendant. The primitive idea that of love one creates, is
already mystical. Therefore what has been said so many times is a great error:
that mystical love is a translation of carnal love just as it is given. It is
completely to the contrary: carnal love, the love between the sexes, has lived
"culturally" i.e. in its expression beneath the idea of Platonic Love which
already is mystical. And in the eras when love had been a social force, in
those brilliant moments at the end of the Middle Ages and of the Renaissance,
all lovers manifested their love in more or less Platonic terms, and what is
more serious: if the lover spoke in this way it was because he felt this way
himself, because he spoke in this way to himself. And it was thus. Thanks to
Platonism love has had intellectual and social standing. One has been able to
love without it being a scandalous deed.
     Thanks to that saving of love, poetry has been able to exist within the
ascetic culture of Christianity. The first poetry: the hymns to the Virgin,
to the savior, the Litany, weave with partially Hebraic imagery an idea of the
divine women which in primitive Christianity, in truth, did not fit. The
divinization of the woman is also a Platonic thing, is a fact made possible
thanks to Platonic thought, to its consequences. Woman was also saved, because
she has remained idealized. If man falls in love it is because he carries in
his mind an a priori ideal of the feminine, and whoever does not carry
it cannot then fall in love.
     Poetry covered itself with this blanket; it lived and grew prodigiously
supported by this firmament. And so, all the poetry of the Middle Ages that is
not cynical, burlesque--like our Arcipreste de Hita--is Platonic without
knowing it. It presupposes and sings of the unity of love and also, of absence.
The absence theme in love is a clearly Platonic motif which should undergo
study by the historians of literature. "Absence" in love, because presence
never is possible and if once it were given, no one would sing of it.
     Thus, the Spiritual Canticle by St. John of the Cross is the song
of absence of the beloved. Understandable here because his beloved, in effect,
is invisible. Yet, in the profane poetry of this time and previously this theme
of absence and of constant search for the beloved's presence, this motif will
constantly be seen, all nature transformed: rivers, trees, parks, the light
itself preserves traces of the beloved's presence always evasive and
     It is because love now is constituted with a distance. Love without
distance would not be love, because it would not have unity, that is to say, an
object. It is its fundamental difference from desire: in desire there is not
really an objective, because the desired one is not really in it, this in-
itself not being tolerated which poetry had already realized on its own
account, before Plato and after, when it was free from influences. Desire
consumes everything it touches; in possession the desired is annihilated, which
has no independence, which does not exist outside of the act of desire. In love
the object always subsists, having its unattainable unity. Romantic possession
is a metaphysical problem and as such, without solution. One would need to die
to complete it; to go beyond life, the multiplicity of time.
     Love, just like the understanding, needs mortality for its completion. The
love for which one gives his life... This is, we believe, the foundation of all
mysticism: that love which is born in the flesh (all "first" love is carnal)
must, to attain it, detach itself from life, must also convert, as Plato
said was necessary to do with the understanding.
     And that conversion, in fact, has been validated by poetry, in poetry. In
poetry that knew better than philosophy how to interpret its own condemnation,
for it was reserved to poetry to nourish itself until its own self-
condemnation. With more force than that of thought, it has known, until now,
how to draw its virtue from its weakness; its existence from its contradiction,
from its sin.
     Platonic poetry in which the ancient religion of love is perpetuated, the
ancient religion of beauty transformed, at times, becomes a religion of poetry.
In some of its fortunate manifestations all three are manifested and still
something more: the point of coincidence of two things, seemingly incompatible,
philosophy and Christianity. If in the course of time certain injustices cannot
be forgiven, it is that to the founders, those who with their word decided the
fate of the ages, the power to contemplate their work was not given. Thus
Plato, with this verse, with this lone verse, the most Platonic, the most
poetic too, suggests all human poetry:

     THOU gazest on the stars, my star!
     Ah! would that I might be
     Myself those skies with myriad eyes,
     That I might gaze on thee.

     In such brief words is the entire Plato and poetry itself.

Every man of gigantic stature, all those who have with their word or with their
work decided the fate of human history, has a legend through which their name
descends down to the most obscure ignorance. The legend is the pious form of
knowledge, for through it everyone participates, in some fashion, in the truth
and in history. Many persons have not heard of Plato, but only of a legend once
reproduced on the pages of an Almanac: Plato foresees his teacher Socrates,
before his encounter with him, in a dream; in a dream, in the shape of a white
swan. We repress the incredulous smile of those who have read much and are
proud of it. Because a swan is a fallen angel; an immobilized angel who has not
lost his purity, nor his wings. Incoherent wings, too large for such a slight
body, yet which however cannot lift him aloft and which more than limbs, are a
signal, nostalgia for a lost nature. And someone has dreamt with Plato, sensing
him behind two of the most different creatures: a bull and a white swan. The
bull of blood and of dying, self-transformed into the winged, yet problematic,
purity of philosophy.


IT WOULD SEEM NATURAL that beyond the reconciliation between thought and
poetry, operated beneath the sky of Platonic ideas, thought and poetry would
not become irreconcilable again. So it would have been if the world contained
no thought but the Platonic philosophy. But later, much later than when Plato
would solicit the power for philosophic thought, others launched the demand for
the same, although with very different designs.
     For we have seen that Plato, who deprecated poetry, who erected an empire
to reason higher than anyone's, proceeded with a more generous and universal
design, more truly as a lover of unity, than that which on first glance we find
in his condemnation of poetry. It was therefore that philosophy did not suffice
for him and he had to turn to theology and had to discover, strengthening and
clarifying it, mysticism. However, not all philosophers have advanced concerned
with the same worries. Very much later, in the life of that part of the world
called Europe, and at the historical moment called the Modern Epoch, Philosophy
came to be born a second time, reborn and with it its imperial pretensions were
generated anew, yet in a different way.
     For the primary hope had been established. The Middle Ages and the
Renaissance have recovered that Christian Platonic legacy, and such was their
firmness that even within asceticism a place had been made for enjoyment. As we
have already seen, something had been salvaged of asceticism, not from the
Christian side, but along the Platonic pathway: it was love itself, Platonic
love. And its wealth is so great, so profound its fecundity, that it even
reaches art, plastic art even more removed, more "irrational" than that of the
word. Painting itself fills with the logos, is penetrated with idea and
meaning. Leonardo da Vinci is the Platonic painter in whom the very precious
tradition called the Italian Quattrocento culminates. The virgins of Fra
Angelico and Filippo Lippi, the pagan goddesses of Botticelli and the nudes of
Giorgione are Platonic as well, as will be the virgins of Rafael, the last
Platonic painter.(22)
     Yet man is never satisfied and when he achieves reconciliation between two
principles that appeared irreconcilable, another is raised, or better, from one
of them their continuation emerges, beginning the struggle anew. Unity is
needed as a theme, as an horizon which cannot be enjoyed if at the end, it has
fallen at your feet like a mature fruit.
     The hope that appears in the Greek world, the hope that humanity might
have the goal of being, being at the coming and going of nature, being
also within its own whirlwind, had been indeed reinforced by the double road of
philosophy and of Christian religion. Philosophy and religion had united so
tightly from the first moments, which showed in clear illumination that the
battle which the two had been fighting, in large measure coincided. Coincided
so much that religion promptly renounced some of that eccentricity which it had
as against philosophy, such that the latter would march by its side. And so it
was, and so it remained perfectly completed with a perfection rarely attained
in human affairs.
     Poetry was the expression and, at the same time, the instrument of that
unity in the combat. It also joined its voice in the battle against the shades.
The Divine Comedy realizes this happy moment, perhaps not repeated, of
union without vague and nebulous qualifications, between poetry, religion and
philosophy. And mystification became the regular role of poetry, to materialize
the hope that had been launched between philosophy and religion.
     Another moment of profound unity among the three things is seen, as it has
appeared to us, with the path of mysticism. Yet that--it is necessary to at
least have it mentioned now--refers to a separate problem: a most serious
question, which all poetry is in the last analysis, mysticism or the mystical
being at root poetic; a form of poetic religion or religion of poetry. We are
not going to stop on this at the moment.(23)
     Further, the truce was short, the instant of peace brief. Soon, very
soon, the new hope began to be allowed to be heard; soon paths began to be
opened formulated in as many ways as possible. The new hope was, nothing less,
than this world. This world; to have in this world all which we had reserved
for the other. To enjoy on this side of time, that which only upon condition of
crossing the gates of mortality had been promised us so reasonably. This is, to
skip the long story of asceticism. The new hope is not enclosed within
asceticism; it wishes everything, without having to renounce at this time,
     It wants everything, but wants something in a more determined manner,
which is, individuality. The truth is that original hope had been directed
above all towards being, the existence of things, and then to the being of
humanity itself. Furthermore this being, this integral being of man, only could
be found beyond the grave - through contemplation, says Plato, through
redemption says Christianity. However, now the accent is going to fall on the
realized self in this world, on this side of mortality. And at another moment,
in one's own being, in individual being.
     Philosophy is going to establish itself in the orbit of the creation.
Religion, at last, could not continue through time monopolizing its verities.
Already the battle fought in common alongside philosophy had been won. Now each
one shall formulate their new needs which, curiously, will be transposed. From
Christianity, a mystery, that of creation--will and divine liberty, infinite--
would be obsessively advanced as the central theme. And from the side of
Philosophy, human existence, and next the individual human existence, shall try
to open the way not in any fashion, but simply as the ground of all reality.
     And since Christianity and philosophy were inexorably interlaced, their
objectives are merged. Divine creation, will and liberty are going to be at the
bottom of that which has been called metaphysics. They are at the root
originally, yet will not delay much in coming to the surface clearly
manifested: from Kant, the Kant of Practical Reason, Fichte, Schelling, until
Hegel, when religious urges call for exact consideration with reason. In
Hegel, reason, at the other extreme from Plato, is also theology. It may not
be excessive if this period of philosophic thought were to be called,
Metaphysics of the Creation.
     In the order of knowledge the basis of science is sought, that is in the
knowledge one already possesses, yet as we have seen that which is possessed is
insufficient unless it is possessed down to its ultimate root. We deal,
actually, with an ambitious knowledge. For, in reality, to arrive at the
foundation of knowledge is much like the knowledge of things one would have if
he had created them. It is knowing from the basis itself of being. It is to
know absolutely.
     But such knowledge implies, naturally, that the person himself remains
located in the last analysis as the ground of the being of things. Man is the
subject of a foundational understanding. From here one necessarily had to
arrive at the autonomy of the conscience of Kant, for, if man himself must make
the determination, where is he to find its grounding? The self is no longer
there as it was in Greek times, nor as in the Middle Ages, as something in
which my being, my own being, is contained, there in a different manner from
other things. Already, being is not independent of me, though strictly only in
my self do I find it, while things are grounded in something that I possess.
Only the human person will remain exempt, free, founded upon itself.
     Autonomy of the human person. In truth, self-determination that previously
had only been enjoyed by some: divinity itself. And now, truly, man had become
the image and likeness of God, but an image that in truth was not an image,
that is, a reflection, a copy, a shimmering such as previous conceptions of
God, free, a creator. Creator.
     That was, it seemed, the program of thought; a frankly religious program.
Reason walked along the channel of an unmeasured religious ambition. Man wanted
to be. To be a creator and free. And subsequently: to be unique. Those are the
steps, without doubt decisive for modern history, for that which we properly
call Europe. And its anguish and its tragedy.
     The metaphysics of the creation. Nothing more natural than that within it,
artistic creation should have its place and even its central place, for in the
end the act of creation is an aesthetic act, of giving form. What is in the
center of this metaphysics, as can already be seen from this distance, is
action. The action that stems from the will and ends in the act of giving form.
The notion of art not only will be admitted, but will be central, definitive in
some way for this metaphysics of the creation. The creative act of self-
generation, in which the identity is shown of what seemed separated by an
abyss: spirit and nature. An art far from being the caster of shadows and
phantasms is the revelation of the purest truth, is the manifestation of the
absolute. Instead of attempting to eternalize what is contradictory, it is the
most immediate manifestation of identity. Art, which as this metaphysics is
expressed--insofar as it is possible for a metaphysics to be expressed--in
Schelling, realizes a function that is part of divine creation itself. The
shapes of art are a direct copy, an immediate revelation of the divine ideas,
of the ideas that were active in the creation. As Dr. Heimsoeth says, "the
eternal ideas or the self-knowledge of God--anterior with the same absolute
identity to all antagonism of the subjective and the objective, of the natural
and the spiritual--are the archetypes of all the realities that are displayed
in grades and differences, are the forms of things such as they are in the
Absolute; are the actual and true things in themselves. And that is the great
metaphysical function of Art: to present these Ideas in concreto in
faithful images and in the product at once tangible and infinite. Without
knowing it, artistic genius reveals 'the interior of that beneficent nature
where no conflict exists.' The shapes of art are the real forms of things as
they are in the archetypes," and concludes in the same paragraph: "The ideas
that in philosophy only serve to interpret an abstract system become objective
through the medium of art as the souls of real things"(24).
     A more profound, more total vindication of art by Philosophy could not be
given. Inevitably there has had to have been a Platonic thinker within the
anti-Platonism that characterizes modern Metaphysics. A metaphysics of the
creation, of the will and of liberty, as such, constantly more disengaged from
the Platonic heritage. Contemplator of the unity of being, amorous
contemplation, lover of the world's unity beyond that discoverable with the
eyes of the flesh.
     The thought of Schelling corresponds, as is known, to Romanticism. In
Romanticism, poetry and philosophy embrace, coming to join at certain moments
with an impassioned fury; like lovers separated a long while and who in their
meeting sense that their union will not be durable, and join with the passion
which precedes dying. (We have not thought it necessary to linger over the
special place that poetry, the arts of the word occupy in the metaphysics of
art, which has become that of the most privileged of the privileged.) Poetry
and philosophy each overflow itself, are equally extremist, and do not aspire
to the absolute because they believe themselves already in it. Both regard
themselves as a transcendental revelation. Everything in them is written in
capitals at that drunken moment when all the barriers seem breached.
Consciousness has faded, yet doubtless something divine touches them. They
touch the divine that in both exceeds the strength of a human being, and
burdened by its weight, fall. Their light, the light which they emit in their
human consciousness, is insufficient to reduce to reason, to measure, all the
treasure that overflows them.
     And so, poets and thinkers of Romanticism pass before us weighed down with
a gigantic task, vast in dimensions. What is offered them is inexhaustible.
They must create the universe. Not an instant of rest, nor a pause. Really we
see them today as in a cloud of fire, suspended between heaven and earth. Too
visible for us to mistake them for the creator, more on the ground. They are
not the creator, yet their figures are encountered in that rarefied atmosphere,
where lacking bodies there are no limits and it is possible to imagine oneself
indistinctly in various places, in various places at the same time.
     The most distinguished poet of that time is Victor Hugo of France,
although in Germany, the Germany of philosophy, the Romantic splendor flowers
in the Jena group, and with Novalis and Hölderlin. All of them have half-
formed god figures, of young overthrown gods. Now, Victor Hugo is a prophet who
realizes his own prophecies; we would say he passes the time prophesying about
himself. This time of giants could not last long. After the last Romantic
generation comes the correction. Victor Hugo is followed by Baudelaire. And
Schelling, by Kierkegaard. One could say that those two successors who deserved
to be contemporaries bring something special: measure, conscience. The men in
the clouds of fire descend to the earth and open their eyes and find themselves
being human. Persons who live in the atmosphere of the creation, more as
creatures, not as the maker. And already they are conscious of their sin, an
urgent, exacerbated consciousness, as if to the perennial consciousness of
original sin another more recent occurrence were added. The consciousness of
recent sin, of the Romantic sin, is clear and painful in those two geniuses of
the awakened conscience, in those two spirits who do not tolerate even
themselves nor an instant of obfuscation. The two are, or at least appear,
arbitrary and plucked from men. At least, such is what in their human
personalities was suggested to those who had the luck, annulled by their
blindness, of seeing them and living with them. Arbitrariness; also how much
majesty, and how much inexorability for judging the true situation in which
they found themselves essentially as men. How much honor to distinguish the
dream from the reality, to isolate the moment of the irreparable fall which,
once and for all, placed us "on this side" of creation.
     In those two thinkers--no one will doubt that Baudelaire was--, in those
two poets--it need not be demonstrated that Kierkegaard was--, what is taking
place is, in truth, a purification. They purge the previous intoxication and
they reduce things to their fair proportions. The two are almost scientific in
their desire for precision. And what is primarily required of them, thinkers
and poets alike, is to distinguish poetry and metaphysics. The light has been
renewed, the earth returns. We return, and things remain where they really are,
not where for an instant they were wished to be, believing beyond men in a
rapture. Even supposing that everything which the Romantics say were true, it
would be so for them in any case at the instant of inspiration, not for those
who are only men, created creatures, bequeathed with liberty, yet a liberty
that is sheathed within the most peremptory necessity. Free beings, yet chained
to existence in multiple relationships, and above all by the chain of time.
     Both Baudelaire and Kierkegaard bring consciousness. Poetic consciousness
in Baudelaire, almost exaggerated. Consciousness of poetry as that in which is
given the consciousness of their finitude and even more, consciousness of sin.
Baudelaire, proud and humble, pride in which humility prevails, defines himself
as a sinner. Also, as a sinner who waits, justified by his poetry, for the
Creator to have saved a space beneath his plants. A sinner who expects
salvation as a poet: as a son.
     And for doing the same thing: to inexorably let conscience, thought and
poetry re-align again in these thinker-poets. Now they will not return to meet
before our eyes. The idea of the creation has been unable to forge a durable
union between poetry and thought. The embrace, as we already saw from the
beginning and which was already seen by those who embraced, lasted like a
lightning bolt. It is also true that perhaps this illuminated the authentic in
what existed. It is very possible that one of the essential questions for poets
and also--why not?--for philosophers, is to research the true story of the
union between poetry and philosophy that took place with Romanticism. The true
story and its meaning.

And it is in that epoch when thought and poetry disconnect, ignore one another.
And too it is when for the first time, poetry responds to the imperialist
attitude of philosophic thought, she too identically aspiring to the same power
and to making it absolute.
     And it is that poetry has acquired consciousness in that era of
consciousness. The poet constantly acquires more consciousness of his poetry
and of himself. For the first time the poet theorizes about his art, and even
considers its inspiration. The Romantic poet proper thinks from his inspiration
--Novalis, Victor Hugo. The poet who follows him --Baudelaire--interprets his
inspiration as work. "Inspiration comes of working every day." The poet now
does not feel or does not wish to feel at the mercy of downfall, of the
delirium that possesses them. And it is that much more meaningful, because he
who thought this was the same who said: "It is the hour to be drunken!... On
wine, on poetry, or on virtue, as you wish," the same with "Whether you come
from heaven or hell, what does it matter." And in this instance one would have
to distinguish between poetic inspiration itself and what the man Charles
Baudelaire, alive in the age of positivism, thought. His ideas clearly
corresponded to those of the epoch: primacy of work, total dominance of
consciousness. Yet they signify an additional level in the process of
approaching poetic conscience, in this case unique, the fortunate union of
inspiration with effort; of the bard with the artisan, Baudelaire fully
achieving that which he will attribute to his tutelary genius, Edgar Poe: "to
subject the fugitive spirit of happy moments to his will"(25).
     And on this path of conscious poetry, Paul Valéry represents a
decisive step and perhaps the most total identification until now of thought
and poetry, from the poetic side, in his cult of lucidity. Poetry has ceased
being a dream: "The true condition of a true poet is very distinct from the
dream state. It comprises voluntary research, freedom of thought, submission to
the soul of a people and the exquisite perpetual triumph of sacrifice...
Whoever seeks exactitude and style invokes the opposite of a dream." He who
speaks in a style of exactitude invokes the opposite of a dream, yet the dream
has not ceased being at the root of poetry, what happens being that, for a
first time, the infinite effort necessary to express a dream has been made
conscious, or that for the first time, the poet depicts that which for
centuries he had kept silent: his work. Because "it is not through absence
and dream that we impose such precious and rare adjustments upon speech... For
the one who wants to express her dream it is needful to be infinitely
awake." The root of the dream has not dried up in poetry; that would have
then dried out poetry itself. The result is that the poet, from poetry,
constantly acquires more consciousness; conscience for his dream, precision for
his delirium.

     And the reason why this occurred is precisely that the poet is affirmed in
his poetry. Baudelaire, Valéry are actualizers and definers, both, of
"pure poetry." And pure poetry is affirmation, belief in the poetry, in its
substance, in its solitude within its independence.(**)
     And "pure poetry" went on to establish, from the far side of Romanticism
yet with more profundity, with more justice, shall we say, that for which
poetry is everything. Everything, we realize, in relation to metaphysics;
everything in relation to knowledge, everything in relation to the essential
manifestation of the person. The poet is satisfied with making poems to exist;
it is the purest form of realizing the human essence.
     And precisely since this manner of interlacing poetry and thought it
becomes more difficult, impossible, in reality, to reconcile poetry and
metaphysics. Because the pure poet no longer needs to. And from the other side,
the modern philosopher too expects to realize the essence of man through his
metaphysical thought. One could say poetry and thought have come to be two
forms of action and therefore, more than ever, they are exclusive, they ignore.
     It is true such that the poet already has his ethics in the experience of
his poetry. His ethics which are this being completely awake; this persistent
vigil, this perennial sacrifice to achieve clarity at the edge of sleep itself.
Paul Valéry says it as well: "That is the point, that literature joins
the field of ethics: it is in the order of things that the conflict of nature
and effort is introduced; that it obtains its heroes and its martyrs through
their resistance to the easy"(27).
     The poet remains vigilant between his original dream--the nebulous root--
and the clarity that it requires. Clarity required by the dream itself, which
aspires to become real by virtue of the poetic word. It is the martyr who
delivers his life for the poetry. Will he perhaps need anything else to justify
and even sanctify his days?
     The situation, then, has changed almost completely since the time of
Greece. The poet is no longer beyond reason, nor beyond ethics; he has his
theory, has also his own ethics, discovered by himself, not by the philosopher.
The poet is, is as much as one can be who practices metaphysics. The two
do something essential and which seems to suffice in itself.
     Yet if those who make poetry and metaphysics have identical pretensions,
it is because departing from a common point, they choose different paths. And
the road is nothing arbitrary, depending on the point of departure and on what
is hoped to be gained and saved. Two roads, that are two truths and also two
distinct and divergent ways of living. If we admit the identity of humankind,
the person who does metaphysics and the person who makes poetry cannot grow out
of radically different situations; they must have at least one initial point in
common. And beyond that start in a common situation the moment will present
itself in which something, a disjunction implants the necessity of choosing.
And by virtue of that selection, the pathways later diverge.
     For at the root of this entire modern epoch there seems to live a single
word, a single desire: the will to be. Man wants to be, above all.
Blind, before focusing on opening the eyes, he blindly wants to be. And when he
looks it is toward being. That is why he wants to see nothing but the absolute.
For his yearning absolutely nothing can appear but be absolute also. Yet, in
reality, he has not gone seeking it, because the absolute already thrives
within him. He does not feel, in fact, incomplete, the man of this moment; he
does not feel needy nor impoverished to leave in search of anything. And
nevertheless, beneath his "absolute" there are--seas of nothing, blind,
indifferent, distress. And atop the anxiety, the high walls of the system.
     Anxiety, that seems to be the original root of metaphysics. And by being
the root one perceives more clearly in its final formulation than in the first;
more from there where one has arrived, than from where he began. And so this
character seems to signal us that it is somehow involved with the will and with
action. Action is more clear when it is completed than in the initial impulse.
Likewise, the will; it always displays its plenitude when it has achieved its
objective, and not while still wrapped in sentimental clouds and the frontiers
of knowledge advance cautiously.
     Modern metaphysics, that is European metaphysics, with such a different
face from Greek philosophy, assumes this cautious manner, a little skeptical of
proceeding. If we compare it with the Greek we see most clearly its lack of
transparency, its so distinctive form of appearing and revealing itself. One
might say that the Greek showed the plenitude of its characters from the first
moment, revealed them to itself with the ingenuity of being born; it advanced
confidently, unconscious of the difficulty, nor of sin. It advanced with the
force of hope united to reason. It was a dawning.
     European metaphysics is a daughter of insecurity, of suspicion instead of
facing towards things, in place of asking about the being of beings, coming
back to itself in a distancing movement that is doubt. And doubt comes already
from its "father." Descartes, the turning of man toward himself, converting
himself into the subject. And it is the alienation of things from that being
which before was supposed indubitable. Discovery of the subject, intimacy of
the person with himself, self-possession and distrust of his surroundings. The
virginity of the world had faded away and would not return or resume.
     And with the virginity of the world, of things, upon reason becoming
insecure and alienated, it affirmed itself with a rigidity, with a new
"absolutism," in fact. Reason affirmed itself by closing and later, naturally
now it could not find anything else but itself.
     Therefore the anguish. The anxiety that asserts as ultimate ground all
this metaphysics; as the final revelation of its root, the definer of human
activity, from where sprang such haughty and closed systems of thought. Perhaps
it is something arbitrary, but there seems to exist a profound correlation
between distress and system, as if a system were the form of distress wishing
to emerge from itself, the form that when wishing to affirm and establish
itself above all, adopt anxious thought. Last and decisive effort of a being
capsized in the nothingness that only counts for him. And because he has had
nothing to hold onto, since he counted only on himself he dedicated himself to
construct, to build something closed, absolute, resistant. The system is all
that offers security to the distressed, a castle of reasons, a closed mural of
thoughts invulnerable against the emptiness.
     And the anxiety is only resolved through activity. It does not arrive at
contemplation, yet instead to a thought that is action, to a thought that is
put into play because it is the only one the distressed self can put into play,
for it is the only one he has to support himself. From Cartesian doubt, anxiety
was the unpalatable ending.
     A conscious creature and nothing more. To the extent that this
consciousness is affirmed, and comes to support the ground of
everything, this "nothing more" is affirmed too. Solitude keeps deepening,
begins to split and at last the anguish appears. As total isolation, the
isolation as against everything and following action.
     But, the anguish is not solely a consequence of the solitude, of "being
conscious and nothing more," but instead anxiety is the principle of the will.
Or perhaps there is distress because there already is a principle of willing.
What is certain is that anguish and will are involved. And the will requires
solitude, is anti-contemplative. It is singular, avoiding community.
     And thus, the system is the form of the anguish and the form of power. The
form of communication, of obstinate solitude.

Poetry, in truth, lives removed from this. Power and will do not interest it,
nor enter in its horizons. Conscience in it does not mean will to power. And
this is the main difference. When poetry speaks of ethics it shall speak of
martyrdom, "of sacrifice." Poetry suffers the martyrdom of knowledge, dies of
lucidity, of awareness. It suffers, because poetry keeps being mediation and in
it consciousness is not a sign of power, but instead an unavoidable necessity
for a word to be heard. Clarity is needed so that what is only laid out in the
fog becomes firm and precise; it acquires "number, weight and measure."
     For poetry will not capture that which already has "number, weight and
measure." It will not, like philosophy, discover the laws of the "calculus used
by God to make the world," the laws of the creation, but it will find the
number, weight and measure that correspond to that which is still unformed.(28)
The suffering and sacrifice are for that. In a word, it is creation. And
therefore is inspiration, call, divine impetus. And charitable justice; an
opportunity extended toward what did not achieve being, so that at last it
could be. Continuity of the creation.
     It could not spill from the form of a system such as metaphysics, born of
distress, because nothing can remain closed. And the day in which it becomes
defined will be the last day of creation. Of the creation which, through
poetry, continues its course.
     In poetry there is also anguish, yet it is the anguish that accompanies
creation. The anguish that stems from being situated in front of something
whose form is not clear to us, because it is we ourselves who must provide it.
In the anguish of a poet there is no danger, nor any threat present; yet only
fear, the "holy fear" of being committed to something that lifts us above
ourselves, which flings us and obliges us to be more than human. The
phenomenologist Kolnai says in his study, On Disgust: "The concept of
dread is inseparable from the concept of threat, danger, need to save or help
oneself"(29). And in truth the poet, when he suffers the anguish of creation,
is not consoled that it is he, through which it may be saved. It is the word
that is saved through the poet and if later the poet is saved, it is because it
has been said that "he who loses his life will find it." And that, "all the
rest shall be given in time."
     Kolnai also says in the cited work: "The intentional voice of anguish is
double. The anguish refers, simultaneously, to two completely independent
objects: the object that produces the anguish and the person or subject who
suffers it. I am anguished at the sight of a threat of danger, the idea of it
but, evidently, only paying attention to myself, to my person.
     What is patent in anguish, as such, is the person, is he in whom the
anguish makes its way. The person is nothing else but that which Kierkegaard
has called "spirit." We could affirm that this making way in a person is a
departure from nature and from everything immediate, in its return upon
oneself, and is what actually happens, is the decisive occurrence of modern
     Thereby, that anguish seems to dwell at the base of all philosophy, and
more than dwelling, actualizes itself, is placed into play in modern
philosophic thought, as is proved in Kierkegaard and in Heidegger, who seems to
be the heir to all German philosophy since Kant. However what is most
embarrassing in the "program" of Heidegger's existential philosophy in addition
to its "success" is that it seems to come from a tradition, not of an upstart
character. It is interpolated in the German metaphysical tradition, in such a
way that it seems to be the revelation of its ultimate secret. At least, it is
presented historically with that character.
     The person, the spirit. Beyond the two words there soon appeared another
third, the will, that is, power. And so it doubtless appears in this same
     The image of anguish, with its immediate consequence in power is
insuperably expressed by Kierkegaard in his classic book: The Concept of
Dread.(30) He says this in the chapter titled "The concept of dread":
"Innocence is ignorance. In innocence the man is not determined as spirit, but
psychically, in immediate unity with his nature. The spirit in the man is
dreaming. In this state there is peace and repose; but at the same time there
is something else that, nevertheless, is neither war nor agitation - for there
is nothing to battle. What is it? Nothing. But, what effect does it have? None.
It engenders dread. This is the profound mystery of innocence: that at the
same time it is dread. Dreams project their own reality in advance for the
spirit; yet in reality it is nothing; and innocence continually views this
nothing in front of it. Dread is a determination of the spirit which sleeps
and belongs, to that extent, to psychology. In a state of vigilance the
distinction between my self and my non-self is posited; in the dream it is
suspended, in the nightmare it is nothing which accuses. The reality of the
spirit always represents a form that offers its possibility; yet it disappears
as soon as one reaches for it; it is a nothing that only can cause dread."
     Everything revolves in turn on the entrance of anguish to the scene. The
person is a synthesis of the psychical and the corporeal, but an inconceivable
synthesis when the two terms are not united in a third. This third is the
spirit... "For the spirit discovers, yet however as immediate spirit, that it
is dreaming. Inasmuch as it lies in wait, it is in a certain sense a hostile
power, for it constantly perturbs the relation between the soul and the
body..." In another way it is a friendly power that wants to justly constitute
the relation. Very well; what is the relation of man to this ambiguous power?
What relation does the spirit have with itself and with its condition? The
spirit has anguish within itself. The spirit cannot be free of itself; nor can
it comprehend itself, while it holds itself outside of itself; nor can it
consign the man to the vegetative, given that he is determined as spirit; from
anguish one cannot flee because he loves it; to love it, which he cannot do,
for he flees it... "There is no knowledge of the good nor of the bad, but
instead of the whole reality of knowledge projected through anguish as the
great nothingness of ignorance."
     Ignorance of the good and of the bad, ignorance of existence, which
appears in the plenitude of its possibility, like a shadow filling the desert
whiteness of innocence with infinite foreboding. Afterwards (Kierkegaard
follows the text of the fall of Adam and Eve according to Genesis) a
single word unleashes the anxiety: "prohibition--he says following the above
transcription--disturbs him, for its possibility awakens his liberty: that
which through innocence had seemed like the nothingness of dread, has now
entered him and a new nothingness now emerges - the anguished possibility of
power. Adam has no idea of what are his capabilities... He requires the
possibility of power, like a higher form of ignorance and like a higher form of
dread, because this power in a sense is and is not; because in a higher sense
he loves it and flees from it." And in some later lines: "The infinite
possibility of power that awakened prohibition, approaches closer because this
possibility has as consequence another possibility."
     Dream. Anguish before the foreseen totality, before infinite liberty. And
the fall within power... I know that Kierkegaard does not use the word
power in the sense of power to dominate, but in the sense of the
possibility of a being who awakens at the moment he falls, that is, that one
falls into their own existence from the innocent dream they are born in, yet
which is still not it; while still he has not emerged from the bosom of God or
of nothingness. Anguish; presentiment within nothingness of the fall from one's
existence, of awakening in the sin of being oneself. Life as a dream is
most clearly, most flexibly stated with his central image of life asleep (all
is a dream, except for "good works not lost even in sleep"). But in the poet
life is the dream and in the philosopher, the dream is innocence and the fall
is the awakening to liberty. In both liberty is the only reality.
     Liberty also is real, absolute in Kierkegaard, given that he reduces the
Biblical passage to an interior event in man, and the words of God are those of
Adam speaking to himself.

It may seem more bold to take the start of poetry back to an event so decisive,
so in the depths of human nature, that no science can reach it, nor measure it.
However, there is nothing arbitrary about poetry and he who is a poet is one
with as much fortitude and one who chooses philosophy or science; poetry
belongs to the lineage of human occupations that are consummated by nothing but
the requirements of destiny, by inevitable fortitude. The poet is.
     The dream of innocence. And anguish as the possibility of liberty. Up to
here poetry and any other form of human existence go together. And, the
disjunction will come in the following moment, at the moment in which power
appears. There are those who discover the infinitude of this power, of
possibility and remain affixed to it. Remain adhered, transfixed by that power,
by that infinite possibility, perhaps of not noticing anything else; nothing
actually real which with its presence enchants, enchains him. And there are
those who enchain by the enchantment of a presence, by love; there are those
who are enchained renouncing or not even seeing the infinity of power. The poet
is the latter. The poet is enchained by the song, and does not attain the
actuality of power.
     In anguish, we would say, the path to personhood is opened. The "spirit,"
says Kierkegaard; "existence," Heidegger. Furthermore, in what way? If the poet
does not follow the path of philosophy, does that mean the person, the spirit
has abstained? Does that mean that poetry will come as an apogee of the
person? Further, can a man renounce being a person?
     Is it not that one who travels the road of poetry does not accept being a
person, except in another way than the way of philosophy, through the will? Is
it not that the poet shall have chosen the road of knowledge? If by knowledge
we understand what was understood in Greece and that which a non-idealist
person understands, knowing something that is or, discovering something, a
being that grounds us, which is more than ourselves; a being that defeats us
while loving us, fastening us at the same time, through love. The poet does not
want to realize his existence for himself, does not want being in order to
conquer nothingness, but instead receiving it "in increments." The poet does
not want being if it is not something beyond himself. Something beyond himself,
which dominates him, without conflict; which defeats him without humiliation,
which embraces him without annihilating him. He cannot accept a solitary
existence, at the edge of emptiness; an existence won through a single will.
     Neither Kierkegaard nor anyone of those who have spoken of anguish outline
love's moment. Only the fear appears. And there is no love because there is no
presence, no face, either. The infinitude of power and of liberty being without
any limit, because the limit will have to be posited by something, by some
other thing. In anguish, the other does not exist.
     And in the anguish of the poet there exists, yes, something that one feels
forced to create, because he has come to love its presence without seeing it,
and to see it and enjoy it he must seek it. The poet is in love with the
presence of something that he does not have and because he lacks it, must bring
it. Kierkegaard cites the idea of Schelling that dread principally designates
the sufferings of God before the principle of creation. And he continues not
without irony: "In Berlin the same has been expressed in a more precise mode,
locating God in Goethe and J. von Müller, who only felt good while
producing, and always remembering that a happiness which cannot be communicated
is no happiness"(31). And he is on strong grounds to judge, some lines later,
these ideas as anthropomorphic. They are so; this creative anguish pertains
only to man. But, what is strange is that Kierkegaard would not feel called to
reflect upon the significance of this creative anguish of the poets.
     And without anguish, the poet would not travel the road that leads from
the dream--that dream which is beneath all poetry--and which is the dream
existing beneath all life. The poet will not emerge from that dream of
innocence except through anguish. Anguish full of love and not of will to
power, which takes him to the creation of his object.
     From there, that modern metaphysics always appears to us as if something
has been extracted from it. And the man whom that metaphysics informs, a little
empty, somewhat dehumanized or, perhaps, desublimated for wanting to be
sublime. Due to the drunkenness of liberty, doing away with limits; and the
limits bring to us the presence of things, of beings, of the world and its
creatures and even of the maker of all of them. Absolute liberty, with the
illusion of determining oneself entirely, of creating one's self by oneself,
ends in erasing it all. "Dread is the vertigo of Liberty"(32).
     And poetry will be the vertigo of love. Vertigo that goes in search of
that which without yet being, elicits one's love, in search of the "number,
weight and measure" of what appears indeterminate, undefined. Poetry desires
and needs the clarity and the precision. A poetry that contents itself with the
vagueness of a trance would be (Valéry is entirely correct) a
contradiction. To identify the virginal dream of existence, the dream of
innocence in which the spirit still knows nothing of itself, nor of its power,
poetry needs all the lucidity of which a human being is capable; it needs all
the light of the world.
     Upon wishing not to exist without the other, without a surpassing other,
the poet returns to where he began. The poem wishes to reconquer the primal
dream, when man had not awakened in the fall; the dream of the innocence before
puberty. Poetry is reintegration, reconciliation, the embrace that cements the
unity of the human being with the dream of his origins, erasing the distances.
Metaphysics, on the other hand, is a constant alienation from the primal sleep.
The philosopher believes that only by distancing oneself, only deepening in the
abyss of liberty, that only by being himself until the end shall he be saved,
and will be. The poet creates and hopes to reintegrate himself, to restore the
sacred original unity, erasing liberty, and his fault, not to use it. They are
two divergent movements that do not even have an exactly common origin, given
that the poet did not arrive at the instant of liberty, of power. It retreats
to the crossbeam itself.
     And the road does not cease to be parallel to that we saw before, in
Greece. There poetry retreats before "violence" and remains committed in the
presence of things in primary admiration. Reduced forever to primitive
astonishment before the universe, before its beauty and its fugitive light.
Now, in that second path for man, the poet remains behind as well; he does not
arrive at the abyss of liberty that leads to "being himself." In the very heart
of anguish he retreats in search of the primal dream, to draw it. To draw it
and penetrate it in search of the beloved face. The poet wants to encounter the
face again which had been behind the dream, the beauty half hidden in
innocence. And to use knowledge, consciousness to define it.
     Poetry wants liberty so as to return backwards, to reintegrate itself to
the bosom of its origin; it wants conscience and knowledge to delineate what is
encountered. It is therefore melancholy. Melancholy that soon erases the
anguish. The poet properly lives not in anguish, but in melancholy.
     Because, having retreated before the power of liberty, the anguish
disappears. It disappears when the principle of power and of liberty--or in
other words, the will--are annulled.
     And the poet remains tied through melancholy to his first dream,
melancholy which bring him back in his search, to define it, to realize it.
Poetry seeks to actualize innocence, to transform it into life and
consciousness: in a word, into eternity.
     It would be impossible not to see achieved in poetry an integrity greater
than in metaphysics; impossible for us not to see in it the restoration of a
lost unity. Impossible too, that we do not feel it as the form of community,
given that if poetry is made with words, it is because the word is all that is
intelligible. For the word, in the end, will be that shared dream.
     And poetry pursues that: to share the dream, make the primal innocence
communicable; to share solitude, deconstructing life, covering time in an
inverse sense, undoing the steps; unliving it. The philosopher lives facing
forward, removing itself from the origin, seeking "one's self" in solitude,
isolating and distancing oneself from men. The poet unlives, alienating himself
from his possible "self," out of love for the origin.
     (It is so much so, that the philosopher always somehow counterpoises the
solitude fertile for him, we should say his ethics, to community. Heidegger
speaks of being as a vulgar existence from which the philosopher
detaches, saving himself through himself. Ortega y Gasset speaks of the masses,
of the dehumanization which one must leave to be authentic, that is to say:
oneself. Also, it is fair to say that Ortega has expressed life as a dialectic
of solitude and company and has said that "living is sharing." The reason for
this in the philosophy of Ortega would take us far from the theme, yet to my
mode of thinking it is nothing but the characteristic condition of Spanish
thought, manifested in Ortega).(33)
     Poetry also decomposes history; it unlives it following it backwards,
towards the primitive dream from which man has been ripped. Towards virginal
life, unedited, which persists in every person beneath the events of time. The
poetry that was born in Greece attached to time, without wishing to renounce
it, crosses it now, penetrates it by not wanting to detach from the primal
dream, from the prehistoric innocence. Philosophy and history march forward
together moved by the will, while poetry submerges itself beneath time,
detaching itself from events, in search of the primary and the original; of the
undifferentiated, where no culpable distinction exists.
     Philosophy grounds itself in what comprises all distinction and history
is, in turn, the realizing movement, actualizer of every possible distinction.
Philosophy is, in a certain sense, the true history; it shows in its course the
truly decisive in what has occurred to the person. However, poetry manifests
what the person is, without anything having occurred, nothing outside of what
happened to him in the unknown first act of the drama in which man began,
falling from that unconquered place which is anterior to the beginning of all
life, and which has been named in different ways. Different ways that have in
common an allusion to something, to a place, to a time outside of time, in
which man was something other than man. A place and a time that the person
cannot define in memory, because there was no memory then, yet which he cannot
forget, because there was no forgetfulness either. Something that has remained
as pure presence within time and which when actualized is ecstasy, enchantment.
     The poet has been unable to resign himself to lose this distant country
and departs in search of it. But the poet is he who did not want only to save
himself; he is one for whom being oneself has no meaning: "A happiness that
cannot be communicated is no happiness." It is not himself whom the poet seeks,
but instead all and every one. And his being is so much only a vehicle, so much
only a medium so that such communication can occur. It is mediation, the love
that ties and unties, which creates. The mediation of love that destroys, that
consumes and consumes itself, the love which deconstructs.
     Will it not be possible that some lucky day poetry recovers everything
that philosophy knows, everything it has learned in its alienation and in its
doubt, to express its dream lucidly and for all?


PHILOSOPHY IS self-encounter, arrival at last at self-possession. To come to
attain it throughout time, following the thought more than time itself;
advancing in a race that is a speed competition. The philosopher is one who,
not having achieved Joshua's halting of the sun, knowing now that the sun will
not halt, wishes to advance to its position and thus, if not stopping it
achieves, at least, that which is decisive, to move forward. To be there, when
it arrives.
     No more serious, more profound and therefore perhaps more reprehensible
ambition than philosophy. The philosopher wants to step out of the current of
time, of the procession of beings, unstick himself from the long chain of
creation we march in united in temporal condemnation with the others, with the
rest of humanity and with the other creatures too: lights and shadows which
accompany us. However, the philosopher does not accept this enchainment, that
company. He once dreamt, in the dawning of his life, when he still was not a
philosopher, that an invisible voice would call to remove him from the
procession and distinguish him from the rest of the pilgrims. A voice that
would call him by name, an extraordinary, singular name, that would be invented
only for him. A name that would fill his companions in chains with surprise and
be conferred upon him, a unique being, invulnerable and exclusive; above all,
exclusive. And such prodigy never was fulfilled. Then the hopeful "theorist"
loses confidence and despairs. Moreover, since desperation goes against
efficacy, against the will to exist that consumes him, he looks around and
thinks that it was an error of his ingenuity to wait to hear this voice which
never has spoken and thinks, thinks that this voice does not exist. He continues
to think (that he will not renounce) that this event he awaits in vain will be
realized through a miracle, and is committed to his decision to attain it. And
then, he looks back, uneasy and begins to think. In effect, to think. And from
thinking his being emerges; his singular and unique name, his inscrutable
being. He emerges, conquered by his own effort, that which he calls being,
his being. And the philosopher--he is already that--finds that it is better it
happened like that than had the voice spoken to remove him from the procession
of anonymous creatures, giving him the name and causing him to exit from the
common temporal current, which embraces everyone equally, for had this miracle
occurred in reality as he had been awaiting, then being, his being, would not
be so much his. It would be, yes, singular, exclusive; yet it would be received.
That is to say, gratuitous, foreign in a certain sense and in a certain sense,
imposed. And now, with this being that he inaugurates, which he alone possesses,
because he alone has discovered it, he feels truly in possession of himself,
feels himself truly a unique, singular creature. He feels that he has a name
and has succeeded at last to detach from the anonymous procession, halting the
sun; or has saved himself from the common temporal measure. He has been saved
from time; has broken the chain that made him march together with the other
creatures: persons, lights and shadows.
     And it is that what the philosopher wanted was to be directly created by
God, to be invented exclusively by him; in reality, more than being a man: to
be a unique creature. In the manner of the angels, according to Saint Thomas,
to constitute a unique species: to be created directly by God and that he then
broke the mold. It is an ontological exclusivism, a little irritating, but in
truth most worthy of respect.
     But when this miracle does not occur, or if the person who will become a
philosopher (while he awaits that which will produce the miracle, he still is
not a philosopher) lacks the security of it occurring, then what interests our
man is, above all, security, thinking that if at last such a thing were true it
would be due to that omnipotent "someone," his so desired self. And then he
secretly lights a flame in his consciousness; secretly. It is better that God
should be himself: a most original creature, whose mold has been set aside
after his creation, and God along with it; the product of the mold and maker of
the mold. Thus he also acquires the security that no one else will use it, for
he who made the mold has decided that it will be so.
     In reality, the philosopher does not begin to be one more than when he
decides to implement the miracle by himself. For that miracle, perhaps, may be
the hope of all those who proceed walking in the procession chained within
time. But if he who shall be a philosopher decides not to wait any more for the
creative voice, which with its call gives him name and being, the voice of the
Father, it is not because he has special motives to be more tired of waiting
than the others. It is not because he is especially "condemned by God"
("condemned to be a Philosopher," as one of them said) but because in his
consciousness there germinated the bold idea, portentously bold, of being
himself his own creator. And he has had the tenacity of sustaining it, of
following it in this way, of returning through all the anguish, all the
uncertainties, all the servitude to his own inexorable, pitiless destiny.
     Because everyone, everyone, waits to be called sometime by their name, by
their own name which no one knows; not themselves, nor their earthly mother.
All wait to sometime be called by that father, whose hand and whose face we
have felt over our head in the form of prohibition in the early days, a shadow
over our pure forehead in the disturbing garden of childhood. And from whose
voice we thought we heard the distant echo, at our back, when in adolescence we
wanted to leave running past the limits of the closed garden. And whose glance,
among the clouds, has come diffused on our cheeks causing to rise in them the
fire of fear and of desire. We have felt it as an infinite aureole upon the
forehead and beyond the figure of our earthly father. And its voice has
reinforced one's own causing it to resonate towards the infinite. We all have
felt its unlimited presence upon our small, insignificant one. And we have felt
its presence giving meaning, power, to nature, "above the visible heavens"; to
the clouds as its vehicle, to the wind as "its winged steed"(34).
     And we have all waited, sometime, to be called by that voice that appeared
to us in an echo. We wait to hear it in words that vanquish fear and convert it
to infinite jubilation, into achieved happiness. We all wait to see that which
has only been demonstrated in shadow and hallucination, from the all and
forever. And because of this hope there are those who do not dare to seriously
undertake, that is unto its final consequences, the task of giving themselves
that name. Of being oneself their own creator.
     The philosopher begins to be one when he decides to gain, to seek his name
through his own efforts. And he who shall not be a philosopher continues humbly
and hopefully, waiting for the plenitude of what he awaits to be realized.
     And there still are intermediary beings, creatures who have gone to the
crux of philosophy with a secret hope, to see if at last, that happens. Like
those who seek a break with the desired being always hoping that in the last
resort, they will not be allowed to leave and making leaving impossible,
proving two things that are necessary to prove: the plenitude of her love, and
to recapture a tranquil mind, the conviction that there has been no alternative
but to if those who truly wish to disengage from the beloved's
embrace were capable of undergoing any test.
     Thus, in all times there have been odd creatures who have wanted "to tempt
God," moving towards Philosophy, to pause at its very crux, without crossing
it, because they have known for sure that, once crossed no solution would then
be possible. Both hopeful and desperate, who even without hearing the voice, at
the moment of reaching the hand towards the fruit of the tree that would "make
us be like God," without hearing the angelic warning, let their hand fall. For
it is not the fruit that they want, but only the received fruit, the fruit
given by the hand of the Father. As when there are children who do not want the
toy purchased with their allowances, nor the found toy, but instead the toy
which the hands of the father and of the mother bring home one day, in the
corner of the garden, unexpected. Nor even the lost toy, but only that granted
as a surprise, that which manifests with fragility and, sometimes, from their
poverty, the loving will, the memory of the parents when they came down the
street absorbed in serious conversations; when, it may be, someone very
important directed a greeting to them; as when the mother, ignoring the polite
greeting of the gentleman in the top hat has thought of her child and has
dropped everything, everything, intent of taking him the toy, has shown the
permanence of her remembrance which at every instant, even in the most
brilliant, in the world's festival, he alone--her son--continues filling her
     The poet is like this. The poet before everything and nothing, is a son.
Son of a father who does not always appear. We have defined him as a lover,
previously, but the truth is that more than a lover he is a son, or more truly
yet: he is the loving son, the lover who unites in his limitless love the
filial love with the infatuation. Filial, because it is directed towards its
origins, because he hopes for everything from them and is not disposed to
disengage from what engenders it for anything. And in love, because he is
absorbed in that with the same requirements, the same madness and ravings of
love as are lovers. Baudelaire as martyr of poetry; how clearly he displays
     Love of the origins and carelessness of them. How could he care for them,
if he expects everything! And that which he expects is precisely not having,
but receiving. It is the inverse of the philosopher, not to feel fulfilled with
what he gets from the hands of the father or of the mother if he does not
receive it, because its existence is not important; the giving is what fulfills
him. And without the giving, the object serves him nothing. Whereas for the
philosopher, if at last he may have stopped hearing the voice, it would have
been on account, finally, that that was not what he desired, what he needed.
     And so, the philosopher advances detaching himself in search of his being.
The poet continues quietly waiting for the bestowal. And the more time passes
the less can he decide to leave. And the longer the imagined gift is delayed,
he turns to what is behind. He advances, then, but towards behind; he unmakes,
he unlives, he reintegrates when he can with the fog from which he might
emerge... "And the poor human in dreams/ always seeking God within the
     And it may even occur that the mystery of the voice resounds, that it
draws the face of the awaited and feared presence, and the disturbance is such:
fear upon hearing at last that which is awaited, love that does not wish to
withdraw, terror of being, in the end, one's self and in solitude, secret urge
to follow in dependence and in desire, which avoids the instant that sets the
march into play, the rapid race, flight before revelation. Pursued
body.(36) The poet pursued by grace, fearful and shy: Tragedy, agony at
what he has and fright at having so much, of ceasing having in the end, since
life, marching through time in the chain of beings, in the community of
creatures, would become broken if the voice were heard. Because perhaps this
creature, the poet's poet, could not accept his existence, not only if it were
not granted him but still more: if it is not given at the same time to those
with whom he goes.
     Therefore the poet is flight and search, requirement and fright; a going
and returning, a call to flee again; an anguish without limits and an extended
love. Nor can he concentrate upon the origins, because he already loves the
world and its creatures and will not rest until everything with him shall have
been reintegrated with its origins. Love of the son, of the lover. And love
also of a brother. He not only wants to return to the dreamt origins, but
wants, needs, to return with everyone and only will be able to return if he
returns accompanied by the pilgrims whose faces he has seen close up, whose
nourishment he has felt alongside his own, tired from the march, and whose lips
dry from thirst he has tried, without succeeding, to moisten. For he does not
want his singularity, but community. Total reintegration; to be certain: the
pure victory of love.
     The victory of love without admixture of anything, victory whose
brilliance does not come coated with opacity of one's action, of one's own
will. And all that remains for the poet to support is, after having won it, to
arrive at deserving it; to make himself a posteriori worthy of what he
received through grace, it remaining clearly established that he received it
without exercising any violence whatsoever, not even that of deserving.
     There exist within a single religion, various religions. For the time
being and in relation to this question, we can indicate the immense difference
that lies between one who wants to approach divine grace, forcing it with acts
of sacrifice, with good actions deliberately performed, and that other, more
like one in love, the lover who awaits all without forcing it, without putting
into play any of the measures available to him to obligate the omnipotent will.
And for every lover there is always that of the beloved.
     Passivity in love. Which does not wish to exist without help, does not
wish, when grace arrives, to already have deserved it. Yet indeed to know how
to grasp it.
     And for that, the poet remains empty, in readiness, always. His soul comes
of resemble a wide open space, deserted. For there are presences that cannot
descend into that which is populated by others... Deserted, empty; because only
when that presence arrives, all the others will arrive as well; only with its
plenitude and light will things take on shape and meaning.
     For nothing is arrived at by oneself. Not only is it not possible to
possess one's own self, but that neither can anything be possessed, however
small, minuscule its existence may be. In every vulgar creature there is the
mystery of its being and that of the entire creation and, how should one come
to possess it? In truth, it is that one who arrives at wholly penetrating the
existence of the most negligible creature in the world shall have penetrated
the whole world. Furthermore that is impossible, as impossible as one
possessing their own self.
     The poet has always known that which the philosopher has ignored, that is,
that it is not possible to possess oneself, within oneself. It would be
necessary to be more than oneself; to possess oneself from something beyond,
from something that might truly fulfill us. And this something already is not
myself. The plain actuality of what we are only is possible in view of
something else, another presence, another being having the virtue of putting us
in play. Why must we depart from our own selves; how, for whom that we do not
love? St. John of the Cross says: "My soul and all my wealth is occupied in
your service." So that we may be ourself and in plenitude, it is necessary for
something to have placed our treasure into actuality, that that which is called
the "depths of the soul" revolves to the surface; that nothing remains in
possibility, in passivity, that we be, ultimately, pure activity. And the human
being cannot possess himself in himself; at most he may possess the faculties,
that which he has in himself of the instrumental: the body, the soul, thought.
Further, complete use, absolute possession of one's faculties, opens to
discovery its insufficiency. And instrumental perfection is exhausted before
the urge that employs it.
     Therefore the soul in love cannot remain in itself, is not itself when it
only has that, where all the more it achieves possession of its faculties. And,
beneath the faculties something remains, that which the philosophers have called
being, as hidden as before. We are not even all that we have. And if it were
possible to reunite it at a specific moment; reunite, gather everything we have
in all its powers, in action, body, soul, thought, we would see that we had a
very small thing, that unity continued to be missing.
     And this which the philosopher should have known, the poet knew. It is not
that unity did not matter to him, no; the accusation was unjust. Instead that
he always knew it could not be obtained without going out of himself, giving
himself, forgetting himself. "I no longer care for livestock/ nor have now
another occupation/ for my current exercise is but preparation."
     Only in love, in absolute delivery without reserve whatsoever, without
withholding anything for oneself. Poetry is an inward and outward opening of a
being at the same time. It is hearing in the silence and seeing in the
darkness. "The quiet music, the resounding solitude." It is an emerging from
oneself, a self-possession of what had been forgotten, a forgetting by having
attained total renunciation. A possessing of oneself for now having nothing to
give; a loving leaving of oneself; a delivery to one knows, or sees, not what.
A discovery of wholeness through having been totally given.
     It is not laziness, is not apathy, is not immoral carelessness which is
poetry. It is not avoidance of the effort and the fatigue, because no one can
avoid that. And the poet least of all. It is that poetry in being the soul's
exit from its close aperture of being--at once going inward and outward-
-cannot calculate, cannot as much as even stop to consider the steps it takes.
That which is verified in poetry is something absolute. How to glory in its
method in the manner of the philosopher? It cannot be transcended because
poetry consumes everything, transforming the being where it descends. It
consumes without pain because it was already expected; without that pain given
by rejecting something that we feel diminishes us. Poetry conquers without
humiliating, and although there is struggle--anguish and terror in the moments
that precede its apparition--the defeated cannot feel rancor because it was
what he deeply desired. And in the end, everything is calmed in plenitude. "In
the silent night/ with a call that consumes without regret."

Also, is it possible that it has come to a halt in this, this living according
to the flesh which was poetry? The living according to the flesh that carried
within itself the possibility of love, its concealed reality. In the madness of
the flesh, in its irrational desire, there was love. And love can convert the
irrationality of the flesh because it refers to an object. There is no love
without reference to an object. All living in love includes it, and the poet
lives in love with the world, and his attachment to each thing and its fugitive
instant, to its multiple shadows, means nothing but the plenitude of his love
for integrity. The poet cannot renounce anything because the true object of his
love is the world: the dream and its root, and the companions in the march of
     Poetry separates itself from philosophy because the poet does not want to
conquer anything for itself. He only offers it as a glorious manifestation of
who so generously gives it to him. According to one philosopher, Schelling,
"God is the Master of being." And with this the poet is indeed in accord,
although he does not say it, nor think he believes it. All poetry is nothing
but servitude, servitude to a master who is beyond being. It is not necessary,
then, to capture the being of things, which does nothing but situate ourselves
in the middle of the road, and in reality, detour, because: "Being is entity,
particularity; it is separation, but love is the nothingness of particularity
which does not seek its own, and therefore cannot by itself, as not being,
exist," says Schelling as well. And this will be the last depth of the wisdom
that all poetry entails and which therefore has always fled to being, to the
being of things in the philosophical sense; their particularity, their partisan
and unjust objectivity. And the being "in itself" of man, which will not be
located except in forgetfulness of the self. Forgetfulness of the self that is
awakening in what we have created, in that which sustains us.
     For the person is located between two horizons; the things that we see
around us, things companionable and strange, the things we come to out of the
primary dream, those that we come to know. And that other, which remains behind
in forgetfulness, and from which the philosopher wishes to disengage when he
marches to conquer his being...
     Furthermore, not all the philosophers, not all philosophies have meant
this tremendous individualist or personalistic urge, discussed at the beginning
of this chapter. On the contrary, it is constitutive of one type of philosophy-
-the most venerable--to refer to the totality of things, not to disengage from
them, but instead to affirm them. Not for us to avoid the world, but instead to
sustain it. The love for knowledge of the philosopher has been love of
objectivity, through which the primitive rocking was converted into the
universe. The order has been a thing of love.
     And up to here philosophy and poetry went together. They have not
differentiated, in truth, more than, first through violence; then through the
will. The will that seems to be the secret of all that which modern Metaphysics
has called "spirit": Spirit that we can understand through will. And the will
presupposes liberty...and leads in some cases, to power. So then, poetry
separates from philosophy in the instant when liberty is directed towards
power. In the instant when the urge towards particular being causes it to
separate from the origin. The poet is the lost son among things. He is, in
reality, the "prodigal son" whom the father always pardons, because in his
prodigality he did not cease living loyally. The poet has never wanted to
forget his filiation so as to awaken knowledge. Lost among the things, attached
to the flesh, in dreams and in self-forgetting. And, forgetting himself he
submerges himself ever more into his origin.
     Philosophy has not always forgotten the origin, yet beginning from it has
gone out to rescue the lost being of things, to forge their unity. Unity that
rested upon a single unforgettable foundation. Plato, Aristotle, and now in
modern Europe, Spinoza, Leibniz and who knows who truth did not try
to affirm themselves, but instead to affirm above all, the being of the
universe; the unity of all things in virtue, precisely, of their ultimate
grounding. Poetry would not have anything to do against this philosophy,
supposing that poetry would ever have had anything to do against nothingness.
Very much to the contrary, in that reference to the integral unity of the
universe, in the direction of embracing everything, poetry and philosophy would
be in agreement.
     What they would never agree upon would be the method. Poetry is
unmethodical, because it wants everything at the same time. And because it
cannot, not for a moment, disengage from things to submerge itself in the
grounding - in that it differs from the religious attitude. And because it
cannot disengage from the origin either, not for an instant, to better grasp
the things - there it is distinguished from philosophy. It wants both things at
once. It does not distinguish, just as it cannot distinguish between being and
appearance. It does not distinguish because it does not decide, because it does
not decide to choose, to split anything: neither the appearances, of being; nor
the things that exist, from their origins; nor its own being from where it
might emerge.
     "Human existence, then, is not simply asserted among things, but instead
tied to their root. The re-tying--religatum esse, religio, religion in
its primary meaning--is a dimension formally constitutive of existence... And
thus as the open existence of things reveals, in this their being open, that
there 'are' things, as so also their being re-tied reveals to us that there is
that which re-ties them. That which comprises the fundamental root of
     Poetry always has been open to things, fearless among them, fearless unto
perdition, until the oblivion of oneself, the poet. More because of this self-
forgetting, always nearer to being open to that ultimate depth or root of
existence. The poet did not take care, nor worry for himself, for his being; it
was immoral. Yet his immorality placed him nearer to the ultimate origin.
     And the miracle of poetry is fully expressed when in its moments of grace
it has discovered the things, the things in their particularity and in their
virginity, upon this ultimate ground; the things reborn from their root.
Already the person, the human existence, his anguish, his problematic, is then
annulled. Poetry annuls the problem of human existence, at the point where it
manifests. Then the person is only a voice who sings and expresses the being of
things and of the all. The man who did not attempt to be himself, the lost man,
the poet, contains everything in his diversity and in his unity, in his
finitude and in his infinity. This possession fulfills him; fills with
treasures whoever did not devote themselves to affirming their vacuity, who
through love did not know how to exclude anything. Love caused him to emerge
from himself, without ever allowing recovery; he lost his existence and gained
the total apparition, the glory of the beloved presence.

     Thus if on our common land
     today I were not seen nor heard,
     you might say I lost the hand,
     that having thus my love averred,
     I was forsaken, yet was stirred.

The word has come to give form, to be the light of those two infinities that
surround and approach human life. The word of philosophy through an urge to
precision, pursuing security, has traversed a road that unquenchable wealth
cannot traverse. The irrational word of poetry, out of fidelity to discovery,
does not follow a path. It proceeds, it seems, as lost. The two words have
their root and their reason. The truth followed by force and step by step, and
advancing by itself, and the other that does not even pretend to be truth, but
only to establish what is received, paint the dream, return through the word to
the first paradise and share it. The word that signifies the total opening of a
life to which its body, its flesh and its soul, even its thought, only serve as
instruments, modes of extension among things. A life which having liberty, only
uses it to return to there where it can meet with everything.
     The word that defines and the word that slowly penetrates the night of the
inexpressible: "I wrote silences, nighttimes; annotated the inexpressible.
Established vertigoes"(38). The word that tries to establish the inexpressible,
for it does not resign itself to every existence being solely what it appears
to be. Atop of being and of non-being, it pursues the infinite in each thing,
its right to be beyond its actual limits. "It seemed to me that every being had
the right to other lives"(39). Because each being carries in possibility an
infinite diversity with regard to which, what he now is, is only the victory of
a moment. It signifies an injustice.
     Reality is too inexhaustible to be subjected to justice, justice that is
nothing if not violence. And the will even extends this "natural" violence and
carries it to its ultimate limit. The word of poetry is irrational, for it
undoes this violence, this violent justice of that which is. It does not accept
the split that the being represents within and upon the inexhaustible and
obscure richness of possibility. It wants to establish the inexpressible,
because it wishes to give shape to that which has not achieved it: to the
phantasm, to the shadow, to the dream, to the delirium itself. Irrational word,
which has not even entered into combat with the clear, definite and defining
word of reason. To which of them shall victory go?
     The word of reason has covered a longer road, has become fatigued, but has
its harvest of security. That of poetry seems, despite all the stations
covered, at the same place from where it would depart. Its conquests are
measured on another scale; it does not advance. "Its charity is spellbinding
and holds me prisoner"(40). Spellbound and prisoner; thus it must doubtless
continue, and its union with the other word, that of reason, does not seem yet
to be very near. Because it is still not possible to think from within the
limitless place where poetry extends itself, from the immense territory it
erratically covers.
     The truth is known now as partial and the same reason that discovers
being recognizes the unjust difference between what is, and what there is.(41)
When this is done, the terrain of poetry is approached. And upon suffering the
martyrdom of lucidity, poetry approximates to reason. Also we do not still
think of how to validate their integration, so often imagined by those who
cannot decide between one or the other. Whoever is affected by poetry cannot
decide it and whoever has decided for philosophy cannot go back. Only in time,
over history, will at last reason be situated, the theme of being and of
creation exhausted, further beyond. There where, during long periods, it awaits
the revealed and indecipherable truth, the truth wherein, truly, "charity is
spellbinding." Charity and communion which have not transcended thought,
because no one has yet been able to think this "logos full of grace and


*. At this point the question is posed of error within Greek philosophy and
especially, within the thought from Parmenides to Plato. How is the error
possible? How can it be elicited, the truth?
     The truth as being the revelation of being, seen through the human
intellect, is no longer the problematic. On the contrary, the problem turns out
to be that any expression will not be true. The immediate consequence of the
unity of being and of the unity between being and thinking, in Parmenides,
could arrive at this conclusion: everything that is said is true.
     And, in effect, the Sophists arrived at that. Protagoras with his
celebrated, "Man is the measure of all things..." seemed to express this
extreme consequence.(+) Already in the Sophists some cynicism can be detected,
and cynicism is always extremist: it lacks measure. And thus, the original
confidence in reality and in reason, which was identified with being, was taken
to its final extreme by Protagoras. Yet, all extremism destroys that which it
affirms, and is justly characterized by that: to affirm so unreservedly that,
in reality, one's affirmation is turned against that affirmed, to destroy it.
If everything that is said is true, it is as if nothing were. The measure, the
norm for being and non-being, has been debased and destroyed.

     Plato clearly feels the problem and touches upon it in various of his
Dialogues: Sophist, Theaetetus. In order to affirm being, non-being must
be sought; so that reason and truth continue existing, the existence of error
must be grounded, its existence established. Further, that is the crux of the
question: how can reason operate in what it is not? It is to say, how can one
speak without thus saying the truth?
     The problem affects poetry indubitably, although Plato does not pose it
this way. What sort of functioning is this of the logos in poetry, where reason
no longer coincides with the word? How is it possible for the word to stray
like this from its path, to become and remain the contrary of its own essence?
The poetic word functions beyond reason and being, according to the Platonic
condemnation. The objection, in fact, more than being against poetry, goes
against the word itself; against the idea--Parmenidean--of being and of reason.
     The word, the logos, is the universal, that which expresses the community
of the human. And the poet uses the word, not in its universal form, but
instead to reveal something that occurs only in it, in the last depth of the
individual, which, even for Aristotle, is irrational. And this is what is truly
serious. For if the word is in essence universal and the poet employs them
irrationally, that means there exists a not rational human community, or that
is that the poet is, insofar as being a poet, outside and on the margin of all
community; that poetry situated within the ineffable can never transcend it;
that there are as many languages as poets and that poetry, to that extent, is a
vain exercise, given that no one communicates.
     And the curiosity is that Philosophy appears to be situated today in the
same trance. If philosophic thought is something that is accomplished in the
most absolute solitude, to achieve one's own effort of being, the being of
oneself, what sense could there be in teaching it, in transmitting it? Why
teach philosophy, and for what? A question, certainly, that Socrates and the
sophists asked when they affirmed that everything which is said is true. At
critical moments it seems as if philosophy will arrive at the same place as
poetry, at the justification of the most individual, of the most irreducible
there is within each of us.
     But can this solitary effort be called Philosophy, that is born in oneself
and which ends in oneself? Philosophy has raised objectivity concerning the
mutability of human life, the community comprised of the diversity of all
creatures: will it truly be able to renounce continuing to do so until the end
of its days? And if it renounces, would that not signify the era of philosophy
has ended?
     Poetry, on the other hand, seated since its origins in the ineffable,
committed to speak the unspeakable, does not see its existence threatened. From
the first moment, it felt obliged to express the ineffable in two senses:
ineffably near, being carnal; ineffable, too, as inaccessible, as being sense
beyond all sensation, the ultimate reason on top of all reason. It is the drama
that every poet has humbly assumed, some understanding it, others, without
understanding it.
     To this ineffability poetry is consecrated. And the poet senses the very
strong nexus there is between them; between the nearness of the flesh and the
highest principle, the most elevated reason; that which to remain inside reason
cannot be defined and that which by being defined cannot remain inside it. From
one to the other poetry wanders creating one morning, at times; being confused,
missing the highway many others. Without error, nor truth, on its fringe and
just thereby invulnerable to being lost, in their blind servitude.

**. The question of pure poetry is actually posed by Mallarmé, but is
sharpened with Paul Valéry and the resonance that pertains to the formula,
"pure poetry," which he claims to have chosen almost at random, without trying
to give it special honors.
     Also this is the case, that with Valéry, with the lucky "pure
poetry," poetry for the first time is defined. And certainly from there the
most rapid resonance, almost with scandalous honors, is what surprises our
author. Poetry never had defined itself; never had posed its question until
this moment when it tried to define itself with Mallarmé, although still,
like God for certain scholastics, along a purely negative road.
     The definition of Mallarmé is poetic, is given within the realm of
poetry in general; it is an extreme sharpening of the consciousness of the poet
who, perhaps for the first time, clearly senses the functioning of his poetry.
And not finding anything for comparison, feeling the difference between the
poetic word and that of ordinary life and even of science, he speak of
"absences." Things are in poetry due to their absence, which is the truest
thing, since when something has gone, the most true is what it leaves us, for
that is imperishable: its pure essence. It is concealed by its own reality.
Furthermore, with this play of absence and presence, things appear to us
submerged in the flow of time; to us they are being born, undergoing birth.
Their presence is a miracle, the first miracle of the apparition of things.
Poetry is to experience things in status nascens.
     Additionally, Valéry extends the question and upon extending it what
he does is, in fact, to pose another new one, before which Mallarmé
lingered, perhaps oppressed by a poetic servitude and by the same, by a greater
fidelity to poetry. For Valéry already does separate poetry from the poem.
That is, he does what the philosopher does with the ideas. For Valéry
poetry is something ideal, an essence, unitary like all essences and, thereby,
a problem. And there is only awareness of a problem, or there is a typically
philosophic problem when there is an essence, or in other, perhaps clearer
words: when there is a definition.
     Valéry has defined poetry and in defining it has made it that which
it never was: problematic. He has allied it to thought. To the point now of a
poetic "method," a road for capturing the poetic essence. Because if the
essence is unitary like all essences, it should be simple to capture.(++)
     Yet, is this poetry? Has poetry been scattered? Has its unity not been
different from that of thought and until now undefinable? The only time when
poetry has been situated parallel to thought makes one think it has stopped
being faithful to itself, precisely by pretending to be it. Poetry cannot
establish itself, cannot define itself. It cannot, in sum, pretend to find
itself, for then it would be lost.

1. Aristotle, Metaphysics.
2. Antonio Machado.
*. See Notes chapter.
4. The Republic X 607.
5. Perhaps this is the case with Rimbaud. His tormented and erratic existence,
his splendid and lucid output attests to the "pure," exemplary poet. One fine
day as is known, he fled from his friends and destroyed his poetry, destroyed
the poet he had in himself. And he was a man of action, drunk with action, as
before he had been with the word.
6. "...and the dream walker / who walks seeking God in the mist." Antonio
7. "For we were pure and did not suffer the effects of that sepulcher we call
body which we bring along with us, tied to it in the same manner as the oyster
to its shell." Phaedo 250.
8. Plato, Republic, Benjamin Jowett translation.
9. Ibid. X 611.
10. Perhaps the entire actual crisis occurring in Western culture is
nothing but the crisis of that Platonic idea having become a belief in the
European consciousness, during the happiest moments in the life of Europe.
Human nature is reason. It is what today many men rebel against accepting.
11. Phaedo 67, Benjamin Jowett translation.
12. Timmaeus 90.
13. The Republic, op.cit. VII 532.
14. Ibid. VII 518.
15. Phaedo, op.cit. 67.
16. Ibid.
17. No one has contributed so much in a more durable manner than the great
thinker and poet who implanted in the heart of philosophy the idea of personal
immortality, and after having made it familiar to the philosophers restored it,
more profoundly based, for the theologians. Erwin Rohde: Psyche, p.480
of the French translation, Paris, Payor, 1928.
18. E. Rohde says this in the note to p.481, in the already cited work: "It
seems to me that it follows very clearly from an attentive study without
prejudice of the entire work and has been, I think, demonstrated by Krohn and
by Pfleiderer, that distinct phases of Platonic thought have found their way
into The Republic, and are only externally connected. Particularly, what
is said beginning with V 471 until the end of book VII...seems to me to be
something foreign which was not intended at the outset, thus understood in the
original plan, and which came to be added later to the description."
19. Plato, Phaedrus 250, Benjamin Jowett translation.
20. The Banquet, Universidad Nacional de México edition, 1921,
21. Phaedrus, op.cit. 249.
22. It is of great interest to observe how in Spanish painting, one of the
great schools of Europe, this Platonism does not exist. Spain, home of the
Immaculate Conception, does not produce a single image of the Platonic virgin.
The purities of de Ribera and Murillo, which would correspond to her, are
something quite different, which is not the place to investigate here, even
though there is nothing distant from poetry.
23. With this last, the author, for some time now, has had second thoughts.
24. Heinz Heimsoeth, La Metafisica Moderna, Madrid, Revista de
Occidente, 1939.
25. Nouvelles Histoires extraordinaires.
**. See Notes chapter.
27. Varieté II, p.22.
28. "Yes, the unreality. To always live a life of after or never, blowing
towards the port. Colorful departures, in rainy dawns, at dances, in cities
which are not even in time... Deep breaths in the garden, by rocky pathways, to
the song of doves that are only in a dream." Juan Ramón Jimenez:
"Inverosimilitud," Segunda Antología Poética.
29. Revista de Occidente, Madrid, 1929.
30. Revista de Occidente, Madrid, 1930.
31. Kierkegaard: The Concept of Dread, Revista de Occidente, p.93.
32. Ibid. p.95.
33. The tremendous problem of human sharing will be seen here, of community and
of where, with what it is validated; if an authentic communication is possible
and from where.
34. He we allude to the very well known verses of the translation of the
Psalms written by Fray Luis de León: "Bless the Lord, O my soul! O
Lord my God..."
35. Antonio Machado, Soledades y Galerias.
36. Cuerpo perseguido is the title of the unpublished book of the
Spanish poet Emilio Prados; he has caused me to see all this that I say.
37. X. Zubiri: Concerning the problem of God, Madrid, Revista de
Occidente, 1935.
38. Rimbaud, A Season in Hell "Delirium II", Taller, Mexico City, 1939.
39. Ibid.
40. Ibid. "Delirium I".
41. This difference between what is and what there is, and that which exists in
the domain of the understanding between thinking and "accounting for," was
expounded during the course, "Metaphysical Thesis On Vital Reason" by the
Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset, at the University of Madrid.
+. This interpretation of Sophist thought as a consequence of the identity of
being with reason, in Parmenides, has been presented in one of the courses on
Greek Philosophy, given at the philosophy department in Madrid by my own
professor Xavier Zubiri.
++. "The poet is consecrated and consumed in the definition and construction of
a language within the language, and this operation, which is long, difficult
and delicate, requires the most diverse qualities of the spirit and may never
be completed because it is not quite possible, either, and tends to become the
idiom of the most pure, potent and happy being, not mattering which real person
it is." Paul Valéry: The Place of Baudelaire, Revista de Occidente, 1924.