Shelley was wrong though. Poets aren't the unacknowledged legislators of the world. They are its unacknowledged philosophers. For if philosophy is the pursuit of truth, then it must be said that there are two kinds of truth - the truth of reason and the truth of imagination. And who pursues that latter truth more avidly than the poets?
"Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent" Wittgenstein tells us. But how do we know what we can speak of until we try? Language is not a container, it is a possibility - a possibility bounded by silence - and poetry helps us to push the envelope of that possibility a little further, helps us to claim more of the unspoken for our own. If we cannot speak of something the answer is not silence, but a search for the right words to say it.
A great poem may not always be logical, but it is always wise, if only with the wisdom of beauty. And isn't wisdom, and not logic, what Philosophy is really after?
Besides, poetry is so much more fun.
Meanwhile, the New York Times informs me that mtvU has signed up John Ashbery to be their poet laureate, in a bid to popularize poetry among college students. Imagine that - Ashbery on MTV! And this so soon after Faulkner and McCarthy have become staples of the Oprah Book Club. Can it be that mainstream culture is actually developing taste? Does this mean I have to revisit all my assumptions about popular entertainment? Can I no longer define myself in terms of my snobbish contempt for all things bestselling? Aargh! Severe identity meltdown approaching!
Seriously, though, while I totally applaud the idea of trying to get more people into poetry, and can think of few people who deserve the honor of representing the form more than Ashbery, I can't help wondering if he was the best pick for the job. Don't get me wrong - I really like the man - but isn't he a tad inaccessible to serve as an introduction to poetry for newcomers? I'm having a hard time imagining that some clueless undergrad will read, say, 'Daffy Duck in Hollywood' or 'For John Clare' and suddenly burn with enthusiasm for modern poetry. Ah, well. Just as long as they don't start a trend for Poem Videos. I have a vision of a model in an impracticably short skirt wandering dreamily about a New England landscape, while Mary Oliver reads in the background. Shudder!