Poetry as Revelation of Human Nature
Whether it is the joy or the despair of love, the celebration of life or the gloom of grief, whether it is anger or anguish or mirth or moaning, every state of the human heart and every mode of the human condition has been brought to words by the poet’s pen. When we read the lines thus constructed, the nature and pattern of our passions seem unveiled, for the poetic vision exposes the hidden facets of tears and aches, the unreckoned recesses of laughter and love. These are as real as any substantial thing, for they too exist, however subtly, in the universe in which the human mind dwells.
Thus poetic vision creates a worldview which impresses on our very being experiences without material instruments. It incites feelings and emotions from totally intangible entities and happenings. It can also inspire action and activity for no apparent physical reason at all. The poeticic vision is at the root of much of human culture and civilization. It is certainly one of the most pristine manifestations of the human spirit. Its impact is inescapable, even on the least poetic among us, because its ancient vestiges are still powerful in human societies, and also because it resonates with our innermost being, etched, as it were, in the human psyche through some subtle genetic code.
In many ancient cultures poets narrated long stories, cladding them in the colorful costumes of words that was their gift to conceive and concoct. It was thus that the great epics of the human family came to be created. The epics narrated momentous sagas in majestic meters, and the rhythmic lines with descriptions of the world around. They influenced people’s perception of the world, as when the Illiad speaks so often of rhododactynos Eos: rosy-fingered Dawn. But in the process they also infused the listeners with a sense of action and participation, sometimes inspiring them to lofty ideals. Thus, when the heroic Hector declares in the Illiad,
Let me at least not die without a struggle, inglorious,
but do some big thing first, that men to come shall know of it,
a value is imprinted in our minds: that we should aspire to do something of significance during our lifetime. Which is what prompted Oliver Taplin to remark that “The Illiad is not so much concerned with what people do, as with the way they do it, above all the way they face suffering and death.”
More importantly, the events and heroes of the epics, to all appearances emerging for the most part from poetic imagination around surviving anecdotal scarps of ancient beliefs and happenings, infused the characters and episodes with historical authenticity by the sheer power of words and rhythms. In the minds of the listeners, the grand narration and vivid descriptions on the lofty canvass of epic poetry were transformed into historical reports of things that once did transpire. The charming stanzas of Homer paint a myriad facets of that ancient age, but more significantly, through them the gods of pre-Christian Greece acquired a flesh of reality. The great god Zeus was prolific in progeny, both divine and mortal. Through his wife Hera he sired Ares, but he fathered many more through an array of other females also, though for Athena he needed no mate. Artemis and Apollo came to be because Zeus made love to Leto, and Maia was mother to Hermes, another daughter of Zeus. The poet speaks in solemn tones of Helen as born of Zeus too: but now, it was as a swan that he seduced King Tyndareus’ wife Leda who thus conceived Helen, the fairest of the ancient. The gods of Greece play their roles in these narrations, engaging in quarrels and conflicts, rivalries and tricks. Though few, if any, in this day and age take these as anything but stories, once in the faded past, Apollo and Hercules were real beings who lived and lasted, the Greek gods fought and prevailed. But in due course, even as phlogiston of eighteenth century chemistry gave way to newer recognitions of heat and fire, other more persuasive visions of the Divine dethroned Zeus and Ouranos, Apollo and Aphrodite, and all the rest of the gods of the ages from their pedestal of reality, and reduced them to lively beings in the imaginary mythological realm.