Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.” I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”
Plato started a lot of conversations that he couldn’t finish. He was trying to find the universal and the absolute by looking in the wrong place. He sought well, but the final answer was beyond his grasp. But he sets the questions up better than anyone. What if there was someone who could come into Plato’s Cave from the outside world of the sun? What then?
REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO’S CAVE
The fleeting shadows flow across the wall;
That’s all we know. We think they may arise
Outside our minds, and bring before our eyes
Some glimpse of Truth–but by the time they fall
To us, a faint and hieroglyphic scrawl
Is all that’s left. We try to analyze,
Deduce from patterns what the shapes disguise–
They’re hard to catch and harder to recall.
We think reflections of Reality
Are cast by Sunlight shining–how we crave
To turn and look–but still we strive in vain.
No merely mortal man will ever see
Whether the Door behind us in the Cave
Is there, so firmly Fate has bound our chain.
So many years we strove against the chain
That gradually some gave up, and hope was dead.
“There is no Door; there is no Cave,” they said,
“No explanation, nothing to explain.
It’s just a game you play inside your brain:
All the poetry you’ve ever read
Makes chemical reactions in your head;
That’s all that Pleasure is, and also Pain.”
What of the Beautiful, the True, the Good?
“They’re all illusions; they are all the same,
Sounds upon the wind, an empty name,
And that is all that can be understood.”
But then the rule that says that nothing’s true
Must be applied to their denial too!
So hope could not completely be denied.
Yet still the shadows flicker on the wall,
And we’re not certain what they mean at all
In spite of every theory we have tried.
If only one of us could get outside
Into the Light that fills that vaster hall
And not go blind, but come back and recall
For us the land where the True Shapes abide!
If only–but the ancient Grecian knew
No way that it could be. It seemed absurd
To hope or to despair. So still the True
Was but in shadows seen, in echoes heard–
Until the birth of a barbaric Jew
Who was in the Beginning; was the Word.
Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!
Donald T. Williams, PhD
Here’s an excerpt from Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy:
Homo Sapiens, they call us, the thinking people; if it is so, it is because first we are homo quaerens, the ones who must question everything. We started early, noticing and wondering about the apparent discrepancy between the earth, where everything seemed subject to the ravages of time, and the heavens, which seemed perfect and unchanging except in predictable cycles (Lewis, Discarded Image). We have been unable for long to resist the impulse to find a unity behind the diverse appearances that surround us. Accepting such surface polarities as Time vs. Eternity, Change vs. Permanence, as ultimate, has until the advent of Post-Modernity seemed like a defeat that made us less than human. But the search for a unity based on human experience alone has often led to various dead ends. One of the first was reached by the Pre-Socratics, who, in a day before the building of many bridges, apparently had to ford a lot of streams.
Men once thought that it would be nice
To step in the same river twice.
But then Heraklitus,
As if just to spite us,
Said, “No! Once will have to suffice.”
“The water is flowing away;
The new that arrives does not stay.
Therefore, my conclusion:
All else is illusion.
There is Change; that is all we can say.”
Parmenides answered, “Not so!
The stream doth eternally flow.
What is permanent’s real;
So, whatever you feel,
There’s no motion and no place to go.”
He went on, “Heraclitus, you dunce!
Why attempt such ridiculous stunts?
With no motion or change,
You can’t even arrange
To step in the first river once!”
Is the world all in flux, or immutable?
The answers both looked irrefutable.
But while they were debating,
Some children went wading
Once–twice–and it seemed somewhat suitable.
The best human thinking had reached an impasse that seemed irresolvable based on the thinking the best human thinkers were able to do. How do we find an explanation that can relate the changing and the unchanging, the flux and the permanent structure without which there could be nothing to flow and nowhere to flow to? Unless something remains unchanging, how could we ever measure–or even be aware of–change? How do we find an explanation that does not have to deny the reality of an inescapable aspect of our experience of the world as the price of the unity of thought?
Good question! To find out the answer, order REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO’S CAVE: ESSAYS IN EVANGELICAL PHILOSOPHY from Lantern Hollow Press, at https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/