Poetry and Philosophy – A Comparative Analysis by Anureet Gill

Article Posted in: Essay

by – Anureet Gill
Published in December 2017, Volume. III, Issue. XXXV


Poetry and philosophy are two separate disciplines which are interlinked as poetry can at times be informed by philosophy and vice versa. The debate of superiority of poetry or philosophy has been going on since time quintessential with experts having varied opinions. While some believe that philosophy is superior, others believe that poetry is superior. Plato, Socrates and Aristotle were all great philosophers of their time and people would gather to hear their thoughts. Times have changed but philosophy is still a part of our life. However there has been a change in the way in which poetry and philosophy are perceived. Moreover in the ancient times the debate was limited to philosophy and poetry but now it has moved on to encompass science and logic as well.

Philosophy and poetry are disciplines that enable us to examine ourselves and the society critically. While poetry deals more with the emotive aspects of the feelings of the poet, philosophy takes into consideration the cognitive aspect ie. why things are as they are, Both philosophy and poetry deal with exploring ‘humanity’ by enabling people to question not only what is but also what ought to be. People encounter philosophical questions every day in their lives but most are unaware of the answers.

 Poetry can be used as a medium to explain philosophical ideas. Both poetry and philosophy deal with life, values, reason and truth but what separates them is the mode of utterance. Poetry is emotive, less restrictive and it uses words as a weapon to express ideas, while philosophy uses logic and facts to express things. Poetry might be based on facts but the mode of expressing it can be fictional. The truth of philosophy is based on facts whereas the truth of poetry can be experiential or unrealistic. While philosophy deals with factual truth poetry deal with emotive truth. Philosophy is based on reason, questioning, while poetry is the imaginative vision of the truth which does not have a definite structure Poetry can be philosophical in nature but it just expresses truth and does not question it.

What separates poetry from philosophy is that poetry need not always deal with truth as it can be based on imagination.The success of the poem lies in the experience of the poet as it leads the readers to experience what the poet feels. Poetry is the imaginative vision of the truth of the poet which does not have a definite structure. The poet has the liberty to use the words of his choice.

Poetry can be philosophical in nature but it just expresses truth and does not question it, the poet just expresses his /her experiences of truth. Philosophy also uses poetry as a medium to express the truth. Poetry gives the poets leverage to ‘ornamentalize’ or beautifies ‘truth’ by using poetic styles like vivid imagery, colloquial or decorative language whereas philosophers are not at a leverage to use this.

Philosophy is more analytical in nature should be more inventive and edifying rather than analytic. Richard Rorty in his article ‘Philosophy and the mirror of nature’ supports this claim that philosophy can be innovative creative and exploratory only if it comes close to poetry.

The goal of poetry is to express feelings and not describe it. The whole point of poetry is not to state facts, but to use language in a creative and imaginative way to express thoughts, feelings, and impressions. Whether or not this could ultimately lead to propositional knowledge is an open question.

Both philosophers and poets are aware of the brevity of the language they use. Poetry is more ground-breaking as it allows for free flow of thoughts. Philosophy uses specific terminology while the poet is the liberty to use any language he likes

.P.B Shelly in defence of poetry said ‘poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth.”  A lot of philosophers have employed poetry in their writing in order to make it aesthetically appealing but what is important in all philosophical texts is to what conclusions they come while seeking to draw conclusions out of life itself.

Poetry and philosophy are different in their approach yet are intricately connected. A lot of great philosophers are also poets.  Poetry is not simply an aesthetically pleasing artistic medium to convey the tenets of one’s school, but also a device through which philosophical arguments can be constructed and supported in ways unavailable in prose.

Poetic acts are acts of ‘minds’, it brings forth ‘felt’ variations in the appearance of things. Poetry transfigures a common reality by enabling us to feel and see things differently. Poetry is an amalgamation of imagination and reality as it reorders the order we see in things.  Poetry is the imagination of life. Poetic truth is emotional in nature as it a felt truth and in order for poetry to be true, it has to be in agreement with imagination and reality.

Humanity needs both poetry and philosophy to function smoothly.” No man,” said Coleridge, ” was ever yet a great poet without being at the same time a great philosopher. “Philosophy is a discourse that encompasses diverse disciplines. It enables people to ask foundational questions that they don’t usually think about. It examines society by exploring what is and what ought to be, thus transforming the society. Both philosophy and poetry are therapeutic in nature. The poet brings forth felt variations while describing real things while a philosopher questions not only what one sees, feels and thinks but also how one does it.

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