Sunday, February 8, 2015

Poem of the Week, plus Aristotle!

I've been reading Aristotle with Mxyl as he makes his way through his philosophy course. I had been listening to a course on the philosophy of ethics, and was encouraged to read Plato's Dialogues and Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics. I did read Dialogues - food for another post - but didn't have a copy of Ethics... until Mxyl needed to read it for his class!

Aristotle is very interested in the question, "What does a good human do?"  He means it in the sense that, we know a good dancer is one who dances well, and a good writer writes well.  So what does a good human do well?  If you can find the answer to that, you know in a profound sense what it means to be truly human.

I am quite sure that this poet read Aristotle, and I wonder if this poem is partly his own answer to Aristotle's question.  At the end, I'll tell you the answer Aristotle found.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

By Gerard Manley Hopkins
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces. 

Aristotle's answer was virtue.  What makes us distinctly human is our ability to reflect and make moral choices, so the one who is best at making moral choices is best at being human.

Not far off from Hopkins, is it?  Although the poet has the advantage of Revelation.

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