Monday, 16 December 2013

Poetry And Philosophy

In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman: The Wake (New York, 1997), Hob Gadling quotes Rudyard Kipling on death to Death:

"They will come back, come back again,
"As long as the red Earth rolls.
"He never wasted a tree or a leaf.
"Why should he squander souls?" (p. 112)

Let us accept the personification, "He...," for the sake of argument. "He" does not waste any tree or leaf but nor does he preserve individual trees or leaves either. Instead, the organic matter from dead plants feeds new growth.

Similarly, I think, he does not preserve individual souls. Instead, spoken language, writing, culture and accumulated knowledge inform new generations. Thus, the analogy between trees, leaves and "souls" is valid, perhaps even more valid than Kipling suggests. We welcome new green leaves every spring but do not regard any one leaf as the reincarnation of a particular leaf that had died in the autumn. In fact, that is unnecessary.

The Greeks regarded poets as divinely inspired authorities on theology and morality. "Homer and the poets" were the Classical equivalents of "Moses and the prophets." Maybe Hob was following this tradition by quoting a poet instead of a philosopher? (Continuing the Classical-Biblical parallel, philosophers, "lovers of wisdom", approximate the Hebrew "Wisdom" literature and Virgil parallels the New Testament.) If so, we can trump Hob with a more authoritative poet:

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on
"And our little life is rounded with a sleep."

It is good to discuss poetry and philosophy when commenting on a comic, especially one with such beautiful art from Michael Zulli (see image).

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