Aristotle on poetry

aristotle-jpglarge

      Aristotle” (1653)

        Luca Giordano

          ___________

so what’s a poem

in an attempt to get a clearer picture 
of what a poem should be, rather 
than trust only my own, however 
informed perhaps, opinion – though 
it must be added that we all bring 
something to that word’s definition, 
mine no less worthy than yours, 
yours no less worthy than mine – 
thought I’d go back to authoritative 
sources to see what they might 
have said

and it doesn’t get any earlier and 
authoritative than Aristotlewriting 
in 350 B.C.E., at the height of 
Ancient Greek preeminence, 
dissecting the term in his 
penetrating and perspicacious, 
ahem, Poetics” 

I propose to treat of Poetry in itself and of its various kinds,
noting the essential quality of each, to inquire into the
structure of the plot as requisite to a good poem; into the
number and nature of the parts of which a poem is
composed; and similarly into whatever else falls within
the same inquiry.“, he says in Part 1 of his 
magisterial treatise

and proceeds to declare the parameters 
of “Poetry” for the ages  

Poetry in general seems to have sprung from two causes“, 
he proceeds, imitation and rhythm 

by imitation I think it best to think of 
representation, which is another way, 
anyway, of saying imitation, but 
much more evocative in this instance,
more attuned to our sense of his word 

a poem is a representation then, a 
reproduction of something other than 
itself 

while its rhythm is what George
Gershwin‘s got, and by extension, as  
you can see from this videoGene Kelly

and yes, that means that “Epic poetry and Tragedy, Comedy also
and Dithyrambic poetry, and the music of the flute and of the lyre in
most of their forms, are all in their general conception modes of
imitation.” 

so, according to Aristotle, is dance 

all, therefore, poems

an interesting elaboration about “Tragedy” 
states that it should have the three unities 
that I grew up with during my French 
Canadian upbringing, the unity of time, of
space, and of action the famous French 
Classical dramatists, Racine and Corneille,
applied under the aegis of Louis XlV

not to mention Tragedy’s use of iambic 
pentameter, Shakespeare’s ubiquitous 
beat, a beat that persevered into the very 
Nineteenth Century, in France with 
Rostand‘s Cyrano de Bergerac“, for 
instance, and into the Twentieth Century 
with Eliot‘s Murder in the Cathedral“, 
about the assassination of Archbishop
Thomas Becket at Canterbury in 1170 
under Henry the Second‘s own aegis,
all written as poetry 

the most famous play to follow the 
three unities in the modern era is 
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?“,
the play which I think defines the 
Twentieth Century, which takes 
place overnight somewhere in 
New England college town, mid-
century, at George and Martha’s 

though followed closely by O’Neill‘s 
Long Day’s Journey int Night“, 
which transpires from morning, one 
day in August, 1912, till midnight, at 
the home ofunity of space, note, 
the dysfunctional Tyrones

so it appears not much has changed
about poetry, Aristotle got a lot of 
mileage out of his early definition, 
nearly 2500 years 

makes you wonder  why so much 
attention was paid instead to 
Platohis contemporary, the 
mystic, who would’ve banned
poetry, he thought it was 
subversive
 
Richard

psst: for a modern day application
          of the three unities, watch 
          In Treatment“, a television
          series, which takes place 
          in a psychotherapist’s office,
          each episode a session,