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League of Inveterate Poets

The out-of-context contextuality of a foolish sage

What Is an Inveterate Poet?





By on August 11, 2010

I am. You are, if you are human (and I very much assume you are!).

This blog (originally titled Sacred Journey) has been The League of Inveterate Poets for over a year now. I thought it was about time to revisit the origin and meaning of that strange name.

It comes from an essay by C. S. Lewis:

We are inveterate poets. Our imaginations awake.

Instead of mere quantity, we now have a quality–the sublime. Unless this were so, the merely arithmetical greatness of the galaxy would be no more impressive than the figures in a telephone directory. It is thus, in a sense, from ourselves that the material universe derives its power to over-awe us. To a mind which did not share our emotions, and lacked our imaginative energies, the argument from size would be sheerly meaningless. Men look on the starry heavens with reverence: monkeys do not.

Crab NebulaThe silence of the eternal spaces terrified Pascal, but it was the greatness of Pascal that enabled them to do so. When we are frightened by the greatness of the universe, we are (almost literally) frightened by our own shadows: for these light years and billions of centuries are mere arithmetic until the shadow of man, the poet, the maker of myth, falls upon them. I do not say we are wrong to tremble at his shadow; it is a shadow of an image of God. But if ever the vastness of matter threatens to overcross our spirits, one must remember that it is matter spiritualized which does so. To puny man, the great nebula in Andromeda owes in a sense its greatness. – C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock

What Lewis is saying there is really quite stunning and profound, almost blasphemous. Beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder–there is no beauty if there is no beholder. No poet, no poem. The tree falls in the forest, and not only are humans there to hear it, they are there to embrace and marvel at and ruminate upon its glorious and frightening sound.

“Inveterate” refers to that which is so deeply ground in, it can’t help but be expressed. We are all inveterate poets. It’s an inescapable part of what it means to be human. We can both create and appreciate art, music, literature, humor…and we can see all of those in the universe around us. No matter how much science is ever able to explain the stuff about us, it will never squelch our “Woah!” when we see a nebula through a telescope or the delicate work of a spider with silk.

This blog is dedicated to calling forth that “woah,” in ways both big and small. To get us to stop and ponder that turn of phrase, to really hear why that key change happened at just the right moment, to wonder at what causes us to laugh and to weep. We are all poets. We can’t help ourselves.

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