Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Chapter Four - Creative Intuition and Poetic Knowledge

by Jacques Maritain


At the single root of the soul's powers—Poetic intuition---Nature of poetic knowledge--Poetic intuition as cognitive—Poetic intuition as creative

Larger Work

Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry

Publisher & Date

Bollingen Foundation Inc., 1953

At the Single Root of the Soul's Powers

1. In the last chapter I gave a few indications, general in nature, about the existence in us of a spiritual unconscious or preconscious, specifically distinct from the automatic or Freudian unconscious, though in vital intercommunication and interaction with it. I also suggested that it is in this translucid spiritual night that poetry and poetic inspiration have their primal source. And I referred to the views of Thomas Aquinas on the structure of the intellect and the preconscious intellectual activity on which the birth of ideas depends.

It is once again with some philosophical considerations borrowed from Thomas Aquinas that I shall preface our discussion of creative or poetic intuition. These considerations deal with the manner in which the powers of the soul, through which the various operations of life–biological, sensitive, intellective life–are performed, emanate from the soul. As soon as the human soul exists, the powers with which it is naturally endowed also exist, of course, though with regard to their exercise, the nutritive powers come first (they alone, are in activity in the embryo); and then the sensitive powers, and then the intellective powers. But at the very instant of the creation of the soul, there is an order–with respect not to time but to nature–in the way in which they flow or emanate from the essence of the soul.1 At this point St. Thomas states that with respect to this order of natural priorities, the more perfect powers emanate before the others, and he goes on to say (here is the point in which Lam interested) that in this ontological procession one power or faculty proceeds from the essence of the soul through the medium or instrumentality of another–which emanates beforehand.2 For the more perfect powers are the principle or raison d'être of others, both as being their end and as being their "active principle," or the efficacious source of their existence. Intelligence does not exist for the senses, but the senses, which are, as he puts it, "a certain defective participation in intelligence," exist for intelligence. Hence it is that in the order of natural origin the senses exist, as it were, from the intellect, in other words, proceed from the essence of the soul through the intellect.

Consequently, we must say that imagination proceeds or flows from the essence of the soul through the intellect, and that the external senses proceed from the essence of the soul through imagination. For they exist in man to serve imagination, and through imagination, intelligence.

2. I am fond of diagrams. I hope that the one I am offering here (over), and which represents this order of emanation, will help me to clarify the matter, poor as it may be from the point of view of abstract drawing.

The point at the summit of the diagram represents the essence of the soul. The first–so to speak–cone represents the Intellect, or Reason, emanating first from the soul. The second, which emerges from the first, represents the Imagination, emanating from the soul through the Intellect. The third, which emerges from the second, represents the External Senses, emanating from the soul through the Imagination.

The first circle represents the world of Concepts and Ideas in a state of explicit formation, say, the conceptualized externals of Reason: the world of the workings of conceptual, logical, discursive Reason.

The second circle represents the world of the Images in a state of explicit and definite formation, say, the organized externals of Imagination. This is the world of the achievements of Imagination as stirred by,


and centered upon, the actual exercise of External Senses and held in unity by it: in other words, as engaged in the process of sense perception and used for practical purposes in the current activities of man in the waking state.

The third circle represents the intuitive data afforded by external Sensation (which is, of itself, almost unconscious, and becomes sense perception when it is interpreted and structured through the instrumentality of memory, imagination, and the other "internal senses").

Now our three cones are not empty; each one should be imagined as filled with the life and activity of the power it symbolizes. The life and activity of the Intellect or Reason are not to be viewed only in the circle of the conceptualized externals of Reason. They are an immense dynamism emanating from the very center of the Soul and terminating in this circle of externals.

The life and activity of Imagination are not to be viewed only in the circle of the organized externals of Imagination. They are an immense dynamism working upwards and downwards along the depths of the Soul and terminating in this circle of externals.

As to the life and activity of the External Senses, it takes place, no doubt, at the level of the intuitive data afforded by Sensation–there where the mind is in contact with the external world. But it radiates upwards into the depths of the Soul; and all that it receives from the external world, all things seized upon by sense perception, all treasures of that sapid and sonorous and colorful Egypt, enter and make their way up to the central regions of the soul.3

Finally we can delimit by a dotted line the region of what I have called the Spiritual Unconscious or Preconscious. Another dotted line can indicate the area of the Animal or Automatic Unconscious. So the fact is represented that concepts and ideas as well as images and sense perceptions can be contained in these two obscure areas. And as for images, they can be considered in three different states. They can belong in the field of consciousness (say, at a place like a, for instance), or in the field of the Automatic Unconscious (b),or in the field of the Spiritual Preconscious (c). This is a point which can be remembered for some further discussions.

3. So much for the diagram. What matters to us is the fact that there exists a common root of all the powers of the soul, which is hidden in the spiritual unconscious, and that there is in this spiritual unconscious a root activity in which the intellect and the imagination, as well as the powers of desire, love, and emotion, are engaged in common. The powers of the soul envelop one another, the universe of sense perception is in the universe of imagination, which is in the universe of intelligence. And they are all, within the intellect, stirred and activated by the light of the Illuminating Intellect. And, according to the order of the ends and demands of nature, the first two universes move under the attraction and for the higher good of the universe of the intellect, and, to the extent to which they are not cut off from the intellect by the animal or automatic unconscious, in which they lead a wild life of their own, the imagination and the senses are raised in man to a state genuinely human where they somehow participate in intelligence, and their exercise is, as it were, permeated with intelligence.

But in the spiritual unconscious the life of the intellect is not entirely engrossed by the preparation and engendering of its instruments of rational knowledge and by the process of production of concepts and ideas, which we analyzed at the end of the preceding chapter and which winds up at the level of the conceptualized externals of reason. There is still for the intellect another kind of life, which makes use of other resources and another reserve of vitality, and which is free, I mean free from the engendering of abstract concepts and ideas, free from the workings of rational knowledge and the disciplines of logical thought, free from the human actions to regulate and the human life to guide, and free from the laws of objective reality as to be known and acknowledged by science and discursive reason. But, as it appears, at least in certain privileged or ill-fated people, this freedom is not freedom at random, this free life of the intellect is also cognitive and productive, it obeys an inner law of expansion and generosity, which carries it along toward the manifestation of the creativity of the spirit; and it is shaped and quickened by creative intuition. Here it is, in this free life of the intellect which involves a free life of the imagination, at the single root of the soul's powers, and in the unconscious of the spirit, that poetry, I think, has its source.4

Poetry's freedom resembles, thus, as Plato pointed out, the freedom of the child, and the freedom of play, and the freedom of dreams. It is none of these. It is the freedom of the creative spirit.

And because poetry is born in this root life where the powers of the soul are active in common, poetry implies an essential requirement of totality or integrity. Poetry is the fruit neither of the intellect alone, nor of imagination alone. Nay more, it proceeds from the totality of man, sense, imagination, intellect, love, desire, instinct, blood and spirit together. And the first obligation imposed on the poet is to consent to be brought back to the hidden place, near the center of the soul, where this totality exists in the state of a creative source.5

Poetic Intuition

4. Thus, when it comes to poetry, we must admit that in the spiritual unconscious of the intellect, at the single root of the soul's powers, there is, apart from the process which tends to knowledge by means of concepts and abstract ideas, something which is preconceptual or nonconceptual and nevertheless in a state of definite intellectual actuation: not, therefore, a mere way to the concept, as was the "impressed pattern" I spoke of in the preceding chapter, but another kind of germ, which does not tend toward a concept to be formed, and which is already an intellective form or act fully determined though enveloped in the night of the spiritual unconscious. In other words, such a thing is knowledge in act, but nonconceptual knowledge.

The problem, then, that I should like to discuss now deals with that kind of knowledge which is involved in poetic activity.

Clearly, what we are considering at this point is not the previous (theoretical) knowledge, in any field whatever of human experience and culture, that is presupposed by art and poetry, and which provides them with external materials to be integrated in, and transformed by, the fire of creative virtues.

What we are considering is the kind of inherent knowledge that is immanent in and consubstantial with poetry, one with its very essence.

Here our first signpost is, I think–the notion, which I have previously pointed out, of the free creativity of the spirit. In the craftsman the creativity of the spirit is, as it were, bound or tied up to a particular aim, which is the satisfying of a particular need. In the poet it is free creativity, for it only tends to engender in beauty, which is a transcendental, and involves an infinity of possible realizations and possible choices. In this respect the poet is like a god. And in order to discover the first essentials of poetry there is nothing better for us to do than to look to the First Poet.

God's creative Idea, from the very fact that it is creative, does not receive anything from things, since they do not yet exist. It is in no way formed by its creatable object, it is only and purely formative and forming. And that which will be expressed or manifested in the things made is nothing else than their Creator Himself, whose transcendent Essence is enigmatically signified in a diffused, dispersed, or parceled-out manner, by works which are deficient likenesses of and created participations in it. And God's Intellect is determined or specified by nothing else than His own essence. It is by knowing Himself, in an act of intellection which is His very Essence and His very Existence, that He knows His works, which exist in time and have begun in time, but which He eternally is in the free act of creating.

Such is the supreme analogate of poetry. Poetry is engaged in the free creativity of the spirit. And thus it implies an intellective act which is not formed by things but is, by its own essence, formative and forming. Well, it is too clear that the poet is a poor god. He does not know himself. And his creative insight miserably depends on the external world, and on the infinite heap of forms and beauties already made by men, and on the mass of things that generations have learned, and on the code of signs which is used by his fellow men and which he receives from a language he has not made. Yet, for all that he is condemned both to subdue to his own purpose all these extraneous elements and to manifest his own substance in his creation.

At this point we see how essential to poetry is the subjectivity of the poet. I do not mean the inexhaustible flux of superficial feelings in which the sentimental reader recognizes his own cheap longings, and with which the songs to the Darling and Faithless One of generations of poets have desperately fed us. I mean subjectivity in its deepest ontologic sense, that is, the substantial totality of the human person, a universe unto itself, which the spirituality of the soul makes capable of containing itself through its own immanent acts, and which, at the center of all the subjects that it knows as objects, grasps only itself as subject. In a way similar to that in which divine creation presupposes the knowledge God has of His own essence, poetic creation presupposes, as a primary requirement, a grasping, by the poet, of his own subjectivity, in order to create. The poet's aim is not to know himself. He is not a guru. To attain, through the void, an intuitive experience of the existence of the Self, of the Atman, in its pure and full actuality, is the specific aim of natural mysticism. It is not the aim of poetry. The essential need of the poet is to create; but he cannot do so without passing through the door of the knowing, as obscure as it may be, of his own subjectivity. For poetry means first of all an intellective act which by its essence is creative, and forms something into being instead of being formed by things: and what can such an intellective act possibly express and manifest in producing the work if not the very being and substance of the one who creates? Thus it is that works of painting or sculpture or music or poetry the closer they come to the sources of poetry the more they reveal, one way or another, the subjectivity of their author.

5. But the substance of man is obscure to himself. He knows not his soul, except in the fluid multiplicity of passing phenomena which emerge from it and are more or less clearly attained by reflective consciousness, but only increase the enigma, and leave him more ignorant of the essence of his Self. He knows not his own subjectivity. Or, if he knows it, it is formlessly, by feeling it as a kind of propitious and enveloping night. Melville, I think, was aware of that when he observed that "no man can ever feel his own identity aright except his eyes be closed; as if darkness were indeed the proper element of our essences."6 Subjectivity as subjectivity is inconceptualizable; is an unknowable abyss. How, then, can it be revealed to the poet?

The poet does not know himself in the light of his own essence. Since man perceives himself only through a repercussion of his knowledge of the world of things, and remains empty to himself if he does not fill himself with the universe, the poet knows himself only on the condition that things resound in him, and that in him, at a single wakening, they and he come forth together out of sleep.7 In other words, the primary requirement of poetry, which is the obscure knowing, by the poet, of his own subjectivity, is inseparable from, is one with another requirement–the grasping, by the poet, of the objective reality of the outer and inner world: not by means of concepts and conceptual knowledge, but by means of an obscure knowledge which I shall describe in a moment as knowledge through affective union.

Hence the perplexities of the poet's condition. If he hears the passwords and the secrets that are stammering in things, if he perceives realities, correspondences, ciphered writings that are at the core of actual existence, if he captures those more things which are in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy, he does not do so by knowing all this in the ordinary sense of the word to know, but by receiving all this into the obscure recesses of his passion.8 All that he discerns and divines in things, he discerns and divines not as something other than himself, according to the law of speculative knowledge, but, on the contrary, as inseparable from himself and from his emotion, and in truth as identified with himself.

His intuition, the creative intuition, is an obscure grasping of his own Self and of things in a knowledge through union or through connaturality which is born in the spiritual unconscious, and which fructifies only in the work. So the germ of which I spoke some pages back, and which is contained in the spiritual night of the free life of the intellect, tends from the very start to a kind of revelation–not to the revelation of the Übermensch or of the omnipotency of man, as the Surrealists believe, but to the humble revelation, virtually contained in a small lucid cloud of inescapable intuition, both of the Self of the poet and of some particular flash of reality in the God-made universe; a particular flash of reality bursting forth in its unforgettable individuality, but infinite in its meanings and echoing capacity–

To see a World in a Grain of Sand,
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower.

Such is the answer of philosophical analysis to the problem which had imposed itself on our consideration at the end of the merely descriptive or inductive inquiry conducted in the first chapter of this book. At that moment we observed that Oriental art, only intent on Things, nevertheless reveals obscurely, together with Things (and to the very extent to which it truly succeeds in revealing Things), the creative subjectivity of the artist; and that, on the other hand, Occidental art, more and more intent on the artist's Self, nevertheless reveals obscurely, together with this Self (and to the very extent to which it succeeds in revealing it ), the transapparent reality and secret significance of Things. And we concluded that at the root of the creative act there must be a quite particular intellectual process, a kind of experience or knowledge without parallel in logical reason, through which Things and the Self are obscurely grasped together.

Now, availing ourselves of the self-awareness which the progress of reflexivity has developed in modern art and poetry, and which causes poets to say with Pierre Reverdy that "the value of a work is proportional to the poignant contact of the poet with his own destiny,"9 we come to perceive in philosophical terms how and why the process in question takes place. A direct inquiry into the inner functioning of the intellect in its preconceptual life makes us realize that poetic intuition and poetic knowledge are both one of the basic manifestations of man's spiritual nature, and a primary requirement of the creativity of the spirit steeped in imagination and emotion.10

Nature of Poetic Knowledge

6. I used a moment ago the expression "knowledge through connaturality." It refers to a basic distinction made by Thomas Aquinas,11 when he explains that there are two different, ways to judge of things pertaining to a moral virtue, say fortitude. On the one hand we can possess in our mind moral science, the conceptual and rational knowledge of virtues, which produces in us a merely intellectual conformity with the truths involved. Then, if we are asked a question about fortitude, we will give the right answer by merely looking at and consulting the intelligible objects contained in our concepts. A moral philosopher may possibly not be a virtuous man and know everything about virtues.

On the other hand, we can possess the virtue in question in our own powers of will and desire, have it embodied in ourselves, and thus be in accordance with it or connatured with it in our very being. Then, if we are asked a question about fortitude, we will give the right answer, no longer through science, but through inclination, by looking at and consulting what we are and the inner bents or propensities of our own being. A virtuous man may possibly be utterly ignorant in moral philosophy, and know as well (probably better) everything about virtues–through connaturality.

In this knowledge through union or inclination, connaturality or congeniality, the intellect is at play not alone, but together with affective inclinations and the dispositions of the will, and as guided and shaped by them. It is not rational knowledge, knowledge through the conceptual, logical, and discursive exercise of reason. But it is really and genuinely knowledge, though obscure and perhaps incapable of giving account of itself.

St. Thomas explains in this way the difference between the knowledge of divine reality acquired by theology and the knowledge of divine reality provided by mystical experience. For the spiritual man, he says,12 knows divine things through inclination or connaturality: not only because he has learned them, but because he suffers them, as the Pseudo-Dionysius put it.

Knowledge through connaturality plays an immense part in human life. modern philosophers have thrown it into oblivion, but the ancient Doctors paid careful attention to it and established upon it all their theory of God-given contemplation. I think that we have to restore it, and to recognize its basic role and importance in such domains as moral practical knowledge and natural or supernatural mystical experience--and in the domain of art and poetry. Poetic knowledge, as I see it, is a specific kind of knowledge through inclination or connaturality–let us say a knowledge through affective connaturality which essentially relates to the creativity of the spirit and tends to express itself in a work. So that in such a knowledge it is the object created, the poem, the painting, the symphony, in its own existence as a world of its own, which plays the part played in ordinary knowledge by the concepts and judgments produced within the mind.

Hence it follows that poetic knowledge is fully expressed only in the work. In the mind of the poet, poetic knowledge arises in an unconscious or preconscious manner, and emerges into consciousness in a sometimes almost imperceptible though imperative and irrefragable way, through an impact both emotional and intellectual or through an unpredictable experiential insight, which gives notice of its existence, but does not express it.

7. This particular kind of knowledge through connaturality comes about, I think, by means of emotion. That is why, at first glance, one believes, and often the poet himself believes, that he is like the Ahab of Moby Dick: "Here's food for thought, had Ahab time to think; but Ahab never thinks; he only feels, feels, feels; that's tingling enough for mortal man! to think's audacity. God only has that right and privilege."12a  Well, in this people are mistaken. The poet also thinks. And poetic knowledge proceeds from the intellect in its most genuine and essential capacity as intellect, though through the indispensable instrumentality of feeling, feeling, feeling.13 At this point I would wish to insist that it is in no way a merely emotional or a sentimentalist theory of poetry that I am suggesting. First, I am speaking of a certain kind of knowledge, and emotion does not know: the intellect knows, in this kind of knowledge as in any other. Second, the emotion of which I am speaking is in no way that "brute or merely subjective emotion" to which I alluded in the first chapter, and which is extraneous to art.14 It is not an emotion expressed or depicted by the poet, an emotion as thing which serves as a kind of matter or material in the making of the work, nor is it a thrill in the poet which the Poem will "send down the spine" of the reader. It is an emotion as form, which, being one with the creative intuition, gives form to the poem, and which is intentional, as an idea is, or carries within itself infinitely more than itself. (I use the word "intentional" in the Thomistic sense,15 reintroduced by Brentano and Husserl into modern philosophy, which refers to the purely tendential existence through which a thing–for instance, the object known–is present, in an immaterial or suprasubjective manner, in an "instrument"–an idea for instance, which, in so far as it determines the act of knowing, is a mere immaterial tendency or intentio toward the object.)16

How can emotion be thus raised to the level of the intellect and, as it were, take the place of the concept in becoming for the intellect a determining means or instrumental vehicle through which reality is grasped?

That's a difficult question, as are all similar questions dealing with the application of the general concept' of knowledge through connaturality to the various particular fields in which this kind of knowledge is at play. I think that in all these cases, where the soul “suffers things more than it learns them," and experiences them through resonance in subjectivity, we have to find out a certain specific way in which the great notion developed by John of St. Thomas apropos of mystical knowledge--amor transit in conditionem objecti, love passes on to the sphere of the intentional means of objective grasping–has to be used analogically. Here I would say that in poetic knowledge emotion carries the reality which the soul suffers–a world in a grain of sand–into the depth of subjectivity, and of the spiritual unconscious of the intellect, because in the poet, contrary to other men (especially those involved in the business of civilized life), the soul remains, as it were, more available to itself, and keeps a reserve of spirituality which is not absorbed by its activity toward the outside and by the toil of its powers. And this deep unemployed reserve of the spirit, being unemployed, is like a sleep of the soul; but, being spiritual, is in a state of virtual vigilance and vital tension, owing to the virtual re-version of the spirit on itself and on everything in itself. The soul sleeps, but her heart is awake; allow her to sleep . . .

Well, let us suppose that in the density of such a secretly alert sleep and such a spiritual tension, emotion intervenes (whatever this emotion may be; what matters is where it is received). On the one hand it spreads into the entire soul, it imbues its very being, and thus certain particular aspects in things become connatural to the soul affected in this way. On the other hand, emotion, falling into the living springs, is received in the vitality of intelligence, I mean intelligence permeated by the diffuse light of the Illuminating Intellect and virtually turned toward all the harvests of experience and memory preserved in the soul, all the universe of fluid images, recollections, associations, feelings, and desires latent, under pressure, in the subjectivity, and now stirred. And it suffices for emotion disposing or inclining, as I have said, the entire soul in a certain determinate manner to be thus received in the undetermined vitality and productivity of the spirit, where it is permeated by the light of the Illuminating Intellect: then, while remaining emotion, it is made--with respect to the aspects in things which are connatural to, or like, the soul it imbues–into an instrument of intelligence judging through connaturality, and plays, in the process of this knowledge through likeness between reality and subjectivity, the part of a nonconceptual intrinsic determination of intelligence in its preconscious activity By this very fact it is transferred into the state of objective intentionality; it is spiritualized, it becomes intentional, that is to say, conveying, in a state of immateriality, things other than itself.17 It becomes for the intellect a determining means or instrumental vehicle through which the things which have impressed this emotion on the soul, and the deeper, invisible things that are contained in them or connected with them, and which have ineffable correspondence or coaptation with the soul thus affected, and which resound in it, are grasped and known obscurely.

It is by means of such a spiritualized emotion that poetic intuition, which in itself is an intellective flash, is born in the unconscious of the spirit. In one sense it is, as I said a moment ago, a privilege of those souls in which the margin of dreaming activity and introverted natural spirituality, unemployed for the business of human life, is particularly large. In another sense, because it emanates from a most natural capacity of the human mind, we must say that every human being is potentially capable of it: among those who do not know it, many, in point of fact, have repressed it or murdered it within themselves. Hence their instinctive resentment against the poet.

Of itself poetic intuition proceeds from the natural and supremely spontaneous movement of the soul which seeks itself by communicating with things in its capacity as a spirit endowed with senses and passions. And sometimes it is in mature age, when the spirit has been fed with experience and suffering, and turns back toward itself, that it best experiences the sapid sleep in which poetic intuition awakes–and which also exists, in another fashion, and with the acrid taste of greenness, in the child and the primitive. Poetic knowledge is as natural to the spirit of man as the return of the bird to his nest; and it is the universe which, together with the spirit, makes its way back to the mysterious nest of the soul. For the content of poetic intuition is both the reality of the things of the world and the subjectivity of the poet, both obscurely conveyed through an intentional or spiritualized emotion. The soul is known in the experience of the world and the world is known in the experience of the soul, through a knowledge which does not know itself. For such knowledge knows, not in order to know, but in order to produce. It is toward creation that it tends.

"Je est un autre," Rimbaud said: "I is another." In poetic intuition objective reality and subjectivity, the world and the whole of the soul, coexist inseparably. At that moment sense and sensation are brought back to the heart, blood to the spirit, passion to intuition. And through the vital though nonconceptual actuation of the intellect all the powers of the soul are also actuated in their roots.18

Among the pages which have been inserted in the volume as a kind of literary illustration, the ones pertaining to this chapter contain texts which seem to be significant for my present purpose. I think that by reading those collected under heading II we can see better than through any philosophical arguments how the subjectivity of the poet is revealed (but together with things) in his poem; and by reading the texts collected under heading III, how the Another, the things of the world and of the intellect, and their meanings, are also (but together with the Self) revealed in the poem; and how, in this single and double revelation, everything derives from a primal creative intuition, born in the soul of the poet, under the impact of a definite emotion.

The direct, intuitive contact with any genuine work of painting, sculpture or architecture, or music, which has spiritual depth and conveys a message of its own, affords us the same evidence.

Poetic Intuition as Cognitive

8. I should like to add a few remarks in an effort to bring out the main aspects or implications involved in the notion of poetic intuition.

It seems to me that the first distinction to be made in this regard deals with the fact that poetic intuition, which is both creative and cognitive, can be considered especially either as creative, and therefore, with respect to the engendering of the work, or as cognitive, and therefore with respect to what is grasped by it.

Let us, then, consider first poetic intuition as cognitive. It is cognitive, as we have seen, both of the reality of things and of the subjectivity of the poet. Now is it possible to try to make more precise that "reality of things" of which I just spoke? In other words, what is the object of poetic intuition? But the word "object" is equivocal here, for things are objectivized in a concept, and there is no concept, therefore no objectivization, in poetic intuition. Let us say, then, what is the thing grasped by poetic intuition?

Our previous consideration of poetic knowledge already contained the answer: poetic intuition is not directed toward essences, for essences are disengaged from concrete reality in a concept, a universal idea, and scrutinized by means of reasoning; they are an object for speculative knowledge, they are not the thing grasped by poetic intuition. Poetic intuition is directed toward concrete existence as connatural to the soul pierced by a given emotion: that is to say, each time toward some singular existent, toward some complex of concrete and individual reality, seized in the violence of its sudden self-assertion and in the total unicity of its passage in time. This transient motion of a beloved hand–it exists an instant, and will disappear forever, and only in the memory of angels will it be preserved, above time. Poetic intuition catches it in passing, in a faint attempt to immortalize it in time. But poetic intuition does not stop at this given existent; it goes beyond, and infinitely beyond. Precisely because it has no conceptualized object, it tends and extends to the infinite, it tends toward all the reality, the infinite reality which is engaged in any singular existing thing, either the secret properties of being involved in its identity and in its existential relations with other things, or the other realities, all the other aspects or fructifications of being, scattered in the en-tire world, which have in themselves the wherewithal to found some ideal relation with this singular existing thing, and which it conveys to the mind, by the very fact that it is grasped through its union with, and resonance in, subjectivity spiritually awakened.

Such is, I think, the thing grasped by poetic intuition: the singular existent which resounds in the subjectivity of the poet, together with all the other realities which echo in this existent, and which it conveys in the manner of a sign.

So it is true that poetry, as Aristotle said, is more philosophic than history.19 Not, surely, with respect to its mode or manner of knowing, for this mode is altogether existential, and the thing grasped is grasped as nonconceptualizable. But with respect to the very thing grasped, which is not a contingent thing in the mere fact of its existence, but in its infinite openness to the riches of being, and as a sign of it. For poetic intuition makes things which it grasps diaphanous and alive, and populated with infinite horizons. As grasped by poetic knowledge, things abound in significance, and swarm with meanings.

Things are not only what they are. They ceaselessly pass beyond themselves, and give more than they have, because from all sides they are permeated by the activating influx of the Prime Cause. They are better and worse than themselves, because being superabounds, and because nothingness attracts what comes from nothingness. Thus it is that they communicate with each other in an infinity of fashions and through an infinity of actions and contacts, sympathies and ruptures. I would think that this mutual communication in existence and in the spiritual flux from which existence proceeds, which As in things, as it were, the secret of creative sources, is perhaps in the last analysis what the poet receives and suffers, and grasps in the night of his own Self, or knows as unknown.20

9. Coming now to the other cognitive function of poetic intuition, I mean poetic intuition as obscurely revealing the subjectivity of the poet, I need not dwell long on this subject. It is clear that poetic intuition is filled with the subjectivity of the poet as well as with the thing grasped, since the thing grasped and the subjectivity are known together in the same obscure experience, and since the thing grasped is grasped only through its affective resonance in and union with the subjectivity. Nay more, as we have seen, it is in order to express the subjectivity of the poet in the work which proceeds from the creativity of the spirit that the grasping of things comes about, together with the awakening of subjectivity to itself. As a result, we may say, it seems to me, that in the attainments of poetic intuition what is most immediate is the experience of the things of the world, because it is natural to the human soul to know things before knowing itself; but what is most principal is the experience of the

Self–because it is in the awakening of subjectivity to itself that emotion received in the translucid night of the free life of the intellect is made intentional and intuitive, or the determining means of a knowledge through congeniality.

As concerns finally the work, it also will be, in indissoluble unity –as the poetic intuition from which it proceeds–both a revelation of the subjectivity of the poet and of the reality that poetic knowledge has caused him to perceive.

Be it a painting or a poem, this work is a made object–in it alone does poetic intuition come to objectivization. And it must always preserve its own consistence and value as an object. But at the same time it is a sign–both a direct sign of the secrets perceived in things, of some irrecusable truth of nature or adventure caught in the great universe, and a reversed sign of the subjective universe of the poet, of his substantial Self obscurely revealed. Just as things grasped by poetic intuition abound in significance, just as being swarms with signs, so the work also will swarm with meanings, and will say more than it is, and will deliver to the mind, at one stroke, the universe in a human countenance.

fallait bien qu'un visage
Réponde à tous les noms du monde.21

The work will make present to our eyes, together with itself, some-thing else, and still something else, and still something else indefinitely, in the infinite mirrors of analogy. Through a kind of poetic ampliation, Beatrice, while remaining the woman whom Dante loved, is also, through the power of the sign, the light which illuminates him. Sophie von Kϋhn, while remaining the dead fiancée of Novalis, is also the call of God that seduces him.

Thus it is that poetry captures the secret senses of things, and the all-embracing sense, still more secret, of subjectivity obscurely revealed: in order to throw both into a matter to be formed. And both, the senses perceived in things and the deeper and more vital, unifying sense of the avowal of creative subjectivity, compose together one single complete and complex sense, through which the work exists, and which is what we called in a previous chapter the poetic sense of the work.

11. Are there some particular observations to be made regarding poetic intuition in the painter, as contradistinguished to poetic intuition in the poet? I would say that in both of them poetic intuition has the same fundamental characteristics, but with' further differences which seem to me to have essential significance. The reason for this is the fact that the reality with which the poet is confronted is the very object of intelligence, that is, the ocean of Being, in its absolute universality; whereas the reality with which the painter is confronted is the universe of visible matter, of Corporeal Being, through which alone the ocean of Being in its infinity comes to show through for him. The world of the painter is the world of the eye before being and while being the world of the intellect.

As a result, in order to describe the painter's poetic intuition, we must first remember that he is a captive of Nature, he is bound to her, he cannot escape her–"one cannot go against nature," as Picasso himself put it: and all painters feel the same way. But, as I pointed out in previous remarks22 (that I should like to resume in giving them now full philosophical bearing), the painter does not look at nature as at a separate thing-in-itself, to be copied or imitated in its external appearances. He looks at nature as at a creative mystery which he tries to imitate in its secret workings and inner ways of operation, and which, by means of poetic intuition, comes through his eyes to the recesses of his own creative subjectivity as a germ or a key23 of that object which is the work to be produced into existence. What the intellect of the painter grasps in the dark of Things and his own Self together, is an aspect of the infinite depths of Visible Corporeal Being in so far as constructible or feasible in colors and lines, an aspect or element of the mystery of the universe of visible matter or corporeal existence in so far as this aspect or element is meant to fructify into a work–which itself is an object for the eye before being and while being an object for the intellect.24

But this very process cannot come about without going at the same time beyond the universe of visible corporeal existence and attaining enigmatically the infinity of the universe of Being and existence. Since in poetic intuition subjectivity is the very vehicle to penetrate into the objective world, what is looked for by the painter in visible things must possess the same kind of inner depth and inexhaustible reserves for possible revelation as his own Self. While grasping some aspect of visible corporeal existence as a reality, he grasps it also as a sign, through which are brought to him, in a kind of indeterminable fluidity, the same secret meanings, correspondences, echoes, and intercommunications which the poet obscurely catches in the universe of Being and the human universe. Yet the painter catches them still more obscurely, and only in the manner of resonances or overtones. The painter's poetic intuition conveys to him–as a "seminal principle" or key to operation–some of the inexhaustible inside aspects of visible matter, and, by the same stroke, some of the more in-exhaustible meanings which make the invisible universe of Being show through–and all this is caught by way of knowledge through connaturality, according to any direction whatever in which an act of spiritual communication with the things of the world can be brought about, and all this can be expressed only by recasting these things into a new visible fabric.

Thus it is that genuine painting, while remaining strictly painting, attains–especially after the "liberation" accomplished in modern times–to a kind of metaphysical vastness and a degree of intellectuality which resemble those peculiar to poetry. It does so through its obscure grasping, by means of creative intuition, both of the workable secrets of the world of visible matter and the implied or suggested inner realities of the world of Being.

Modern painting longs, like modern poetry, for a superior degree of intellectuality, and is intent on the impact of Things on intuitive reason –to the very extent to which it is true to poetic knowledge. But at the same time modern painting (like modern poetry) is tempted to go in the opposite direction, and runs the risk of dispersing in mere sensationalism or in a merely taste-guided and superficial release of imagination, to the very extent to which it mistakes the nonlogical character of poetic knowledge, or the liberation from conceptual reason, for a total break with and liberation from reason itself and. the intellect itself, thus losing any spiritual or emotional gravity, and neglecting those "mysterious centers of thought" of which Gauguin spoke. This ambivalence of modern painting seems to me singularly striking; and singularly instructive for the philosopher.

I should like to observe, in addition, that it is not surprising–precisely because of the particular conditions I just tried to point out–that the utterances of painters about the peculiar poetic intuition of their own are poorer than those of the poets. They confess themselves in their canvas, not in their words. And they use as a rule, in point of introspection, a humble vocabulary, in which they choose quite modest (sometimes all the more moving) words that convey in reality a deeper meaning for which they have no expression. They speak in this way of their "little sensation,"25 as Cézanne put it, of their "impressions,"26 their "feelings,"27 their "interior promptings,"28 their "vision"29–this word "vision" is probably for them a very close equivalent of what in a philosophical perspective we call poetic intuition.

Yet some more significant evidences are not lacking, not to speak of the great testimony of Chinese painters. It is in the full force of the sense with which they are laden that we must understand the words of a painter or a sculptor when he tells us that for him "everything he sees has an inexhaustible fullness and value,"30  that he has put "as far as possible . . . the logic of the visible at the service of the invisible,"31 or that "the artist . . . sees; that is to say, his eye, grafted on his heart, reads deeply into the bosom of nature";32  or that to express the "big forms" in which all the richness of nature is concealed "you have to love these, to be a part of these in sympathy";33 or the words of van Gogh, when he writes: "Instead of trying to reproduce exactly what I have before my eyes, I use color more arbitrarily so as to express myself forcibly,"34 "I want to paint men and women with that something of the eternal which the halo used to symbolize, and which we seek to give by the actual radiance and vibration of our colorings";35 and the words of Poussin when he says that "painting is nothing but an image of incorporeal things despite the fact that it exhibits bodies," and that there are, in the components of the work, "parts" which "are of the painter himself and cannot be learned. That is the golden bough of Vergil, which no one can find nor gather if he is not led by destiny."36

On the other hand, if the observations I have submitted are true, we may realize that friendship and community of effort and theories between painters and poets, as developed especially since the time of German Romanticism and of Baudelaire and Delacroix, are of course a blessing, but that they can also be detrimental to both sides. The groups in which they exchange ideas, claims, mutual admiration, and mutual jealousy, serve to stimulate and enlarge the creative instinct in an invaluable manner.37 But they also may result in having either painters or poets disregard what is most specific in their own particular approach to the work. Poets instructed by painters may see in the poem a mere construction of images. Painters instructed by poets may try to get clear of that concentration on the world of visible corporeal existence which a Cézanne went in for with such heroic tenacity,38 and thus forget the primary requirement of painting's peculiar poetic intuition. Then, in quest of a direct attainment of the world of Being in its absolute universality, they will endeavor to go out of painting–only to slip into some kind or other of expressionist literature; or else, disappointed and discouraged, they will fall back on any new sort of academicism, covered by a pretense of freedom and a display of ideological tenets.

Poetic Intuition as Creative

12. My last remarks will deal with the second of the two aspects that can be distinguished in poetic intuition, namely poetic intuition as creative.

From the very start poetic intuition is turned toward operation. As soon as it exists, the instant it awakens the substance of the poet to itself and to an echoing secret of the reality, it is, in the depth of the nonconceptual life of the intellect, an incitation to create. This incitation can remain virtual. The poet, because poetic intuition is his ordinary frame of mind, is constantly open to such hidden incitations,

Tu lis les prospectus, les catalogues, les affiches
qui chantent tout haut,
Voila la poésie ce matin . . .39

and not all of them can pass to the act. Nay more, a poetic intuition can be kept in the soul a long time, latent (though never forgotten), till some day it will come out of sleep, and compel to creation. But at that moment there is no need of any additional element, it is only a question of application to actual exercise. Everything was already there, contained in poetic intuition, everything was given, all the vitality, all the insight, all the strength of creativity which is now in act, like a dart empowered with a power of intellectual direction; and in a certain sense (intensively–whatever part adventitious chance may have in the development) the totality of the work to be engendered was already present in advance, whether this totality is now virtually given in the first line of a poem, as a gift from the preconscious life of the soul, or virtually concentrated in the spiritual germ of a novel or a drama.

With respect to the work made, it might be said, it seems to me, that that element in beauty which is integrity has principally to do with poetic intuition as objectivizing itself into the action or the theme," whereas that element which is radiance has principally to do with poetic intuition in its native and original state. Hence it is that poetic intuition may happen to appear with striking radiance even a poem lacking in integrity; and such splintered fragments, transparent to the rays of being, may be enough to reveal the pure essence of poetry. For nothing is more precious than a capture on the high seas of poetry, be it offered in a single line–

L'espoir luit comme un brin de paille dans l'étable . . .41

O Thou steeled Cognizance whose leap commits
The agile precincts of the lark's return . . .42

Odour of blood when Christ was slain
Made all Platonic tolerance vain.43

And I shall always prefer a haikai, if' it has this kind of transparency, to a big noisy machine deafening me with ideas. Yet the fact remains that from the very start poetic intuition virtually contains and encompasses the poem as a whole, and demands to pass through it as a whole; when it does not succeed in appearing save in a fragmentary way, it is because it has been betrayed by the art of the poet.

13. Now a further issue must be examined. If we turn to the useful arts we observe that poetic knowledge or intuitive emotion is not in them the spiritual germ of the work to be made. Poetic intuition can play a part in them–then a concern for beauty will creep into them; but poetic intuition is not the determinative focus of their creativity. This determinative focus is what the Schoolmen called the idea factiva, say the "creative idea." They took care, moreover, to warn us that the craftsman's creative idea is in no way a concept, for it is neither cognitive nor representative, it is only generative; it does not tend to make our mind conformed to things, but to make a thing conformed to our mind. They never even used the word "idea" in the sense of "concept," as we have done since the time of Descartes. And so, if we may continue to speak of the craftsman's creative idea, it is on the condition that we be aware of the fact that this word idea is merely analogous when applied to that creative idea and to what we usually call ideas. The craftsman's creative idea is an intellectual form, or a spiritual matrix, containing implicitly, in its complex unity, the thing which, perhaps for the first time, will be brought into actual existence. And this creative idea pertains to the virtue of art, is involved in the virtue of art, is the initial determinative focus in the exercise of this virtue.

Well, by a most unfortunate occurrence, it happened that this same expression, creative idea, was transferred from the realm of the useful arts to the realm of the fine arts, better to say, of those arts which depend on the Platonic mousikè, or on poetry. As a result, the worst confusions came about. Theoreticians of art, mistaking this "idea" for a concept, fancied that the so-called creative idea was an ideal model sitting for the artist in his own brain, the work supposedly being a copy or portrait of it. This would make of art a cemetery of imitations. The work is an original, not a copy, and never has such a thing as this idea as model existed except in the mind of some aestheticians imbued With spurious Platonism, or some philosophers misreading the theological notion of the divine Ideas.

At the same time the expression "creative idea," which makes sense only as the craftsman's creative idea, was used to designate the poetic in-tuition itself in its creative aspect, the poetic intuition born in emotion, in the primeval sources of the preconscious life of the intellect. And poor Eckermann was to ask his wonderful Goethe what was the idea he had endeavored to embody in Faust. "As if I knew," Goethe answered, "as if I myself could tell! From Heaven, through Earth, down to Hell, there's an explanation, if you want one: but that is not the idea, that's the development of the action. . .

That was not the idea, for there was no idea, but only poetic intuition, which is in no way an idea. In reality–this is a point I shall emphasize again in the next chapter–poetic intuition transcends the virtue of art. And poetic intuition involves and contains within itself, in a superior state and eminent manner, formaliter-eminenter, as a scholastic would say, all that exists–and infinitely more (for it is both cognitive and creative)–in the craftsman's creative idea. It is enough for poetic intuition to pass to actual operative exercise; by the same stroke it will enter the sphere and dynamism of the virtue of art, whose more or less adequate means it will bring into play.44

14. Such is the case, indeed, with every genuine poet. Now not all artists and poets are genuine poets. What I mean is that, at the initial moment of the operative exercise, another process can take place. Then, the poetic intuition becomes a craftsman's creative idea, losing its inherent transcendence and descending, as it were, into the mechanical noise and the merely intellectual concerns for manufacturing with which the craftsman's creative idea is pregnant; and to the extent to which it becomes a craftsman's creative idea, the poetic intuition leaves behind many of its essentials, especially the creative power inherent in the superior unity of the grasping effected by poetic knowledge and intuitive emotion.45 This phenomenon comes about, it seems to me, when man, in a hurry to display his own energy and to produce something great, or because poetic intuition is weak in him, eves beyond poetic intuition, and, instead of listening to it, endeavors to supplement it in his own way–not to speak of those in whom poetic intuition is simply lacking.46 Thus it is that we meet in bookstores, concerts, and exhibitions so many works which have nothing or little to say; and that in so many dramas there is plot but no action; and that in so many novels the characters are either creatures deprived of freedom which only execute the pre-established plan of a watchmaker god, or creatures wandering on the loose which ceaselessly escape the weak purposes of an impotent god. Only, I think, an exceptionally powerful poetic intuition can cause the relationship between the novelist and his characters to be what it must be--an image, I mean, of the relationship between the transcendent creative eternity of God and the free creatures who are both acting in liberty and firmly embraced by His purpose.

The remarks I just put forward give account, I believe, of a distinction which, like all essential distinctions, can be difficult of application in particular cases, but of which literary and art criticism has always been basically aware: on the one hand, the sons of Mousikè, the poets and creators (who can also be perfect craftsmen), and on the other hand the sons of Technè, the men of letters, or the professionals (who can also be bad craftsmen).

15. We may observe, in closing, that the craftsman's creative idea, which is part of the virtue of art, improves from the very fact that this virtue itself improves, both by exercise and by discipline.

On the other hand, poetic intuition can neither be learned nor improved by exercise and discipline, for it depends on a certain natural freedom of the soul and the imaginative faculties and on the natural strength of the intellect. It cannot be improved in itself, it demands only to be listened to. But the poet can make himself better prepared for or available to it by removing obstacles and noise. He can guard and protect it, and thus foster the spontaneous progress of its strength and purity in him. He can educate himself to it, by never betraying it (this is a serious school in discipline) and by making everything second to it (this is a serious school in sacrifice).

As to the operative exercise of poetic intuition, moreover, it can be improved by a certain humility, I don't mean with regard to men, but with regard to this intuition itself–and also by the work of intelligence and of the virtue of art dealing with the ways and means of execution. For poetic intuition, as concerns its operative exercise, perfects itself in the course of the artistic process. I do not mean that at the beginning poetic intuition is something either formless or fragmentary, as Claude]. says–too harshly–of the results of inspiration47 (because he thinks only of what emerges as conceptually seizable into the field of consciousness); I mean that poetic intuition, though full and complete from the very start, involves, at the beginning, a great part of virtuality. It is with the steady labor of intelligence intent on the elaboration of the form that this virtuality contained in poetic intuition actualizes and unfolds itself all along the process of production. And then the very exercise of artistic science and intellectual perspicacity, choosing, judging, cutting out all the nonsignificant, the fat, the superfluous, causes–precisely because it is always listening to creative emotion and appealing to it–new partial flashes of poetic intuition to be released at each step of the work. Without this steady labor poetic intuition would not, as a rule, disclose its entire virtue.

But let us return to the intrinsic quality of poetic intuition itself in the poet, and to the question of its higher or lesser degree. What matters most in this connection is inner experience and its deepening into further and further recesses of subjectivity. Since poetic intuition is born in these recesses, where the intellect, the imagination, all the powers of the soul suffer in unity some reality of existence brought to them by intentional emotion, it involves first of all a certain alert receptivity. As the mystic suffers divine things, the poet is here to suffer the things of this world, and to suffer them so much that he is enabled to speak them and himself out. And when he is most engaged in the act of spiritual communication, it is because then he still suffers attentively an inexorable hand stronger than he, that passes and does not return. The degree of creative strength of poetic intuition is proportional to the degree of depth of such attentive passivity.

I should like to repeat at this point what I have tried to say in another essay.48 "In order that there should grow unceasingly, conforming to its law, the life of the creative spirit, it is necessary that the center of subjectivity where this creative spirit awakens to itself in suffering the things of the world and those of the soul should unceasingly be deepened. In following this line of reflection one would probably be led to ask oneself whether, beyond a certain degree of depth, this progress in spirituality can continue unless, under one form or another, a religious experience properly so called helps the soul of the poet to quit the surface levels. Continuing at any price, refusing heroically to renounce the growth of the creative spirit, when one has nevertheless made impossible such an experience postulated by the whole being, wasn't this perhaps the secret of Nietzsche's disaster? In any case, what I want to keep in mind here, is that creation takes form at different levels within the spiritual fabric of the soul–everyone by this very fact confesses what he is. The more the poet grows, the deeper the level of creative intuition descends into the density of his soul.49 Where formerly he could be moved to song, he can do nothing now, he must dig down deeper. One would say that the shock of suffering and vision breaks down, one after another, the living sensitive partitions behind which his identity is hiding. He is harassed, he is tracked down, he is destroyed. Woe to him if in retiring into himself he finds a heaven devastated, inaccessible; he can do nothing then but sink into his hell. But if at the end of the ends the poet turns silent, it is not that the growth of which I speak may ever come to an end, it is not that of itself the song does not still ask to be more deeply born in him, less distant from the creative uncreated spirituality, archetype of all creative life: it is that the last partition of the heart has been attained, and the human substance consumed."

These lines, which deal with poetic intuition in general, were written in relation to music, and to Arthur Lourie, who to my mind provides us with the greatest example, in contemporary music, of that depth in creative inspiration of which I spoke.50 The composer offers indeed a privileged experience to the speculations of the philosopher. Less bound to the universe of human ideas and human values than he who creates with the vocables of the language of men, less bound than the painter or the sculptor to the forms and images of things, less bound than the architect to the conditions for the use of the thing created, it is in the composer that are verified in the most limpid fashion the metaphysical exigencies of poetry. It is in him, when he falls short of them, that the gap is most apparent. None other than a maker of operas could instruct a Nietzsche by so perfectly decisive a disappointment.

The Creative Self and the Self-centered Ego

16. All the preceding considerations on poetic knowledge help us to understand the essential disinterestedness of poetic activity. They also oblige us to realize that a crucial distinction must be made between the creative Self and the self-centered ego.

This distinction has something to do with the metaphysical distinction between the human person as person, and the human person as individual. Matter (in the Aristotelian sense of materia prima)is the primary root of individuality, and matter both longs for being (as a pure potency which has no determination of itself ) and narrows being (which it limits to its own capacity or receptivity under given conditions). In each of us, individuality, being that which excludes from ourselves that which other men are, might be described as the narrowness of the ego, always threatened and always eager to grasp for itself. Personality, on the other hand, is rooted in the spirit inasmuch as the spirit holds itself in existence and superabounds in existence. It is the subsistence of the spiritual soul communicated to the whole fabric of the human being and holding it in unity, and it testifies to the generosity or expansiveness in being which pertains to its spiritual principle. Personality means interiority to oneself and re-quires at the same time the communications of knowledge and love. By the very fact that each of us is a person and has spiritual inwardness, each of us requires communication with other and the others in the order of knowledge and love; and the supreme act of the person as such is that giving of oneself which is one with love.51 The new and eternal name, in-scribed on the white stone, which will be given us one day, and "which no one knoweth but he that receiveth it,"52 reveals our personality. The name by which men know us, and which is inscribed on our passports, is but one of the designations of our individuality. "Thou art thyself though," Juliet said, "not a Montague. . . . Romeo, doff thy name; And for that name, which is no part of thee, Take all myself."53

The creative Self of the artist is his person as person, in the act of spiritual communication, not his person as material individual or as self-centered ego.

Lionel de Fonseka asserts that "vulgarity always says I."54 Let us add that vulgarity says one also, and this is the same thing, for vulgarity's I is nothing but the self-centered ego, a neuter subject of predicates and phenomena, a subject as matter, marked with the opacity and voracity of matter, like the I of the egoist.

But in an entirely different manner poetry likewise always says I. "My heart hath uttered a good word," David sang, "Vivify me and I will keep Thy commandments." Poetry's I is the substantial depth of living and loving subjectivity, it is the creative Self, a subject as act, marked with the diaphaneity and expansiveness proper to the operations of the spirit. Poetry's I resembles in this respect the I of the saint, and likewise, although to quite other ends, it is a subject which gives.55

Thus, by necessity of nature, poetic activity is, of itself, disinterested. It engages the human Self in its deepest recesses, but in no way for the sake of the ego. The very engagement of the artist's Self in poetic activity, and the very revelation of the artist's Self in his work, together with the revelation of some particular meaning he has obscurely grasped in things, are for the sake of the work. The creative Self is both revealing itself and sacrificing itself, because it is given; it is drawn out of itself in that sort of ecstasy which is creation, it dies to itself in order to live in the work (how humbly and defenselessly).

This essential disinterestedness of the poetic act means that egoism is the natural enemy of poetic activity.

The artist as a man can be busy only with his craving for creation. He can say, like Baudelaire: "I don't give a damn for the human race," he can be concerned only with his work, like Proust, he can be an out-and-out egoist, as Goethe was: in his process of creation, inasmuch as he is an artist, he is not an egoist, he is disinterested in his ego.

But the artist as a man can have his craving for creation involved in the movement of expansion and generosity of a soul whose passions and ambitions are not those of an egoist. And such internal abundance and magnanimity is the normal and connatural climate of the virtue of art. Narrowness and avarice in human desires make it live in cold and sleet. After all Shelley was right in writing that the "state of mind" naturally linked with poetic inspiration "is at war with every base desire!"56

17. It is, I think, an effect of the essential disinterestedness of the poet in the very act of poetry, and an effect of his natural orientation toward creation, that the poets and artists of the past gave us such poor indications of their own inner creative experience. They spoke in the most conventional and shallow rhetoric- and the most commonplace stock phrases–nascuntur poetae, the Muses, the Caelestial Patroness, the Genius, the Poetic Faculty, the divine spark, later on the goddess Imagination–of this experience, which at least the greatest among them lived in fact, to be sure, but which their conscious intellect did not seek to grasp. They were not interested in reflexive self-awareness. The reflex age, the age of prise de conscience, which roughly speaking began for mysticism at the time of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, came later for poetry. When it began for it, at the time of Romanticism, it brought to completion the slow process of "revelation of the Self” which had developed in the course of modern centuries.57

This revelation of the Self is a blessing inasmuch as it takes place the genuine line of poetry. It becomes a curse when it shifts from the line of poetry, and of the creative Self in the fire of spiritual communication, the line of man's material individuality, and of the self-centered ego, busy with self-interest and power. Then the egoism of man enters the sphere the poetic act, and feeds on this very act. And being there in an unnatural state, it grows boundlessly. The poetic act itself, on the other hand, is insidiously wounded, even in great poets, as some points taken up in the next chapter will permit us to see.

The shift in question came about, in fact, simultaneously with the in comparable progress that poetry owes to the definitive revelation of the creative Self. That is one of the usual predicaments of human history. And nevertheless the essential disinterestedness of the poetic act is so ineradicable that the final result of this invasion by the human ego in the universe of art could not possibly be to make the artist into a creative usurer (that is a contradiction in terms); it was–I shall return to this point–to make him into a hero, a priest, or a savior, offering himself in sacrifice no longer his work but both to the world and to his own glory.


1. Cf. Sum. theol., I, 77,4 and 6.

2. Ibid., a. 7.

3. Edgar Allan Poe defined art as "the reproduction of what the senses perceive in nature through the veil of the soul." Marginalia, LXXXVI; in Complete Works (New York: The Lamb Publishing Co., 1902), Vol. IX.

4. We may observe at this point, in regard to Coleridge's celebrated distinction between imagination and fancy, that what Coleridge called fancy relates to the “externals of imagination” (the second circle in our diagram) inasmuch as the streams and associations of images are released from the actual service of sense perception and man's practical life ("Equally with the ordinary memory the Fancy must receive all its materials ready-made from the law of association."–Biographia Literaria, Ch. XIII).

What he called imagination relates to the imagination and the intuitive intellect together, as vitally united in the preconscious life of the spirit.

In forging–or rather borrowing from Schelling, as Huntington Cairns observes (Invitation to Learning, New York: Random House, 1941, p. 244)–the expression esemplastic Imagination (ες ν πλττειν , "to shape into one"), Coleridge had in view the implied tendency toward creation, and the unifying power involved.

5. Cf. Raïssa Maritain, "Sens et Nonsens en poésie," in Situation de la Poésie (Paris: Desclée De Brouwer, 1938), pp. 21– 22 (new ed., pp. 22-23).

6. Moby Dick (New York: Random House, The modern Library, 1926), p. 53.

7. Cf. my Art and Poetry (New York: Philosophical Library, 1943), p. 89.

8. "This thing which is in me but which no efforts of mine can slay!

"Wherefore time and again I stroke my empty bosom in pity for myself: so ignorant am I of what causes the opening and the barring of the door."

Lu Chi, Wen Fu, II,(o), 6-7, in The Art of Letters: Lu Chi's “Wen Fu,” A.D. 302,trans. and ed. E. R. Hughes (Bollingen Series XXIX; New York: Pantheon Books, 1951), p. 108.

9. "La valeur d'une oeuvre est en raison du contact poignant du poète avec sa destinée." Le Gant de crin (Paris: Plon, 1926), pp. 48-49. – "To the modern poet," Allen Tate wrote, "poetry is one of the ways that we have of knowing the world." On the Limits of Poetry (New York: The Swallow Press and William Morrow, 1948), p. 117.

10. "Poetry, I think, must be much more `creative' than science is, or at least much more spiritedly, incessantly so. It is such an eager cognitive impulse that it overreaches its object. That is its glory, and one of the causes of its delightfulness perhaps, and certainly the source of its bad reputation. It goes where science hardly cares to set foot." John Crowe Ransom, The World's Body (New York: Scribner, 1938), p. 165.

11. Sum. theol., II-II, 45, 2.–Cf. my book The Range of Reason (New York: Scribner, 1952), Chapter III.

12. Sum. theol., I, 1, 6, ad 3.

12a. Moby Dick (The modern Library), p. 554.

13. Must I quote at this point the testimony, of painters? "Be guided by feeling alone," Corot said. "We are only simple mortals, subject to error; so listen to the advice of others, but follow only what you understand and can unite in your own feeling. . . . While I strive for a conscientious imitation I yet never for an instant lose the emotion 'that has taken hold of me."

Similarly van Gogh: "Is it not emotion, the sincerity of one's feeling for nature, that draws us, and if the emotions are sometimes so strong that one works without knowing one works, when sometimes the strokes come with a sequence and a coherence like words in a speech or a letter, then one must remember that it has not always been so, and that in the time to come there will again be heavy days, empty of inspiration."

And Braque: "Emotion . . . is the seed, the work is the flower."

And Hopper: "I believe that the great painters, with their intellect as master, have attempted to force this unwilling medium of paint and canvas into a record of their emotions. I find any digression from this large aim leads me to boredom."

And Matisse: "I am unable to distinguish between the feeling I have for life and my way of expressing it."

All from Artists on Art (New York: Pantheon Books, 1945) PP. 241, 381, 423, 472, 410.

14. See supra, pp. 6-7 and 8. – As I put it in Art and Scholasticism (New York: Scribner, 1930): "I will willingly suffer the domination of the object which the artist has conceived and which he puts before my eyes; I will then yield myself unreservedly to the emotion roused in him and me by one same beauty, one same transcendental in which we communicate. But I refuse to suffer the domination of an art which deliberately contrives means of suggestion to seduce my subconscious. I resist an emotion which the will of a man claims to impose upon me." (p. 66).

See also E. I. Watkin, A Philosophy of Form (rev. ed.; London and New York: Sheed and Ward, 1951), Chapter II, section IV.–In his remarkable analysis of aesthetic contemplation, Mr. Watkin rightly points out both the intellectuality and objectivity of artistic intuition, and its essential difference from the emotion or vital pleasure which normally accompanies it. These pages afford us the most correct philosophical approach I have read on the matter–except for the lack of the key notion of intentional emotion, as contradistinguished to ordinary or "vital" emotion.

15. On the notion of intentionality, which is absolutely basic in the theory of knowledge, see my books Réflexions sur l'Intelligence (Paris: Desclée De Brouwer, 1924), pp. 59-68, and Les Degrés du Savoir (Paris: Desclée De Brouwer, 1932), pp. 221-24.

16. The distinction made in this paragraph is basically important, and it is relevant to discuss in this connection certain views expressed by T. S. Eliot in The Sacred Wood (London: Methuen, 1920). Eliot, in his essays on "The Perfect Critic" and on "Tradition and the Individual Talent," points to valuable truths but at the price of serious equivocation, because he overlooks this distinction. He makes his point with regard to brute or merely subjective emotion (emotion as a simple psychological state), but glosses over what matters most: intentional or creative emotion (emotion as the proper medium of poetic knowledge).

It is quite true that, as he puts it in "The Perfect Critic," one who reads poets should not mistake for the poetry "an emotional state aroused in himself by the poetry, a state which may be merely an indulgence of his own emotions." (This deals with brute or merely subjective emotion.) It is quite true that "the end of the enjoyment of poetry is a pure contemplation from which all the accidents of personal emotion are removed"–that is, all the accidents of brute or merely subjective emotion. But this pure contemplation itself is steeped in the creative emotion or poetic intuition conveyed by the poem.

The emotions and feelings of which Eliot speaks in "Tradition and the Individual Talent" are, too, only brute or merely subjective emotions and feelings. Such affective states are indeed merely matter or material, as I have said, which poetry must "digest" and "transmute." "It is not the `greatness,’ the intensity, of the emotions, the components, but the intensity of the artistic process, the pressure, so to speak, under which the fusion takes place, that counts." That is perfectly right, but it is through the creative or intentional emotion that the fusion takes place. The pressure of the artistic process would be of no avail to poetry if it did not proceed from poetic intuition or creative emotion. "It is not in his personal emotions, the emotions provoked by particular events in his life, that the poet is in any way remarkable or interesting. His particular emotions may be simple, or crude, or Bat. The emotion in his poetry will be a very complex thing, but not with the complexity of the emotions of people who have very complex or unusual emotions in life. One error, in fact, of eccentricity in poetry is to seek for new human emotions to express: and in this search for novelty in the wrong places it discovers the perverse. The business of the poet is not to find new emotions, but to use the ordinary ones and, in working them up into poetry, to express feelings which are not in actual fact emotions at all." All this deals with emotion as material, with brute or merely subjective emotion. It would mislead us if we forgot the essential, necessary part played by that emotion which causes to express, emotion as formative, emotion as intentional vehicle of reality known through inclination and as proper medium of poetic intuition. This creative emotion, moreover, distinct as it is from the merely subjective emotions or feelings of the poet as a man, lives on them, so that, while being bound to transmute them, he cannot 'escape from them" as simply as Eliot seems to suggest It would be misunderstanding Eliot in a most unfortunate manner to believe that self-restraint is enough for this, and finally to mistake poetic discipline for artistic skill plus dessication of the heart. The escape of which he speaks cannot come about except through poetic knowledge and creative emotion, and in the very act of creating. And this is what he means.

"Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion." An escape from brute or merely subjective emotion, yes! But, as I just said, through and in creative emotion!

One single sentence in this essay touches the core of the matter. "Very few," Eliot writes, "know when there is expression of significant emotion, emotion which has its life in the poem and not in the history of the poet." At last! At last we are told of the significant emotion, the intentional and creative emotion, without which there is no poetry. It deserved better than to be only alluded to in passing.

It seems also relevant to add at this point a few remarks about the indictment of Western art that Lionel de Fonseka offers us in the name of Eastern wisdom. The author has the merit of frankness in stating the issue in extreme terms. But he irremediably mistakes intentional emotion for brute emotion and the creative Self for the self-centered ego. In binding, moreover, art to utility, and making the artist an artisan at the service of human life, he simply disregards both the transcendental nature of beauty and the spiritual value of poetic knowledge and creative emotion.

"An obscene work to us [Orientals]," he writes, "is one wherein the artist lays bare his soul, and many of your modern artists we should consider spiritual prostitutes." On the Truth of Decorative Art, A Dialogue between an Oriental and an Occidental (London: Greening and Co., 1912), p. 56. This sentence typifies the philosophy of those enemies of poetry who hold forth on art without recognizing its deepest life force, and who ignore the law of generosity proper to the spirit. For them, in the last analysis, any gift of oneself is prostitution. It is but natural that they regard as prostitution (which means no real gift but only making oneself into an instrument of pleasure) the gift of himself through which the artist discloses in his work his soul and the world, so as to become a free creator (through the work) of joy and delectation–of the spiritual delectation by which men are liberated from their material ego and raised to experiential knowledge and love of what is better than human life.

When Baudelaire spoke in his own way of art as prostitution (Fusées, I; in Journaux intimes, ed. van Bever, Paris: Crès, 1919, p. 4), he made just the reverse error, in the opposite direction, and used a perverse image to humiliate what he revered and express the supreme law of the laying bare and giving of oneself which commands poetic creation.

17. In the case of mystical contemplation, love of charity (which is much more than an emotion) becomes a means of experiential knowledge for the virtue of faith which already tends toward and knows (though not experientially) the reality with which to be united. And a special inspiration of the divine Spirit is necessary, be-cause a supernatural object is then to be experienced in a supernatural manner.

In the case of poetic knowledge, on the contrary, no previous virtue of the intellect is already in the act of knowing when emotion brings the enigmatic reality which moves the soul, the world which resounds in it and which it suffers, to the bosom of subjectivity and of the creativity of the spirit. And the entire process needs no inspiration whatever from the outside--no more than the knowledge a mother has of her child through affection or connaturality–because the object as well as the mode of experience are simply natural.

18. Thus it is through the notion and reality of poetic knowledge that the sentence of Novalis quoted in the preceding chapter (pp. 84-85) takes on philosophical sense, and appears not as a pure élan of lyricism, but as a justifiable statement: "The poet is literally out of his senses–fir exchange, all comes about within him. He is, to the letter, subject and object at the same time, soul and universe."

Rimbaud's saying "Je est un autre" is found in his letter of May 15, 1871, to Paul Demeny ("Lettre du Voyant"), first published by Paterne Berrichon in La Nouvelle Revue Francaise, October, 1912.

19. Poetics, ch. 9, 1451. b 6.

20. "En poésie c'est seulement partir de la communication et de la libre-disposition de la totalité des choses entre elles travers nous que nous nous trouvons engagés et définis, à même d'obtenir notre forme originale et nos propriétés probatoires." René Char, Seuls demeurent (Paris: Gallimard, 1945), p. 75.

21. Paul Eluard, L'Amour la Poésie (Paris:N.R.F., 1929).

22. See Chapter I, pp. 29-3o.

23. See p. 29, note 23.

24. See Chapter II, p. 49, note 4.

25. "J'ai une petite sensation, mais je n'arrive pas à m'exprimer, je suis conune qui posséderait une piece d'or sans pouvoir s'en servir." Ambroise Vollard, Paul Cézanne (Paris: Crès, 1924), p. 102.

26. "My aim in painting has always been the most exact transcription possible of my most intimate impressions of nature." Edward Hopper; in Artists on Art, p. 471.

27. See supra, p. 119, note 13.

28. Georges Rouault; in Artists on Art, p. 415.

29. "It is the first vision that counts. The artist has only to remain true to his dream and it will possess his work in such a manner that it will resemble the work of no other man–for no two visions are alike." Albert Pinkham Ryder; ibid., p. 356. "Time and reflection, moreover, little by little modify our vision, and at last comprehension comes to us." Cézanne; ibid., p. 366.

30. Hans von Marées; ibid., p. 388.

31. Odilon Redon; ibid., p. 361..

32. Rodin; ibid., p. 325.

33. "Seems to me the true artist must perforce go from time to time to the elemental big forms--Sky, Sea, Mountain, Plain–and those things pertaining thereto, to sort of re-true himself up, to recharge the battery. For these big forms have everything. But to express these, you have to love these, to be a part of these in sympathy." John Marin; ibid., p. 468.

Did not the Chinese poet quoted by Mr. Rowley similarly say: "The mountain and I never grow tired of one another"? Chou Mushih slept in a boat so that "his dreams might mingle with those of the lotus." George Rowley, Principles of Chinese Painting (Princeton University Press, 1947), pp. 21-24.

34. He goes on to say: "I should like to paint the portrait of an artist friend, a man who dreams great dreams, who works as the nightingale sings, because it is his nature. He’ll be a fair man. I want to put into the picture my appreciation, the love I have for him. So I paint him as he is, as faithfully as I can, to begin with. But the picture is not finished yet. To finish it I am now going to be the arbitrary colorist. I exaggerate the fairness of the hair, I come even to orange tones, chromes, and pale lemon yellow. Beyond the head, instead of painting the ordinary wall of the mean room, I paint infinity, a plain background of the richest, intensest blue that I can contrive, and by this simple combination of the bright head against the rich blue background, I get a mysterious effect, like a star in the depths of ark azure sky." From a letter to his brother Theo, 3.888; in Artists on Art, p. 383.

35. To Theo, 1888; ibid.

36. "Ces dernières parties sont du peintre et ne se peuvent apprendre. C'est le rameau d'or de Virgil?, que nul ne peut trouver ni cueillir s'il n est conduit par la fatalité." From a letter to M. de Chambray, 1665.

37. ". . . Chacun des maitres d'aujourd'hui avait son poète avant la guerre de 14: Picasso, Max Jacob; Braque, Pierre Reverdy; Juan Gris, Ricciotto Canudo; Léger, Chagall, Roger de La Fresnaye, Modigliani, je m’excuse, Blaise Cendrars; et toute l'Ecole de Paris, cubistes et orphistes, Guillaume Apollinaire; ce ne sont ni les marchands de tableaux ni les critiques d'art ni les collectionneurs mais les poètes modernes qui ont fait ces peintres célèbres, on l'oublie un peu trop, et l’oublient un peu trop tous cespeintres aujourd'hui millionnaires qui restent nos débiteurs, à nous, pauvres poètes!" Blaise Cendrars, Le Lotissement du Ciel (Paris: Denoel,1949), p. 226.

38. ". . . treat nature by the cylinder, the sphere, the cone, everything in proper perspective so that each side of an object or a plane is directed toward a central point. Lines parallel to the horizon give breadth–that is, a section of nature or, if you prefer, of the spectacle that the Pater Omnipotens Aeteme Deus spreads out before our eyes. Lines perpendicular to this horizon give depth. But nature for us men is more depth than surface, whence the need of introducing into our light vibrations, represented by reds and yellows, a sufficient amount of blue to give the impression of air." April 15, 1904; in Artists on Art, p. 363.

39. Apollinaire, "Zone," Alcools.

40. See Chapter IX, pp. 369-70.

41. Verlaine, in "L'espoir luit," Sagesse.

42. Crane, in "Atlantis," The Bridge.

43. Yeats, in "Two Songs from a Play," The Tower.

44. Let us not be deceived by the language of painters. What they sometimes call the "original idea" is but the sketch itself in which poetic intuition first takes visible form. "The original idea, the sketch, which is so to speak the egg or embryo of the idea, is usually far from being complete. . . .Delacroix, Journal, 1854; in Artists on Art, p. 234.

45. "It is not enough for a painter to be a clever craftsman; he must love to 'caress' his canvas too," Renoir said to Ambroise Vollard; ibid., p. 322.

46. "The so-called conscientiousness of the majority of painters is only perfection applied to the art of boring." Delacroix, Journal, 1850; ibid., p. 230.

47. See infra, Texts without Comment for Chapter VII, No. 8.

48. "The Freedom of Song" in Art and Poetry, pp. 90-91.

49. "Le poète . . . doit se lover dans de nouvelles larmes et pousser plus avant dans son ordre." René Char, Feudlets d'Hypnos (Paris: Gallimard, 1946), p. 20.

50. In his book The Perfect Conductor (New York: Pellegrini and Cudahy, 1951, pp. 101-102), Frederick Goldbeck stresses the direct line which relates the "unprecedented" symphonic works of Lourié to Monteverde--"a sort of al fresco polyphony of unrelated colors, as are piano, choir, brass, and double bass in his admirable Concerto spirituale."

51. Cf. my essay, The Person and the Common Good (New York: Scribner, 1947), Ch. III.

52. Apocalypse 2:17.

53. Romeo and Juliet, II, ii.

54. Lionel de Fonseka, On the Truth of Decorative Art, A Dialogue between an Oriental and an Occidental. (French trans., Paris: Chitra, 193o: "La vulgarité dit toujours je.")

55. I am afraid that T. S. Eliot, in his essay on "Tradition and the Individual Talent" (The Sacred Wood, pp. 47-53), missed the distinction between creative Self and self-centered ego, just as that between creative emotion and brute or merely subjective emotion (see p. 120, note 3.6). That is probably why, rightly stressing that poetry is not "expression of personality" in the sense of individuality or self-centered ego, but disregarding the fact that the poet is not only an individual, a material ego, but also ( and, as a poet, much more essentially) a person, a creative Self, he uses the word "personality" where individuality is concerned, and conceives the poet as a mere "catalyst" and "only a medium, not a personality."

"The more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates." In reality the man who suffers is in the mind which creates–as creative subjectivity and to be given in the work–separated from the self-centered ego by the operation of poetic knowledge and creative emotion. In this sense only it is true that "the emotion of art is impersonal–that is to say detached from the self-centered ego and one with poetic intuition, the most personal act of the creative Self.

"The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality"–that is to say of individuality, of the self-centered ego with its natural claims arid its deep natural, too natural entanglement with the activity of art. But at the same time the progress of an artist is an ever more significant assertion of personality, that is to say of the creative subjectivity–revealed in the work together with things.

In Man and Superman, Bernard Shaw condemned Shakespeare on the ground that his philosophy was only his wounded humanity." Well, I do not complain of being taught by the wounded humanity of a Shakespeare about man and human existence, and many things which matter to me in the reality of this world.

56. A Defense of Poetry.

57. See Chapter I, §§ 9-11.

Texts without Comment for Chapter Four
Chapter III. The Preconscious Life of the Intellect
Chapter V. Poetry and Beauty

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