Maria Irene Ramalho

Plato banned the poets from his ideal city supposedly because poetry lies. But poetry cannot lie because it nothing says.

Plato was a great admirer of Homer and the Greek tragedians. For the education of the guardians of his ideal city, however, Plato was willing to admit only poetry in praise of the gods and heroes. In Plato’s ideal city law and reason would rule; no room for pleasure or pain, feeling or passion, argument or critique. Poetry does seem to pose a problem for Plato. Unlike philosophy, which alone in the Republic is said to serve justice and good, poetry interrupts the status quo and causes disquietude.

But that is precisely why poetry stands to this day as part of the solution.

Someone said that language is fossil poetry. In the beginning the word coincided exactly with the thing. It accurately said what is. Later, the word started blabbering mere information from afar. Only in poetry worthy of the name does the word go on questioning its own accuracy. If it does not interrupt, question, resist and disquiet, poetry fails to fulfil its role as major interpellator.

Poetry – no embellishment or consolation, rather interruption and questioning – does not speak the truth which philosophy claims to speak. Poetry rather interpellates and questions the truth. The quarrel between philosophy and poetry that we hear about in Plato’s Republic goes on today, regrettably, after so much dispute on the two, three or four cultures, between the (Social) Sciences and the Humanities.

But if Newton’s binomial is as beautiful as the Venus de Milo, the Venus de Milo is as true as Newton’s binomial. We cannot do without either of them in this our difficult human journey towards a better world.

Indeed, poetry does not lie at all. Poetry speaks itself. And, by speaking itself, poetry says the world. Let it be heard loud and clear!

How to cite:
Ramalho, Maria Irene (2020), "Poetry", Words beyond the pandemic: a hundred-sided crisis. Consulted at 13.06.2021, in https://ces.uc.pt/publicacoes/palavras-pandemia/?lang=2&id=30174. ISBN: 978-989-8847-28-7