The Music of the Garden

I walk into the Garden waiting for a stir

When lo and behold the wind begins its song.

The air it strikes the leaves about, a light timbre 

That begs the birds to join and play along.

Soprano voices high and sweet arrive and sing

A call to dance while water drops answer,

Their alto voice no doubt a contrast they bring.

The voices harmonize all together.

Perhaps this music is indeed a presence within all.

There is the music of the garden, nature’s music,

And music made from man; harmonies leave people enthralled.

Perhaps there is a music of the universe, waiting for man to listen.


On Death, Grief, and Persistent Joy

A few weeks ago, my grandfather passed away. The whole family was there as we remembered and celebrated a great man. He was the founding pastor of a church, a husband, a father, a loving grandfather, and a man of God—one that I looked up to. If someone were to ask me how I am, I would say, “It hurts.” That is the blunt truth of the matter. It hurts.

My whole family was at the hospital, where we had the chance to say goodbye. We were there for hours that were spent in silence, conversation, grief, and surprisingly laughter; there were a lot of good memories to share. The greater opportunity I think was in this: we were able to talk about Heaven with grandpa. As indicated, knowing that he is in Heaven in full health and in the presence of Christ brings a certain peace. However, I still grieve. I believe the reasons are obvious. And yet, it seems as though there is no need since he is in the better place.

I remembered a previous discussion on The Pearl. At the beginning, the narrator grieves the loss of his young daughter and later is rebuked for grieving because he should have been joyful or grateful knowing that his daughter is in Heaven. Grieving does in the sense of this epic seem rather ridiculous; if one truly loves another Christian, one should be joyful that this person is in Paradise. Additionally, there is the command to be joyful always. On the other hand, it not only seems unavoidable (at least, for me) but a matter of proper sentiment to grieve loss. The death of a loved one demands grief. If grief is avoidable, then by what cost? For me, I would have to avoid all thought and memory associated with the loss, probably by filling my time with other thoughts or matters. If I avoid grief, it seems as though I would deny truth. And so, I wonder if there is a way to reconcile these two concepts of joy and grief. Of course, I am limited by my ignorance of any technical psychological implications. This post is merely an endeavor to explore possible relations between grief and joy . . . not necessarily to form a definite answer.

It must be beneficial to have joy in the midst of grief since God is by nature joyful. As Thomas Aquinas asserts in Treatise on Happiness, God is true happiness. Consequently, it would be strange to suggest that the joy of God is affected or changed in any way by outside circumstance. He is, after all, unchanging. Perhaps grief could be a means to joy. And yet, there is the famously short verse that states in two words: Jesus wept. Since Jesus is God, then I have to attribute this moment of grief to God as well. God wept. He did not need to reach further joy; He is joy. Thus, there must be some way and reason to have both grief and joy in our lives.

In order to be healthy, grief and joy must be directed towards something, meaning that one must have grief or joy in something and not merely for the sake of having grief or joy. Indeed, the object of grief or joy would seem to determine one’s capacity for grief or joy. For example, a person can take more joy in knowledge of redemption as opposed to knowledge of tomorrow’s weather. If I were to have either grief or joy for no particular reason, then these feelings would be meaningless.

Perhaps grief is a form of action. As mentioned before, one could avoid grieving by denying the loss, which would imply action. Furthermore, meaningful grief is derived from the proper circumstances, indicating that one chooses to glean despair. Thus, it would be similar to any other action, such as walking, sitting, or jumping and thus would not define the self. For example, one who tells a joke, an action, at one moment cannot accurately be described as an comedian. Similarly, if grief is an action, one who grieves for the time is not necessarily a grieving person. All this to say, a Christian who grieves can still be a joyful person at his core.

In this sense, grief does not necessarily lessen joy. After all, a person can take joy in an idea as well as grief in another at the same time. If joy is a choice, then any amount of grief ought not to affect joy as long as the object of joy is present. Of course for Christians, the objects of joy include knowledge of Christ’s sacrifice, redemption, God’s love, etc. For a Christian, joy persists in the midst of grief because of Christ. In this sense, there is in my moments of grief a persistent joy that cannot go away.

Reflecting on Three Years of Torrey Academy

Thus ends my participation in my favorite, most interesting, and most academically rigorous high school program. If you know me, you know that I love academics and overall learning. When I received my books for Foundations and Plato, I was reportedly “way too excited” and “in need of a life.” Of course, I owe this to various authors, my tutors, and multiple discussions. Last Friday was my last Torrey Academy Banquet. Since I realized that this would be my last year and likely the last time seeing certain friends, I reflected on the ways in which Torrey has influenced my life, which is what this rambling blog post is about.

When I heard the tutors giving their comments on the various courses, I could not help but think, “Wow! Look how far we’ve come. We did it.” In three years, I completed Inklings, Foundations, Plato, Faith, and Shakespeare. When I first started in ninth grade, I had high expectations. Torrey was the program that kept my brother up late at night, the one whose pile of books dominated the bookcase outside, the one that my sister loved to talk about, and the one whose tutor once threw a Coke bottle at our car . . . I still do not know why. Suffice to say, Torrey seemed intriguing and challenging. At the time, I was a shy person and generally quiet so putting my ideas under a spotlight to be discussed was not easy for me. Torrey helped me become more confident. Inklings in particular challenged my preconceived notions about Christianity and forced me to develop my beliefs based on reason. Essentially, Torrey challenged me to think. In fascinating discussions, my tutor and fellow students encouraged me to speak my mind, not merely for the sake of saying at least three comments per class, but for the sake of contributing to the pursuit of truth. I realized that I may be able to direct a discussion towards greater ideas.

My second year of Torrey was a lot of fun. Personally, I did not think that I would enjoy discussing and learning about government as much as I had enjoyed Inklings. Most of the texts were large and heavy, particularly Monty (Montesquieu) and Tocqueville. After a few weeks, I found that I really enjoyed reading and discussing these texts. I gradually developed a deeper appreciation for government and America through discussing the meaning of justice, the purpose of laws, where and what liberty is, whether democracy is the best form of government, how we as Christians ought to influence and live in the state, whether the church and state ought to be separated, and whether America can be great. These questions caught my interest. Foundations showed me the importance that one as a Christian must discover how to live as part of the City of God while living in the City of Man. Of course, this balance influences almost all aspects of a Christian’s life as one must discover how to respond and interact with society as Christians.

With Plato, I was always intrigued. As a class, we discussed the importance of knowing the self, the role of divine inspiration in art, whether or not the god-loved is loved because it is loved by the gods or because it is lovable, how to know if one knows, what is justice, what is goodness, and various other questions. In all of these questions, I think that what sticks most with me is Plato’s honesty, humility, and desire for wisdom. In his dialogues, truth is sought earnestly for the sake of truth with the understanding that the unexamined life is not worth living and that one cannot search for truth alone. Reading and discussing Plato helped me to examine myself objectively from a place of honesty and humility. This class inspired courage to engage these questions about goodness, knowledge, and justice, which inevitably cause me to realize my own flaws. Often in Torrey there are many unresolved questions. In fact, most of our questions led to many others that frequently required more than two or three hours a week to investigate. What this year taught me is that I need not fear questions. Questions merely show that there is further truth and knowledge to be gained about the self and God. Truth, through which we see God, is beautiful and worth all the time and effort.

This past year, I took Faith of Our Fathers and Shakespeare. Faith impressed upon me the importance of understanding the rich foundations of Christian thought, the beautiful traditions and stories from church history, the role of grief in a Christian’s life, the source of happiness, the notion that all knowledge comes from God, the mystery and beauty of the Trinity, and the core principles of Christianity. The new thing was . . . presentations. These turned out to be great opportunities to organize my thoughts in a presentable manner and discuss topics of great interest to me, such as philosophic poetry and the place of music in Aquinas’ theory of happiness. This year, I especially noticed differences in our beliefs concerning Christianity. These were not major differences (none about core doctrines), however our ideas of God and human nature do differ based on our experiences. Within discussion, we brought our respectably different experiences to the table and evaluated our views to see which is most true. We listened and bonded over our differences. Most often I realize how special it is to discuss with a group that has read, thought, and pursued truth together. With any other group, there is less freedom to bring in foreign or past ideas. For the last class, we discussed both Descent into Hell from Inklings and Dante’s Inferno, taking all that we have studied throughout three years of Torrey and going back to one of our favorite beginning texts. As a class, we have thought about virtue, disagreed over what it means to know goodness, read an enormous amount of books, grown as thinking Christians, and laughed together. This bond only adds to a discussion.

Shakespeare was a lot of fun. As with all the meta courses, I spent a year reading and discussing a single author with a brilliant tutor and excellent students that I have had the pleasure of meeting. Shakespeare’s plays brought several of these huge concepts from the core classes to life with story and theater. In a sense, it made ideas such as justice, virtue, and honor that much more real. It is one thing to talk about virtue, but it is another to see it come to life. With story, my ideas of courage, loyalty, virtue, and honor were put to the test. Because the texts were short and by the same author, we were able to delve deeper into these intricate topics, especially love and honor. At the end of the year, my class performed As You Like It. I played the fool, for which my family says I need not act . . . It was wonderful to practice and perform a play with a group that I have discussed Shakespeare with and not some random group. Practicing was a lot of fun and often very humorous. I am so glad that I took Shakespeare this year with an awesome group of people that are very interested in truth and have great insights.

In Torrey, I was often asked this question: where have I come from and where am I going? Of course, I grew as a Christian and as a thinker significantly these past three years. I am more confident in my beliefs. In pursuing truth, I have further come to love God and others. However, the truth is that I do not yet know where I am going. I am still searching for my path. What Torrey has taught me is that all knowledge comes from God. I need only to look to God for wisdom for my journey.

Why Poetry?: Examining the Merits of Poetical Philosophy

Boethius was in mourning of life
Till Philosophy comes and cures his strife
With poetry and prose, instruments used
For thinking pure thoughts to be cured.
Though Plato says “Boo! Poetry’s an imitation to you,”
The Lady replies, “Poetry raises man’s mind
And gives a glimpse of the divine.”

This whimsical poem demonstrates a difference between two philosophies on the nature of poetry. Many people when thinking of philosophy do not think of poetry. In fact, Plato banishes poetry from the perfect state for its imitational and emotional components, which would be unbeneficial to the philosopher who examines reality with reason. Nevertheless, Boethius, a Platonist himself, claims and demonstrates through his very usage of poetry in The Consolation of Philosophy that poetry is an appropriate instrument of philosophy. Surprisingly, Lady Philosophy herself illustrates this concept by engaging in poetry. To appropriately examine this dilemma, one would have to examine the nature and purpose of poetry. Although it appears that poetry is a mere imitation and distraction from reality, I think that poetry is an appropriate and beneficial instrument of philosophy, because poetry is the sanctification of language, thereby enabling the mind to transcend the self.

According to Plato, poetry would essentially be a distraction for philosophers. He affirms that all art, including poetry, is an imitation of reality and thus cannot depict actual knowledge. In the Republic, Plato through the character of Socrates banishes poetry from the perfect state asserting that the poet “uses names and phrases to color each of the arts. He himself doesn’t understand; but he imitates in such a way as to seem, to men whose condition is like his own and who observe only speeches, to speak very well . . . using meter, rhythm, and harmony” (601a). To Plato, the poet beautifies language to deceive people into believing his words. Hence, poetry according to Plato may be considered a deception because one who engages in poetry wastes effort and emotion on an imitation of reality. Based on these ideas, one would have to agree that poetry cannot be beneficial to philosophy because a philosopher is one who loves wisdom and reality. It would thus be contradictory that a philosopher would engage in poetry.

Furthermore, it appears that poetry primarily influences emotion as opposed to the intellect. Aristotle, though he differs from Plato, claims that the purpose of art involves the direction of emotion. In Poetics, Aristotle states that all forms of art are imitations that differ “from one another in three respects—the medium, the objects, the manner or mode of imitation” (1.1). This statement indicates that art must primarily involve emotion since these techniques naturally imitate emotions that are appropriate to the idea imitated. For instance, a poem may be written in iambic pentameter to give feelings of normal speech or there may be certain words with accents that produce designated feelings. If poetry inherently involves emotions, poetry ought not to have a place in philosophy since philosophy focuses on reason as opposed to emotion.

However, art is more than an imitation. It is an image through which man is able to express the self. Imitation is a technique used to create the effects in art and is not the art itself. This is seen in the fact that art is not merely effects since these effects are always directed towards an idea expressed in the art. The artist is one who expresses an experience in an image, such as in painting, music, or poetry. By creating an image which by being an image expresses itself, the artist mentally acknowledges his own experience. All people experience through the mental acknowledgement of an image because experience requires knowledge. If one knows about an experience, one must have mentally acknowledged an image in the mind. This is why in a work of art an experience may feel more realistic than an experience drawn inartistically; the artist due to his skill of technique provides a greater and more coherent way for man to relay an image to the mind. In a sense, all people who think and express are artists, but the ones who are artistic express themselves more accurately. In her essay “Toward a Christian Esthetic,” Dorothy Sayers states that the poet “is a man who not only suffers the impact of external events but also experiences them. He puts the experience into words in his own mind, and in doing so recognizes the experience for what it is” (162). Sayers observes that the poet creates recognition through an expression in words. For poetry in particular, man is able to experience and thereby know through the language in a poem. All thoughts are in words, meaning that man’s capacity to experience and know is determined by his usage of correct and appropriate words. Because the aim of poetry is to piece together these correct and appropriate words, poetry is therefore a proper instrument to draw the self to experience truth and wisdom.

In spite of Aristotle’s claims, a philosopher can engage in poetry without sacrificing the integrity of thought. Gerard O’Daly observes that in The Poetry of Boethius that “sweet, soft song and grave seriousness of purpose are . . . not incompatible” (33). Since poetry primarily expresses the idea it images forth, there is nothing inherently wrong or emotional with the use of poetry, but with the poet expressing the idea. An example of this is found in The Consolation of Philosophy when Boethius invokes the Muses of Poetry. Boethius in his grief states, “I who once with joyful zeal / Am driven by to enter weeping mode” (1). The anguish that Boethius encapsulates in his poem is not a result of his use of poetry, but rather a result of the “barren thorns of Passion” (4). Banishing the Muses of Poetry, Lady Philosophy states, “Sirens is a better name for you and your deadly enticements: be gone, and leave him for my own Muses to heal and cure” (5). In this demand, Philosophy indicates since she has her own Muses that certain poetry can be used in philosophy. This is demonstrated when Lady Philosophy expresses philosophical statements in poetic form. Philosophy states describing the knowledge of God:

What is, what was, what is to be,
In one swift glance His mind can see.
All things by Him alone are seen,
And Him the true sun we should deem. (119)

In these lines, Philosophy depicts the omniscience of God in poetic verse. This does not hinder the integrity of wisdom since it is a serious poem unhindered by passion. As seen in Lady Philosophy’s use of poetry, there is no issue in using poetry to express philosophy.

On the other hand, it may appear that Boethius’ poetry is merely for emotional healing as opposed to philosophy itself. According to Aristotle, the purpose of art is to produce the appropriate emotional responses. Aristotle states referring to the use of proper language in Tragedy, “in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play . . . through pity and fear [effect] the proper purgation of these emotions (1.6). Through artistic poetry, man is able to respond correctly to the depicted image depending on how the image is portrayed. If this is the purpose of art, poetry ought to be a result of philosophy as opposed to an instrument.

According to Boethius, however, poetry is not merely for emotional healing. C.S. Lewis observes in The Discarded Image that all that is in the Consolation is meant purely for philosophy as part of the disciplines and propriety of his trade since it is certain that Boethius chose to write philosophically (77). This indicates that his philosophy and thus the poetry he uses are not for mere emotional healing. This can be observed in the last poem that Boethius delivers in the dialogue, which contains no mention of the self and gives complete focus to philosophy (123). This type of poetry is fitting in philosophy because in philosophy one is focused on truth. Boethius therefore considers poetry as an instrument in philosophy.

Of course, one may argue that poetic form would hinder the freedom of language and thought that is found in prose. Prose is surely simpler than poetry since it is without meter and form. Surely, there is a certain beauty in the freedom of words since prose is the natural form of language. People do not speak naturally in poetic verse. Hence, prose would be simpler to understand and thus a better form of expression in philosophy.

Conversely, poetic form is the sanctification of language and therefore thought. It is a better form of expression than prose simply because it is meant to be spoken. Since all thoughts are in words, all thoughts involve images produced by the senses. When a person thinks of a word, that person in his mind produces an image of sound, sight, touch, smell, or taste that corresponds to that word. By engaging in poetry, one expresses an image far more complete since poetry improves the image of one’s words. Poetry involves the use of breath, tongue, lip, and teeth to express with sound and rhythm an image far more meaningful than mere prose. In a poem, phrases are intentionally formed so that the sound and rhythm of one’s words express an image accurately. Poetical images in this sense portray one’s experiences much more truthfully because they further utilize the capabilities of language to express the whole of one’s experience and relay a better image to the mind. By engaging in poetical philosophy, one therefore better expresses the beauty of wisdom. Boethius states to Philosophy, “You are the greatest comfort for exhausted spirits. By the weight of your tenets and delightfulness of your singing you have so refreshed me that I now think myself capable of facing the blows of Fortune” (47). Lady Philosophy through poetry is able to express philosophical conclusions with the beauty of words. Because man’s capacity to understand is determined by the capabilities of his language that form his thoughts, the beauty of wisdom is therefore better expressed in the beauty of words. Since wisdom is beautiful, the words of man ought to express this beauty as well, especially if man desires to appreciate wisdom to his greatest capacity. Poetry is therefore the purification of language and thought in that it expresses one’s ideas more adequately than prose.

It is in the very form and conventions of poetry that the mind of man transcends itself. In The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G. K. Chesterton, Gabriel Syme, a philosopher and poet, rebukes the anarchist poet who abandons all conventions and laws in poetry by stating:

It is you who are unpoetical . . . The rare, strange thing is to hit the mark; the gross, obvious thing is to miss it. We feel it is epical when man with one wild arrow strikes a distant bird. Is it not also epical when man with one wild engine strikes a distant station? Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train may indeed go anywhere . . . But man is a magician and his whole magic is in this, that he does say Victoria and lo! It is Victoria (4–5).

In this monologue, Chesterton illustrates the beauty of order and convention. It is the victory of man to have order and convention because that is where goodness and truth lie. In language, man’s victory is therefore found in the very order and conventions of poetry. Man essentially “hits the mark” in poetry where his expression of an idea is one with the form, sound, and rhythm of his words. Lady Philosophy states:

For I have swift and speedy wings
With which to mount the lofty skies,
And when the mind has put them on
The earth below it will despise[.] (86)

The aim of philosophy is to raise the mind of man to transcend the self, meaning that one will gaze upon the divine and understand truth. Since man thinks in words, the usage of poetry improves man’s capacity for meaning in language and therefore thought. As a result, man is able in poetical philosophy to further experience the divine and thus achieve victory in thought by beholding the divine with a poetical image.

In poetical philosophy, man further conforms to the likeness of God by imitating this cosmic idea of expression as seen in the Trinity. In poetry, the words of man become flesh as they are imaged forth in being spoken. St. Augustine, a prominent bishop and theologian from the early church, states in Confessions that the Word is “spoken eternally and by it all things are uttered eternally” (226). Since the Word as the image of God is eternally spoken, it is conclusively part of the nature of God to express Himself through the Word. The Word is one with God in being an image. Man therefore through poetry imitates the divine because in poetry the images of his words become one with his ideas. It is thus a part of man’s nature to know the self through the images man produces in words. The words of man become flesh in being spoken and a truthful image when attuned to one’s ideas. By attuning one’s words to reality in poetical philosophy, one therefore imitates God in a cosmic idea of expression where the meaning of one’s ideas and the image of one’s words are one.

In conclusion, although one may condemn poetry as unfit for philosophy for its imitational and therefore deceptive qualities, poetry is a justifiable and beneficial instrument of philosophy because poetry, the sanctification of language, enables the mind to transcend and experience the divine. Art itself is more than mere imitation; it is the expression of an image through which man is able to come to know reality and the self. In poetry, one better expresses knowledge because there is a greater capacity to express the self; poetry is meant to be spoken such that it involves the use of sound and rhythm to express an image far more meaningful than mere prose. Although the forms and conventions of poetry may appear to hinder the freedom of thought, poetry is in actuality the victory of man through which man is able to express the meaning of his ideas and in expressing philosophy to the self, transcend earthly things to view the divine. Through poetical philosophy, man imitates this cosmic idea of expression as seen in the incarnation where the Word became flesh. Poetry is thus a beneficial instrument of philosophy because in poetical philosophy, man accomplishes greater heights. In other words, man achieves victory in thought.

If Music be the Food of Love

For the past few months, I studied and researched the philosophy of music for my final presentation on Dante’s Purgatory. This study is one of my favorites since I am a musician. After researching poetry last semester, I realized that I had not developed a philosophy for music, which is the reason why I decided to study music this semester. In this presentation, I argue that music in Purgatory is for the purification of the soul as opposed to the mere sway of emotion. My major sources include Dante’s Divine ComedyThe Fundamentals of Music by Boethius, The Republic by Plato, and Treatise on Happiness by Aquinas. The words below contain some of my overall thoughts on the nature of music and its effects on the soul.

Music is the abstract art of sound. For there to be music, there must be harmony because music is created through the harmonious union of pitch and time. Harmony is the relation between objects. Of course, there is dissonant music. However, dissonance exists through some degree of order since dissonance is by definition a clash between components. As an art form, music is abstract because it does not refer to language; although language is an ordering of vowels and consonants, the music of language would refer to the pitch and rhythm of one’s voice rather than speech itself. Music therefore does not pertain to certain situations and is thus an abstract art.

The harmony of music is analogous to the harmony within man. According to Boethius, there is music in everything that exists because everything that exists has harmony. It is through harmony that everything exists because in order for something to exist, its components must be formed harmoniously according to its proper nature. Thus, harmony within music is the same as the harmony within the universe and soul. From this principle, Boethius argues that harmony is capable of depicting the states of man. For example, there is a  harmonious union of reason, sentiment, and instinct in man. It is through this harmony that man reasons, feels, and acts. This concept can be seen in the fact that people are attracted to music that pertains to their situation; the harmony of music is then in conjunction with the harmony within man. As a result, music is capable of influencing the soul at its core. Since music and man are created in a similar likeness, man by contemplating certain harmonies within music, contemplates a certain type of harmony that can be found within the self.

As an expression of harmony, music produces proper sentiment. Sentiments are trained dispositions that determine one’s knowledge of qualities. The development of sentiment is important for the soul because it produces proper responses to ideas such as being awed by beauty or loving truth. Music trains the sentiments by associating sentiments with certain ideas.

The sentiments produced are indeed proper because music expresses the Forms. The Forms are abstract, universal concepts distinct from space and time. They are qualities that objects share such as goodness, beauty, and justice. Music expresses the Forms because harmony, melody, and rhythm are capable of communicating universal ideas in abstract forms. This is evident since music is a universal language such that a quality depicted musically is universally received as that quality. For instance, music that depicts happiness can be translated into several instances of joy because that music depicts happiness itself. Because music is an abstract art, the ideas expressed musically are the Forms of these ideas because music expresses the nature of qualities. Music therefore produces proper sentiment because these sentiments are proper responses to the Forms.

Music is therefore a means to behold goodness. As stated before, music produces proper sentiment. In Dante’s Purgatory and Paradise, music is configured to associate wonder and love with goodness. Of course, music itself is an endeavor to experience goodness, since people naturally are pleased by harmonious sounds, which symbolizes goodness, while cringing at dissonance. Hence, music encourages the soul to behold goodness in a truer form by associating the positive sentiments of wonder and love with goodness.