Man was first a hunter, and an artist: his early vestiges tell us that alone. But he must always have dreamed, and recognized and guessed and supposed, all the skills of the imagination. Language itself is a continuously imaginative act. Rational discourse outside our familiar territory of Greek logic sounds to our ears like the wildest imagination. The Dogon, a people of West Africa, will tell you that a white fox named Ogo frequently weaves himself a hat of string bean hulls, puts it on his impudent head, and dances in the okra to insult and infuriate God Almighty, and that there's nothing we can do about it except abide him in faith and patience. This is not folklore, or quaint custom, but as serious a matter to the Dogon as a filling station to us Americans. The imagination; that is, the way we shape and use the world, indeed the way we see the world, has geographical boundaries like islands, continents, and countries. These boundaries can be crossed. That Dogon fox and his impudent dance came to live with us, but in a different body, and to serve a different mode of the imagination. We call him Brer Rabbit.
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It is worthwhile adding that the power of the poem to teach not only sensibilities and the subtle movements of the spirit but knowledge, real lasting felt knowledge, is going mostly unnoticed among our scholars. The body of knowledge locked into and releasable from poetry can replace practically any university in the Republic. First things first, then: the primal importance of a poem is what it can add to the individual mind.Poetry is the voice of a poet at its birth, and the voice of a people in its ultimate fulfillment as a successful and useful work of art.
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There are many objects of desire, and therefore many desires. Some are born with us, hunger, yearning, and pride of place, and some are the foolishness of the world, such as the desire to eat off silver plates. Desire is a wild horse to be tamed. Virtue is a habit long continued. The taming of desire is like the training of the athlete. Discipline is not the restraint but the use of energy. . . . When I forbid myself what I may have, no person is going to tempt me with what is truly forbidden.
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When Heraclitus said that everything passes steadily along, he was not inciting us to make the best of the moment, an idea unseemly to his placid mind, but to pay attention to the pace of things. Each has its own rhythm: the nap of a dog, the procession of the equinoxes, the dances of Lydia, the majestically slow beat of the drums at Dodona, the swift runners at Olympia.
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The difference between the Parthenon and the World Trade Center, between a French wine glass and a German beer mug, between Bach and John Philip Sousa, between Sophocles and Shakespeare, between a bicycle and a horse, though explicable by historical moment, necessity, and destiny, is before all a difference of imagination.
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I like to believe that I don't think of myself as a writer. I am an amateur. Back when I was teaching, I wrote when I could. Weekends were good typewriter time. Now, it's whenever I feel there's something to be put on paper. I don't care what time it is, though I always write in the notebooks at night.