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The World of Ideas

Symbol Analysis

Plato divides the universe into the physical world of things, and the spiritual or intellectual world of ideas. He used metaphors of shining light and the sun to talk about this higher world. Hass playfully mocks Plato’s metaphors in the beginning of the poem. Plato also feels that words represent the perfect idea of a thing, but Hass focuses on the sounds of words like "blackberry." Words don’t just represent things in the world, the poem seems to say, words actually are things.

  • Lines 1-2: The speaker uses irony to show that the "new thinking" is pretty much the same as the "old thinking," and, so, it isn’t new at all. Although he says that the two kinds of thinking merely "resemble" one another, he means to connect them even more strongly.
  • Lines 3-4: The idea of the "luminous clarity" of the "general idea" is an allusion to the Greek philosopher Plato.
  • Lines 4-7: These lines continue the allusion to Plato’s philosophy of a "first world of undivided light," the world of ideas. The metaphor comparing ideas to light is actually one that Plato comes up with, not Hass.
  • Lines 8-10: The sound word "blackberry" is compared using metaphor to the "bramble" of a blackberry bush. This poet is pointing out an example of onomatopoeia, where a word sounds like what it means. The word refers to the blackberry, and its sound is thick and tangled like a blackberry bush.
  • Lines 14-16: There is a very faint metaphor in these lines. The word "dissolve" usually means for a substance to disappear in water. Sugar, for example, dissolves in water. But, here, the discussion of Platonic ideas has "dissolved" the reality of important concepts like "justice" and "woman."
  • Lines 28-29: According to the "old thinking," word are "numinous," or spiritually divine, because they represent ideas. The speaker uses simile to compare the body’s spirituality to words.

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