Plato’s name is never mentioned in the poem, but his fingerprints are everywhere. For example, Plato gives the first really self-conscious example of what might be the most common metaphor of all time: the comparison between light and knowledge. When the speaker of this poem describes the "general idea" as a "luminous clarity," we know he’s talking about Plato’s theory that ideas are the light which illuminates our shadowy world (line 4). But, Plato’s viewpoint doesn’t come off very well in this "Meditation." The poet thinks that people who follow his philosophy too closely end up tying themselves in logical knots – the end result of which is not being able to say anything about anything.
Questions About Philosophical Viewpoints: Platonism
What words or phrases from everyday speech contain a metaphor comparing light and knowledge? (We can think of two right off the bat: "enlightenment" and "illumination.")
Do you find Plato’s philosophy of a higher intellectual realm compelling? If so, do you disagree with the poem? If not, do you think you might be influenced by Plato’s idea in other subtle ways?
Is there any difference between the "new thinking" and the "old thinking" about loss? What is Hass’s attitude toward the "new thinking?"
Is it possible that Plato’s idea is partly responsible for the separation we feel from the natural world? Do non-western cultures free from Plato’s influence feel the same separation?
Chew on This
Although the poem starts out making fun of all the thinking about loss, by the end, it locates the source of desire in loss. The speaker never fully escapes Plato’s idea.
The speaker believes that Platonic philosophy makes it impossible for people to talk about the real world.