PLATO, the most paradoxical philosopher?

In his introduction to his Prometheus Unbound, the poet Shelley wrote:

Didactic poetry is my abhorrence; nothing can be equally well expressed in prose that is not tedious and supererogatory in verse.  My purpose has hitherto been simply to familiarize the highly refined imagination of the most poetical readers with beautiful idealisms of moral excellence; aware that until the mind can love, and admire, and trust, and hope, and endure, reasoned principles of moral conduct are seeds cast upon the highway of life which the unconscious passenger tramples into dust, although they would bear the harvest of his happiness. Should I live to accomplish what I purpose, that is, produce a systematical history of what appear to me to be the genuine elements of human society, let not the advocates of injustice and superstition flatter themselves that I should take Aeschylus rather than Plato as my model.

As great a poet as Shakespeare took Plato as his model (S.’s plays are P.’s dialogues)—one can see this in Sonnet 103: Shakespeare doubts poetry; ‘Plato’s doubt’ gives poetry its very urgency and life, for the paradox of Plato, the poet who condemned poetry, the harsh judge who yet advocated dreaming, is the paradox of Sonnet 103—a poem which pronounces poetry useless. (Unlike the so-called ironies of the moderns, which are merely coy, the irony of #103 is complete—that is, as an irony it is complete, and it can be read completely non-ironically, as well.)

Alack, what poverty my muse brings forth,
That having such a scope to show her pride,
The argument all bare is of more worth
Than when it hath my added praise beside!
O blame me not if I no more can write!
Look in your glass, and there appears a face
That overgoes my blunt invention quite,
Dulling my lines and doing me disgrace.
Were it not sinful then, striving to mend,
To mar the subject that before was well?
For to no other pass my verses tend
Than of your graces and your gifts to tell;
  And more, much more than in my verse can sit
  Your own glass shows you, when you look in it.

The didactic lot condemn Plato and Shakespeare and Shelley’s dreams as real, and pursue their didactic reality in the face of better and nobler dreams: as Shelley says, “until the mind can love, and admire, and trust, and hope, and endure…”

This brief essay concludes with my recently composed poem, “I Dream False,” a paradoxical effusion inspired by Shakespeare and Shelley:

I Dream False

I dream false, for I dream that I have you—
I dream false, again, for I dream that I want you—
I do not have you, so that dream isn’t true—
The dream, I want you, is false, for I do want you.
Dreams pursue all they want, how then can I
Pronounce them false? Dreams are true even when they die.
Think on me: do you see the dream that is dreaming of you?
Hear my words: they are no dream, but they will be false before they are true.
Yes, I have found all words—every one—only seem;
Words are false and I gained this insight—in a dream.


  1. David said,

    February 29, 2012 at 4:18 pm


    The irony of Sonnet 103 is delightful and deep, as the poem ends with its subject sitting before a VANITY mirror. If, as some scholars suggest, Shakespeare was not only a Platonist, but also a Catholic, he was acutely aware of the ultimate vanity of laurels and applause, as well as the vanity fed by the very beauty that the Sonnets praise. There are profound lessons in Shakespeare’s art, yet those lessons penetrate the soul with the dart of pleasure, whereas lesser poets and minor moralists dent our skulls with the cudgel of versified lecture.


  2. David said,

    February 29, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    The death-obsessed poet in Woody Allen’s Interiors could use a dose of the healthy, “complete” irony that we find in both Plato and Shakespeare:

    By the way, is there irony in Shelley? I’m too new to his work to say.

    • thomasbrady said,

      February 29, 2012 at 9:13 pm


  3. Interestedreader said,

    January 29, 2013 at 4:06 am

    Uncreative Writing ‏@UncreativeWriti
    The moment you don’t produce formula, you’re considered a third-rate artist.
    12 Dec Uncreative Writing ‏@UncreativeWriti
    There’s nothing that cannot be called “writing” no matter how much it might not look like “writing.”
    12 Dec Uncreative Writing ‏@UncreativeWriti
    Modernist purity had a peculiar shelf life. The only extant legacy of twelve-tone music is horror film soundtracks.
    10 Dec Uncreative Writing ‏@UncreativeWriti
    Like role-playing in an S&M club, conceptual writing is consensual.
    9 Dec Uncreative Writing ‏@UncreativeWriti
    No one has ever stood wide-eyed before Duchamp’s urinal admiring the quality and application of the glaze.
    7 Dec Uncreative Writing ‏@UncreativeWriti
    As language changes something happens to old poems, the range of whose words changes.
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    7 Dec Uncreative Writing ‏@UncreativeWriti
    What happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it.
    7 Dec Uncreative Writing ‏@UncreativeWriti
    Reframing normative speech, stripping it of all its functionality and usefulness — thereby alchemically transforming it into poetry.
    6 Dec Uncreative Writing ‏@UncreativeWriti
    Language has become indexical, rarely referring to itself; by linking it refers elsewhere; deflective instead of absorptive.
    5 Dec Uncreative Writing ‏@UncreativeWriti
    Non-interventionist writing.
    4 Dec Uncreative Writing ‏@UncreativeWriti
    I is not a subject. — @VanessaPlace2

  4. Ra-Deon said,

    July 15, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    excellent lines in “I Dream False” !

  5. thomasbrady said,

    July 15, 2014 at 5:30 pm

    Thanks, Ra-Deon. I forgot I wrote that. I like it, if I dare say.

    “I Dream False.” Yup.

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