I have read some Plato, but not the parts relevant to my question (alas). I do know that artistic making is meant to be a copy of a copy (the world) of platonic forms. But how does that fit in with lyric poetry, which seems to me to be an expression of ourselves rather than a copy of a shadow? Are the personal thoughts and feelings that are expressed in lyric poetry imitations of things in the world? Or are lyrics expressions of the knowledge about forms we have remembered? If neither of these, then what is the lyric self?

  • Poetry takes the form of artistic words which are a kind of artistic making as the simulacra of platonic forms if they really exist. Also lyric poetry could very likely be uttered by a machine with certain detectable form(s) of rhythm perhaps, thus in itself lyric poem is not any different in this respect. Of course there seems some additional existentialism inside lyric poetry with its sailing persuasive pathos, not just logos for reasoning alone, ergo you may find some deeper meaning from today's another post... Sep 27, 2023 at 23:27
  • maybe i should ask on literature stack exchange first, but am "I" imitations of forms @DoubleKnot and if not then in what way are the utterances about "myself" imitations of...
    – user67675
    Sep 27, 2023 at 23:29
  • It sounds like the self/no-self perennial question, though the utterances in themselves are clear imitations of certain forms of your idiosyncratic body rhythms and voice frequency spectrums. Shurangama sutra mentioned sound has some special power than other forms/organs: Sounds can be heard even through solid walls.... None of the other five organs can match this. It, then, is penetration true and real... Sep 28, 2023 at 0:11
  • i don't see what anatta has to do with my question @DoubleKnot which is whether my thoughts and feelings are themselves imitations of imitations of forms. the question is more about 'lyric' than philosophy. dwai
    – user67675
    Sep 28, 2023 at 0:41
  • Here's the potential connection. The famous lyric poem Ode on a Grecian Urn: "Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on. Not to the sensual ear...Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone." Clearly here the thesis of Keats lyric is nothing but unheard sound which is sweeter than all heard worldly melodies. Sound for annatta gets distilled and turns to unheard, therefore it's penetration, true and real... Sep 28, 2023 at 5:49

2 Answers 2


Plato claims that

Poetic narration can take place through narration alone, through mimêsis alone, or with a mix of the two (392d).

So poetry can, but need not be, purely imitative. Poets themselves have no (philosophical) knowledge, but poetry can also be inspired (by the gods).


It may be worth noting that

ancient ideas of mimesis often encompass a dimension of what would now be counted, by many aestheticians, as expression, and that representation and expression are not mutually exclusive concepts in the interpretation of art


The quarrel with poetry includes lyric poetry, and poetry is

little more than the poet’s unargued imaginative projections whose tenability is established by their ability to command the applause of the audience. That is, the poets are rhetoricians who are, as it were, selling their products to as large a market as possible, in the hope of gaining repute and influence.


I am unsure how exactly Plato accounts for the internal life of poets, beyond how ignorant they are, but I would guess that an account of 'lyric' in his terms would involve the interface of 'expression' and 'narration'.


For Plato, the material world that we live in is just a degraded copy of a more perfect, more abstract world. The things of that other world can be imitated but never perfectly, described, but never perfectly. The only way to truly apprehend them is by direct intuition, which Plato conceptualized as your eternal soul remembering the things that it experienced before it entered the material world.

Anything for Plato is good and desirable to the exact extent that it moves people towards the more true and eternal world, and bad and to be avoided to the extent it moves people away from it. Accordingly, artists, poets, and storytellers are very ambivalent figures in Plato's work. They potentially can move people either direction. One poem could awaken the listener to the existence of True Beauty, but a superficially similar one could ensnare the listener in a deceptive illusion. One story is an allegory for the higher world, the other is just a meaningless fable.

In the case you've mentioned, it would depend on what the poet was depicting. In the Ion, Plato claims that all good art comes by "divine inspiration" which is just another way of him saying we have to move our egos out of the way and let our eternal souls remember the Real World. A poem inspired that way elevates the listener. If, however, the poet is talking about their own feelings and experiences of the material world, that would be bad art in Plato's book. It would tie us more to materialism, and thus move us away from the Eternal.

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