"Ineffable" is the word for that which can be touched by the mind but not the tongue. But in poetry images may be made that transcend the reality of mere language. This seems to me an excellent vehicle for the convolutions of Philosophy.

Now I know that Heidegger was a champion of the poetic cause, and I've labored through some stuttering metaphors of Hölderlin in translation. Also acquainted with the many teachings that are set inside religious verses.

Question: Is there any contemporary poetry in English with the primary aim of communicating philosophical subject matter? More specifically, attempts to convey difficult to grasp concepts?

What is the difference
between a casting and a mold
one does give, the other takes
the shape they both doth hold
their purpose divergent
yet bound by emergent
betwixt a manifold

Edit: It would seem many poems could have philosophical interpretation. But generally the ideas and concepts involved are well known, and understood; the poetry showcases the art rather than the idea. In this question I'm asking for the opposite scenario: instances where the art is used to convey the concept, especially where the concept would be difficult to communicate otherwise.

See also: What is the essential something that Heidegger suggests that philosophers can learn from poetry?


5 Answers 5


Compared with the orientalisms of someone like Emerson or TS Eliot's interest in philosophy (philosophers like Nietzsche, Marx and Bergson played an important role in modernism), contemporary poets are less likely to be doing anything as novel, or interesting, in philosophy.

Much contemporary poetics draws from philosophy, both continental and analytic. And this poetics can be poetry, be that prose poetry or not. But I know of no rigorous contemporary philosophy that is written as poetry and also meant to be judged that way, as well as philosophy. As a general rule of thumb, it seems that the British have had more poetic interest in science and linguistics than the American avant garde.

If you mean 'philosophical poetry', rather than poetry as philosophy, there's a wikipedia page, and you might try Jacques Dupin, Samuel Beckett, Yves Bonnefoy, Celan, Paul Stubbs, or David Mutschlecner.


Although it is not contemporary the most significant philosophical poem is probably 'De Rerum Natura', by Lucretius, Rome-99-55 BC. His work is considered to be something of a restatement and also something of an advance on the philosophy of Epicurus, Samos 371-240 BC.

This from Lucretius; "The fall of dropping water wears away the Stone. The drops of rain make a hole in the stone, not by violence, but by oft falling. Pleasant it is, when over a great sea the winds trouble the waters, to gaze from shore upon another's great tribulation; not because any man's troubles are a delectable joy, but because to perceive you are free of them yourself is pleasant."

This from Epicurus; "We do not so much need the help of our friends as the confidence of their help in need. the wealth required by nature is limited and is easy to produce; but the wealth required by vain ideals extend… Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little."

As for contemporary poetry intended to "attempt to convey difficult to grasp concepts";

In my just published fourth book on Spinoza's "Ethics", Spinoza's Strange Symbiosis- Where Emotion and thought Conjoin, [download free at charlessaunders5.academia.edu]. I wrote one poem for the preliminary comments section. It is intended to trace the path of the earnest pilgrim who submits to the challenge of the trial urged by Spinoza to become free from the bondage imposed on humans because of our lack of understanding and control over our own psychology with its emotional peaks and valleys. Following that I wrote, The Schemata of the Symbiosis. This is a diagrammatic chart of the same path as in the poem intended to serve as a complement and reflection of that poem.

It Begins as a Whisper
[On the Emotions]

It comes and goes silently like first light
At the outset that’s all it is, but just enough
To trigger that earliest urge
That tremor
That hint
That whisper
“I know I’m real”
But no, I do not even know what real is
At least, not yet, not now

Now I’m lost again, 
my pulse, my heart, my hands, my legs
All searching, seeking out the world,
A world that speaks to me only in tongues
Everything a babel; a tower to my ignorance and doubts
What drives me on?
Propelled, not by my conscious will but by unseen desire
An appetite wells up within me
Hunger to devour everything and everyone
Am I a beast?

That whisper
“I know I’m real”
Becoming flesh taught only by other flesh, not my own
Feeding my thoughts which huddle in confusion
The more I am fed by bodies the less I think I know
Is there a key, some light, some guide?
A voice, any path, someone
But no, alone I am and sure
That only I can know 

To know, yet to know I know not yet
Certainty comes and goes like winter chill
A breath of solace here a wisp of wisdom there

Until that far-off day when pain and joy will merge
And serenity will rule my mind
That thirst and hunger slaked
Through Acquiescence and the Divine.

And the schemata;

The Schemata of the Symbiosis

Where Emotion converts to Thought

Human Mind - Self-consciously Aware of Potential
Conducts Intuitionally driven Search for Understanding
Emotion triggers Thought
Association always Present as a Person or Thing
Emotional Trigger
 Internal [body] or External Source→ Converts to Thought [Idea]
Affections = Emotions
Active= Pleasure or Passive= Pain
Increased Agency or Decreased Agency
Adequate Idea or Inadequate Idea
Understanding or Imagination
Love – Hate
Joy – Sorrow
Pleasure – Pain
Conatus sese conservendi = Self-assertive Impulse
Reason = Reflective Knowledge
Scientia Intuitiva = Intuitive Understanding
Mind’s Potential Eternity
Grows through Diversity of Experience
Knowledge Increases Exponentially
Agency Increases over Time
Understanding melts Affect of Emotion
Inward Mental Repose
Becomes Blessedness
Acquiescence of Mind
Amor Die Intellectus 

Regards, Charles M. Saunders [The formatting in the piece you are reading scrambled my layout on the poem and the schemata, sorry]

  • You can put "pre" tags around the text you would like formatted differently. May 22, 2019 at 13:07
  • There is this thing I call "the ring of truth", it is more than self-evidence, sometimes disregarded, and even counter-intuitive. "No One Knows What Spinoza Knew" is such a sentence... I can't wait to see why.
    – christo183
    May 22, 2019 at 13:30
  • @Frank Hubeny- I'm am more or less completely hopeless when it comes to technology even something as simple as 'word'. Thank you.
    – user37981
    May 23, 2019 at 10:54

AE (George Russell) was an Irish poet, not so well-known as Yeats

Here is the last verse of one of his poems

We must rise or we must fall:
Love can know no middle way:
If the great life do not call,
There is sadness and decay.

Clearly a philosophical statement; which I shall refrain from explaining!

Then of course there's William Blake

Who a friend of mine reworked for our times.
(Will not make much sense other than to IT/programming folk)

  • 1
    ah blake. was blake mad or were previously the whole world mad?
    – user67675
    Sep 14, 2023 at 14:46

Let's have some pithy philosophical commentary by Yeats (this is quite famous)

And God-appointed Berkeley that proved all things a dream,

That this pragmatical, preposterous pig of a world, its farrow that so solid seem,

Must vanish on the instant if the mind but change its theme;


  • "That is no country for old men. The young In one another's arms, birds in the trees, —Those dying generations—at their song, The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas, Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long Whatever is begotten, born, and dies."
    – CriglCragl
    Sep 24, 2023 at 14:28

Exhausted, but still managed to squeeze this out 😅 (turn off your imagination).

Poetry has been sometimes an auxilia (aid) and at other times the point. What more logical rigor than that found in math and historical records show that ancient mathematicians wrote/spoke mathematical theorems in verse. "This is the truth, and look how beautifully I can say it!" these early thinkers seem to be saying.

When is poetry a thing in itself? As a subdiscipline of rhetoric, when the idea is to connect, not with the brain, but with the heart. Ancient China had the notion of Xin (heart-mind).

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