Monday, 27 September 2010

Obadiah and Obama: The Prophet and the President Have Something In Common

One thing that Percy the parasite is affording me is time to read whilst waiting to see doctors and nurses.

So here's a question, what do President Obama and the prophet Obadiah have in common? Peter Leithart explains:

Modern people think poetry is sharply distinct from political life. We read poetry as we listen to music, to escape from the clamour of the public square. For Hesiod and the Greeks however, poetry and political rhetoric come from the same source. Politicians able to soothe an unruly crowd exercise the same gift as the poet who soothes private memories.

In part, this different conception of the role of poetry has to do with the difference in the setting that poetry existed. Today poetry is a private thing; we read books of poetry, if we read poetry at all, silently to ourselves. By contrast, Hesiod's poetry like Homer's was primarily an oral art, chanted or sung in a public setting rather than written for people to read in armchairs. The main setting for the recitation of poetry was the public gathering for a feast... Though as Christians, we cannot accept Hesiod's belief in the Muses... his view that poetry is a public form of speech has much to recommend it. Israel's prophets attacked her sins and delivered Yahweh's offer of mercy; their role was necessarily a public and even political one. Yet, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and "the minor prophets" were all poets, delivering the oracles of God in language of astonishing power and beauty. Taking a more recent example... Martin Luther King Jr.'s resonant and poetic evocation of a world without prejudice. "I have a dream" is moving poetry. It is also shrewd policy.

Obadiah and Obama have in common the ability of marrying the public sphere to the poetic soul.

You desire to be a good apologist? You desire a noble thing, but he who cultivates that desire in Romantic soil does better.

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