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Powell, C. (1992). On poetry and weeping. Free Associations, 3(2):185-198.

(1992). Free Associations, 3(2):185-198

Feature: Tears

On poetry and weeping

Craig Powell

This paper is an attempt to think about the language of poetry and its relation to loss and weeping. For the language of the poem, as I understand it, is the language of the body-self and of dreaming. It is the oldest language. In every race and culture, before the advent of the written word, stories were passed on not in linear prose narratives but in rhythmical forms that were chanted rather than spoken. Considering the time that has passed since our species evolved, the alphabet is a very recent invention. Prose as a developed form of communication is even more recent, in European and Semitic cultures perhaps 2500-3000 years old. Julian Jaynes has argued that consciousness itself (the awareness that there is an ‘I’ that is separate from ‘you’, that lies at the centre of one's narrative) is a recent development in human history, appearing only during the first millennium BC.

Prior to this, he theorizes, people heard the voices of their gods, their rulers and their dead ancestors as hallucinations that guided their actions. He draws an example of this from the characters of Homer's Iliad who

do not sit down and think out what they do. They have no conscious minds such as we say we have, and certainly no introspections. It is impossible for us with our subjectivity to appreciate what it was like.

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