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    Book Club: Poetic Knowledge {Chapter 2, Part 2–cont’d}

    April 20, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    Because I just can’t get enough, I suppose. I’m still thinking through Chapter 2, so it seems only natural to write a second post. {I think I warned that I might do this.}

    I noticed something this time through that I don’t recall noticing before. It is basically the idea that wonder leads to something else, which makes a lot of sense, but I’d never really thought about it. Taylor writes:

    Poetic Knowledge: The Recovery of EducationIt is also important to restate that this is all an integrated experience, not occurring in mechanical steps or linked together as a chain, and to remember that this knowledge begins in the senses, touching the sensory appetites, first fear, then resolving to the pleasure appetites–love, desire, joy…

    For those of you not reading along, you need to know that Taylor spends the latter portion of his chapter walking us through his chart called Order of Poetic Knowledge. I don’t want to get into it too much because it’d take me too long to explain, but in the category of emotions, fear is explained as being piety and wonder. Naturally, there are other sorts of fear, but one important thing that Taylor has been saying now for pages is that wonder–many of us will at least give lip service to the idea that wonder is a necessary component of education–is a species of fear.

    Wonder is closely tied to awe {I for one often use the two words interchangeably}, and I was delighted to find in my dictionary that one of the definitions of awe is “fear or dread.” So I see Taylor is representing the consensus here. It makes sense to me that wonder is a type of fear, for I view wonder as humbling in that an experience of wonder is a reminder of how small and insignificant–and therefore vulnerable–I am, and how big everything else is.

    But we also use wonder as a verb–we wonder about something, which ties that fear to a craving to know. I think this is what allows Taylor to assert that the fear {which is wonder} would resolve itself at all. Wonder is not a stopping point. I am understanding more and more that it is the starting place, it is what gets us going at all. We wonder, we want to know–this is a craving.

    Taylor tells us this resolves itself in “love, desire, [and] joy.” On his chart he states parenthetically that this is equivalent to possession of the good, true, [and] beautiful.” This makes more sense later when he explains:

    When Wordsworth writes “My heart leaps up when I behold / A rainbow in the sky,” there has been no movement toward scientific knowledge of what has been see; rather, this is the precise moment suspended between wonder {fear} and possession {joy}, for to be-hold is to possess, to hold with the cognitive sense of the sensory-emotional response of near simultaneous, fear-joy; the sensation of one’s heart leaping up in the chest. At this moment, something of the rainbow’s reality is truly known, but rational explanation alone is insufficient, the difference between being unexpectedly moved by an unknown attractive face–desiring to know the person better–and the desperate premeditation of computer dating. It is the different between thinking about the mystery of a rainbow, and being in the mystery of its presence. {emphasis mine}

    To behold is to possess. It is to hold the thing and make it one’s own, if only in a spiritual and intellectual sense. In fact, I think that Charlotte Mason encourages taking just this sort of possession when she writes in Volume 1:

    Is it advisable, then, to teach the children the elements of natural science, of biology, botany, zoology? on the whole, no: the dissection even of a flower is painful to a sensitive child, and, during the first six or eight years of life, I would not teach them any botany which should necessitate the pulling of flowers to bits; much less should they be permitted to injure or destroy any {not noxious} form of animal life. Reverence for life, as a wonderful and awful gift, which a ruthless child may destroy but never can restore, is a lesson of first importance to the child:––

    “Let knowledge grow from more to more;
         But more of reverence in us dwell.”

    The child who sees his mother with reverent touch lift an early snowdrop to her lips, learns a higher lesson than the ‘print-books’ can teach. Years hence, when the children are old enough to understand that science itself is in a sense sacred and demands some sacrifices, all the ‘common information’ they have been gathering until then, and the habits of observation they have acquired, will form a capital groundwork for a scientific education. In the meantime, let them consider the lilies of the field and the fowls of the air.

    Instead of wonder, she mentions a close-kin, reverence {which is also a species of fear}. The reverence results in the child considering the “lilies of the field and the fowls of the air.” It is in the process of consideration that the child will take possession of it–capture it in his mind, a vision to be carried with him always. He comes to love the things he knows and takes joy in–the thing he has beheld.

    Mason talks about this sort of thing again, in Volume 6. This time, I am thinking about her picture studies. She writes:

    But there must be knowledge and, in the first place, not the technical knowledge of how to produce, but some reverent knowledge of what has been produced; that is, children should learn pictures, line by line, group by group, by reading, not books, but pictures themselves. A friendly picture-dealer supplies us with half a dozen beautiful little reproductions of the work of some single artist, term by term. After a short story of the artist’s life and a few sympathetic words about his trees or his skies, his river-paths or his figures, the little pictures are studied one at a time; that is, children learn, not merely to see a picture but to look at it, taking in every detail. Then the picture is turned over and the children tell what they have seen,––a dog driving a flock of sheep along a road but nobody with the dog. Ah, there is a boy lying down by the stream drinking. It is morning as you can see by the light so the sheep are being driven to pasture, and so on; nothing is left out, the discarded plough, the crooked birch, the clouds beautiful in form and threatening rain, there is enough for half an hour’s talk and memory in this little reproduction of a great picture and the children will know it wherever they see it, whether a signed proof, a copy in oils, or the original itself in one of our galleries.

    And later she emphasizes:

    There is no talk about schools of painting, little about style; consideration of these matters comes in later life, but the first and most important thing is to know the pictures themselves. {emphasis mine}

    If the children know the pictures anywhere and everywhere, they have taken possession of it, have they not? They carry it with them in their souls, and the pictures are there for the viewing whenever the child {and presumably the man the child becomes} desires. The children love the paintings, take joy in them.

    Again, the similarity between Taylor and Mason is remarkable to me.

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  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts April 25, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    GJ, Thank you for the correction. I agree with you–the word “humiliating” was a bad choice. I’m going to edit the post to reflect that–I’ll substitute the word “humbling.” I really don’t know what I didn’t use that in the first place! Thank you!

  • Reply GretchenJoanna April 21, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    I’m glad you take the time to wonder about everything!
    About wonder being humiliating…I think the word *humiliate* has a connotation of pain and shame, which is how it differs from *humble*. One’s heart can leap up at the same time one is humbled — not so with being humiliated. Being humiliated can lead to becoming more humble, by the grace of God…or I might feel humiliated by any number of fairly neutral things, if my pride flares up in anger…but that is my problem and not the fault of the innocent.
    I’m glad to read about fear in the context this book provides (and happy that no one minds me piping up when I’m not reading it) and especially the thought that fear = piety + wonder. This confirms the experience of having a fear of God, Who is all Good. Fear is not bad, nor are the Things to be Feared necessarily bad.

  • Reply Rebekah April 21, 2011 at 3:12 am

    Thank you so much for sharing the Charlotte Mason quotes (searching for info on her is how I discovered you!). I have yet to read her works but see she has much to offer. You know, I’ve learned that great truth can be found in many places. It’s a joy to find those places and make those ties.

  • Reply Silvia April 21, 2011 at 2:37 am

    It is a great pleasure to read the book along with all of your posts. This also was something I thought about, wonder as awe, wonder as fear. It reminds me of my first days with my babies, specially the first born, and a lot to the respect and fear and awe we have for God. People “fear” fear, but this fear is a motor, is the propulsion to know.

    Connecting this with your first post, I do think that yes, after this knowledge the desire for completing all the ways in which one can apprehend and know something will follow.

    The similarities with Mason are uplifting. And as I read those quotes by Van Gogh, it only makes sense that masters like him never forget or negate that powerful poetic experience or that knowledge attached to the person.

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