ABSTRACT

‘Nature’, Emily Dickinson wrote, ‘is a Haunted House – but Art – a house that tries to be haunted’. Famously gnomic in her poetry, she often chose to be so in her letters too, as is the case here. In just what sense she took the first part of her proposition to be true may be disputed, but it is the second part which captures my attention. It seems to me that the metaphor of haunting may be illuminating when one thinks of poetry: and it may even be that insight in poetry’s regard may have something to show for the high realm of philosophy. In a chapter on ‘Moral Understanding’ in his Good and Evil: An Absolute Conception, Raimond Gaita writes:

It may be helpful to think of poetry and its discipline and of the way poets may lose their voice in exile, or because of a spiritual weariness or certain corruptions of character. I do not say that moral speech aspires to poetry, only that it is closer to it than it is to science or to the kind of reflection that philosophers think will be perfected by theory.

(Gaita 2004: 272)