The Why Behind the What
“That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been;
and God seeks what has been driven away.”
— Ecclesiastes 3:15 —
“Poets keep their eyes focused on the ideal truth, which is a universal idea,…”
— Giambattista Vico, De nostri 1709 —
My family often looks at me with strange stares. Sometimes I think the lot of a modern-day father is misunderstanding. But in my case, I tend to look at the world in a deeper way than my teenagers. Their world is full of adolescent angst and little to do with serious interaction with the greater world outside their own. I tend to look for deeper, more serious, meaning by focusing my attention on the wider world beyond the immediate circumstance. But my responsibility as a homeschool dad is to open the minds of my teenagers to truths bigger than their immediate reality.
I watched their mother train their younger minds in the past in the classical tradition of home school education. We have as a family trudged through the first two stages of the trivium. Gaining knowledge through memorization and repetition, then gaining understanding of knowledge through dialectic reasoning. Now my children are maturing into the final years of the trivium and it has fallen to me to guide them, with their mother’s help, in the final stage of poetic wisdom. The challenge I face is to overcome the absolutes of our scientifically critical culture to engage my teenagers in thinking poetically which is also known as wisdom. I now wish to inspire my teenagers to understand and eloquently express the why behind the what. In order to do so, they must first grasp what it means to think and express ideas in a poetic way.
Poetry is that language that often eludes the reader if preparation of the mind is not exercised in the ways of eloquence. The word poetry, is derived from the Greek poiesis, (ποίησις), to create or make things. Yet the result of what is made in the spirit of poiesis is that which is done in excellence. It is through, poiesis, that what is made points to the why behind all that is made.
The struggle many have in comprehending, much less expressing a thought that is beautifully rendered, is that in modern times the mind is often not exercised in poetic ways of thinking. Poetic thought, that is higher thought, is then the model for all newly formed ideas to be seen as truth. It is poetic thought that reaches for, and points to, truth rather than falsity. “Truth is one, probabilities are many, and falsehoods numberless.” Man is blinded to the truth and to reach beyond falsehoods to reach the one truth, that is God, requires the ability to think poetically. This can only be determined by focusing on ideal truth and the best way to do this is to be immersed in the ideas of the great thinkers of the past.
The quest for truth begins with the great thinkers of western culture to begin to form one’s own eloquent thoughts. The creation of ideas is not an enterprise that can be remade in succeeding generations without the wisdom of proceeding thinkers. What was made before, poiesis, is the foundation of all that is eloquent. If then, great ideas are the inspiration of thought, not a substitute for thought itself, then it is reasonable that for one to think independently, one should learn to make new ideas by the example of those who have done so in eloquent ways before.
The inspirational result of poetic thought is humility to the reader. Qohelet, the preacher, expresses with poetic insight the truth of all things made.
“What gain has the worker from his toil?
I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” [Ecclesiastes 3:9-11 ESV]
The first thought in this text is that the worker, that is all men, have work to do. This work can be toilsome and unappealing. Yet, the preacher further clarifies that all that man is busy with is that which God has given them to be busy. It is God’s design and sovereign choice to bless men with work. The preacher chooses the words, “He has made…” to describe what is beautiful. That which is made, poiesis, is only understood as beautiful as God himself has made it so. This beauty is made and thus is poetic in design. Likewise, the preacher writes, in a poetic way, that all that humanity is allotted to do is not burdensome but beautiful as God has made it so. The approach of man to his work can either be toilsome or grateful. The result of what man does, or makes, is then either drudgery or poetic. To understand this truth results in humility for men who see the awesome creation of what God has given them to be busy with. It takes a lifetime to comprehend it as this truth is beyond finite understanding.
James V. Schall undergirds the necessity of humility in thinking. “In this sense, the beginning of wisdom is a small dose of humility, of our willingness to acknowledge how much was known and learned before we ourselves ever were.”  This truth is evident in the greatest of thoughts that survive time and maintain influence. All that is worthy of doing, all that is worthy of thinking comes from humility that nothing is greater or more worthy than those ideas that God himself establishes as truth. The creator of knowledge itself, the ability to reason within man, is not humanity’s creation. The greatest thoughts are those that humanity thinks about the one who created the ability to think those thoughts. Humility is what keeps thoughts in proper perspective. Schall further explains that truth is the highest of thoughtful inspiration. “No one will seek the highest if he believes that there is no truth, that nothing is his fault, and that government will guarantee his wants.” 
In Plato’s Ion, Socrates applauds the rhapsode Ion, the professional reciter of poetry, in his profession. The teacher points to a very important part of Ion’s skill in that the rhapsode not only mimics the words of the poets, but that he also knows the poet’s thoughts.
“A rhapsode must come to present the poet’s thought to his audience; and he can’t do that beautifully unless he knows what the poet means. So this deserves to be envied.” 
Likewise, the poetic knowledge of the the great authors of western thought are not merely to be recited, they are to be expressed as if the meanings are known. Knowledge is meaningless unless it is gained through hard work after the auspice of poiesis.
In summary, poiesis, is that which is worked out and made for beautiful purposes. It is through great books that one learns the beauty of great ideas expressed with great words, by great thinkers. Poiesis, the meaning behind the word poetry, is not that which is undertaken in drudgery. My role as home school dad and teacher is to show my teenagers that great thinking does require great effort. But that effort need not be drudgery, but rather enjoyment. If what is taught and learned is then received, as the preacher encourages man to do with God’s gift of busyness, and Socrates envied in Ion, then one begins to think poetically rather than with difficulty. Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio says, “The whole end of reason is not just to know the truth, but to love the truth and hence embrace its ramifications.”  The why behind the what is understood as poetically beautiful.