Logicians Go Mad Before Poets Do

Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess players do… Perhaps the strongest case of all is this: that only one great English poet went mad, Cowper. And he was definitely driven mad by logic, by the ugly and alien logic of predestination. Poetry was not the disease, but the medicine… He was damned by John Calvin… Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion… The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits… The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason… Materialists and madmen never have doubts… Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have the mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity.

G.K. Chesteron, Orthodoxy

This is a fascinating quote on so many levels. Eat around the bones when it comes to the anti-Calvin bit. The overall point holds true. And agreeing with that point, I wouldn’t say it was Calvin that damned Cowper, but that there is danger in approaching a revealed mystery such as predestination too much like a logician and not enough like a poet. Perhaps this is why so much of scripture is poetry. We are given truths about God that are too great to be fully understood by the human mind. But they can be truly understood in part, as through a mirror dimly. And metaphor, simile, analogy, poetry – these are wonderful tools we have been given by which to better understand God and his creation… without going insane in the process.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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