Thoughts on Poetic Knowledge by James Taylor, ch. 1
I decided to reread this book along with those who are are reading and discussing it in book-club format. I first read it several years, ago, so my copy is already well-marked with my original comments and thoughts.
Being practically a disciple of Charlotte Mason in the realm of education, I was most forcefully struck by the fact that poetic knowledge is precisely what Miss Mason is aiming to achieve with her young learners, and therefore her methods are most efficacious is achieving what is essentially somewhat elusive and spontaneous.
James Taylor takes up the whole first chapter to convey what he means by poetic knowledge, and tells us
So whatever poetic knowledge is, it is not strictly speaking a knowledge of poems, but a spontaneous act of the external and internal senses with the intellect, integrated and whole rather than an act associated with the powers of analytic reasoning. It is, according to a tradition from Homer to Robert Frost, from Socrates to Maritain, a natural human act, synthetic and penetrating, that gets us inside the thing experienced.
For my friends who are familiar with Charlotte Mason, don't you immediately see this as virtually identical to her "science of relations," wherein she urges us to allow children to form their own relationships with every branch of knowledge.
The concept of synthetic and analytic knowledge could have been lifted right from her own writing. In Formation of Character, she explains:
There is also a time for sowing the seed of this knowledge, an intellectual as well as a natural springtime; and it would be interesting to examine the question, how far it is possible to prosecute any branch of knowledge, the sowing and germination of which has not taken place in early youth. It follows that the first three lustres* belong to what we may call the synthetic stage of education, during which his reading should be wide and varied enough to allow the young scholar to get into living touch with earth-knowledge, history, literature, and much besides. These things are necessary for his intellectual life, and are especially necessary to give him material for the second stage of his education, the analytic, which, indeed, continues with us to the end.
I could say much more on the subject, but this is a blog post, and not the book I ought to write. The most important point for me is taking careful note of that world "whole." Studying the wholeness of things, and their place within greater wholes, is the key to opening the door to synthetic/poetic knowledge, and avoiding the analytic knowledge trap. This is most important because those of us who grew up in institutional schools have experienced only an analytical approach to knowledge, and we need to be very, very careful to avoid the tendency to break everything down into small parts. None of us would give our children a vitamin tablet, a bit of sugar, and a dose of fiber and imagine that it was the equivalent of giving him an apple. The whole apple is much better for him, and so is the wholeness of poetic knowledge. It goes without saying that it tastes better, too.
*Let me save you the trouble I went through to figure out what she means. Lustre can apparently be understood, in French, as a span of 5 years. It is thus used in a poem by Victor Hugo, and should be understood in this case to mean up to the age of 15 or so.