Traditionally regarded as high-art, poetry is often seen as a superior form of literary achievement consecrating in verse worldviews and lives connected to ideal, transcendental realms, the pursuance of which supposedly leads to some kind of ideal health and spiritual well-being. The poet WB Yeats (Nobel Prize in Literature, 1923), who believed in the power of poetry to reveal realities and states of such perfection, thereby giving purpose to mundane life, likened this effect of poetry to the fashioning of statues as monuments of unageing intellect. However, contradictorily, he also questioned the value of poetry thus conceived by questioning whether it is healthy to aspire to embody poetically consecrated ideals in real life. Yeats’s dilemmatic negotiation between these two positions suggests that better personal well-being can be achieved in living an enlightening life by being mindful of the body’s sensuality and materiality. In poetic explorations of the ways in which idealism and sensuality can affect how we live our lives, Yeats used real-life examples of people he knew, often important public figures in Irish social and political history.
The present paper frames these explorations in terms of Yeats’s concepts of living stream and stone/statuary, augmented with Bruno Latour’s concepts of traditional subject and articulated body, discussed in relation to purpose in life and closeness and empathy, proposing that an overly idealistic ‘poetic’ lifestyle can have adverse effects, whereas poetry that increases one’s awareness of oneself as articulated body is conducive to better health and well-being.
- arts in health/arts and health
- English literature
- medical humanities
- mental health care
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