October 24, 2009


Parini, Jay, Why Poetry Matters (New Haven & London: Yale U. Press, 2008 ("I will argue in these pages that poetry matters, in part, because of voice." "It also matters because metaphor, one of the essential forms of thought. Robert Frost suggested (with his usual sly wit) that a person uneducated in the operations of metaphor was not safe in the world, should not even be let out of doors. Poetry, for me, is important because it refines our ability to make comparisons, to understand how far one can ride a metaphor before it breaks down. There are all sorts of implications for this, some of them harshly political, as when politicians actually plunge us into illegal wars because of dangerously inept metaphors, which reflect foolish or ill-considered thinking. I quite agree with Frost that poetry offers a solid form of education, giving its readers access to metaphorical thought, its operations and dynamics." Id. at xi. I cannot help but reflect on how so much of good legal reasoning involves (as, for example, evidenced in the judicial opinions and other legal writings of the American great jurists: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Louis Brandies, Benjamin Cardozo, Learned Hand) the use of metaphor. I suspect that many paradigm shifts in legal thought are grounded on the able use of cogent metaphor. If metaphor is one of the essential forms of thought, cannot it not be an essential form of legal thought? And, if poetry through metaphor refines our ability to make comparison, then perhaps would-be lawyers should read good poetry. Sadly, in this age of increasingly instrumental and experiential legal education, it is doubtful that the reading of poetry will be considered part of that latest false god, "Best Practices.").