A.D.Hope's "Three Faces of Love" - the Poet as Governor.
Professor A.D.Hope in his excellent book on poetry, The Cave and the Spring, in his essay "The Three Faces of Love" makes the extraordinary claim that Aquinas got the modes of human nature wrong.
I'll grant Professor Hope this - he wasn't impudent about it. He humbly admitted the idea came from Dante's conversation with Virgil about freewill on the slopes of Mount Purgatory. The basic idea is that eveything is motivated by love, and that the natural appetites make love possible in the same way that the honey makes the bee possible.
He relates the two major forms of natural appetites to Aquinas' two major modes of human life, the active and the contemplative. Then he proposes a third mode of human life, the creative. While the active life desires to grasp and own, and the contemplative life seeks to contemplate and become intimate, the creative life seeks to create BOTH objects of grasping and subjects for contemplation.
Then Professor Hope makes a little error. He reckons Aquinas was not much of a creative soul, but more contemplative. Perhaps St Thomases' many books came into existence by a miracle! Poor Hope owns the reality that Aquinas was and is a superb poet, but then fails to discount his slip to prop up his theory. And I think this is a mistake, especially combined with what comes next:
Next, Hope says creatives create completely new creations, ex nihilo, as if by magic. This is clearly absurd. But Hope cannot support the view that creatives are active or contemplative (and with good reason, as we shall see) so he is forced to invent absurd creative feats of originality when the reality is that all creative works are a mix of new and old material.
So Hope's reason for proposing a third mode is baseless. It begs the question - what is the mode of poets?
Are poets BOTH contemplative and active? Clearly not, because the fruits of contemplation must be actively presented to the public, and seduce the (mostly active) public to take a moment to contemplate them, if they are to have any effect on the culture. What's this? The mostly contemplative poet must actively present his work to the mostly active public by giving them a moment of contemplative peace?! What kind of a mode is that?
Simple: it is contemplative, certainly. But it is able to move between active and contemplative as a Mercurius, a messenger, between the modes. The poet crosses the hemispheres of the brain, blends contraries, embeds himself in tradition while creating ex nihilo, and generally makes a confusing mess of himself and nature.
What then is the final end of the poet? Surely it is cybernetic, - or to take the modern word that means the same thing, surely the final end of the poet is in governing. Governing what? The contemplative natures of the active, and the active natures of the contemplatives, of course!
When Shelley called poets the unacknowledged legislators of mankind, he was speaking for himself - for his political and creative aspirations, failures, and frustrations - rather than for poetry. A.D. Hope sounds similarly frustrated and baffled by the world's inept overlooking of himself - despite the fact that Hope would be a genius poet in the age of Pope and Dryden. But living poetry - successful poetry - is the folk mind of the active mode meeting the high culture of the contemplative mind. Successful poetry is necessarily contrary and edgy and ungraspable.
Reading Professor Hope misjudge Aquinas is as if we are witnessing Dante is being rebuked by Beatrice for a half-formed half-truth. Whereas Hope uses this third mode to propose reforms to society to fund the creative classes, all along the market produces the necessary poets of that age with inevitable grace and uncanny accuracy.