Negative Capability


British poet John Keat’s life was way too short. He left this world at age 26, but deposited an enormous amount of pithy truth. Former nun┬áKaren Armstrong was quite impressed with his after affects including his coining of the phrase negative capability which effectively means turning off one’s rational/logical/linguistic brain in order to flirt with transcendence.

Ironically, the preceding sentence could be soundly lashed as the opposite of what the brilliant poet meant by negative capability. Keats’ own description/definition of negative capability is “when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”

That is very HEAVY and I wish Keats was still around to clarify/amplify what he means, but I think I get it! He meant that a world class poet had to be patient and wait for that ineffable flash of insight AND then be able to write it down without letting words and logic impede new understanding regarding our sometimes oppressive and stifling human condition.

Wordsworth spoke in similar reverent tones of the receptive state of mind that could sometimes lead to an ecstatic vision of reality. He referenced “the meddling intellect” as an impediment to true understanding. These days, I have heard the phrase “monkey mind” credited to alan watts used in a similar way with respect to folks who strive for that purging meditative state.


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