Paul Fry's Defense of Poetry really is a defense of poetry, mainly (for me) for its sensitive readings of Wordsworth, Keats & other Romantics. (& he's got me going back to Bachelard, & Wordsworth, & looking for Allen Grossman.) Fry's argument can be understood as an elaboration of Keats's "negative capability" : poetry provides a rest from the "irritable reaching after fact & reason". He quotes Blanchot, who writes that he reads literature to find rest in actuality, the thingness of ordinary things - beyond meaning, beyond reference, beyond interpretation.
His argument is also, it seems, rooted in a disenchanted naturalism. The basic ground of reality is the nonhuman, the inanimate - King Death being the much-evaded terminus, the inanimate to which all dust returns. For Fry the Romantics, especially Wordsworth, are naturalists avant la lettre, or in spite of themselves.
At one point though, in a sort of aside, Fry mentions Blake, as something of an exception to the rule. & I find myself closer to Blake's supernaturalism than anyone else's naturalism.
Naturalism, as a literary atmosphere, succeeded Romanticism, under the pressure of 19th-cent. science, politics, and war. (Symbolism and modernism succeeded naturalism, but only within the restricted sphere of their aesthetic self-enclosure.) Simply put, poetry's role was sidelined and trivialized - penned up in the realm of "culture" and "feeling".
Basically, Science took the place of Religion, and everything else lined up appropriately.
But let's look over at Pope Benedict's essay (see link below). Faith, according to Paul, is the substance of hope, the evidence of things unseen. In Benedict's reading, then, faith is a spiritual something from outside, which we internalize (or already possess) - and such possession makes possible a kind of intuition of a greater goodness or joy which we cannot see yet, but which we hope for. Because faith is a "substance" we actually possess, it is also the evidence which grounds our hope.
As I see it, this spiritual intuition is still active in the world, and provides a way of seeing &/or understanding reality, which has not been displaced by science. And there's a kind of analogy here with the intuitions, the aesthetic discoveries, which guide artists and poets. (& that's the key to my Byzantium)
For Fry, literature & poetry intuit and represent an austere ground of being, in the non-human, the inanimate, the extreme limit of death. For me, I guess, the labyrinth of the human mind and spirit is yet more subtle. At some unspoken level, we recognize and intuit the formations of life & death together (this is actually close to Fry's reading of Wordsworth) : but death doesn't necessarily have the last word.
(I realize my notes might strike some people as a very aggressive and unpalatable confusion of categories... I'm sorry for that. This is how I organize certain categories of understanding, for myself : but my main interest lies in the actual ("shamanic") praxis of the visionary, synthetic imagination...
- & what the heck : I graduated from Blake School, in Hopkins (MN) !)