“The Role of Poetry in Daoist Philosophy” by Phillip Barron (Lewis & Clark College)

Poetry’s importance to the Daoist tradition goes beyond presenting philosophical content in verse. Authors of the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi make their claims about philosophy of language, not with proofs, but through demonstrations of open-endedness and invitations to consider what meanings are at stake. I examine the Daoists’ use of poetic techniques such as metaphorical language, rhetorical shifts, and allusion to show that the features of poetry which cause many Western philosophers (beginning with Plato) concern are the very features that Daoist authors depend upon. Through further close reading of other philosophical poems, including examples from British and contemporary American poets, I argue that poetry avails itself of a broader range of resources to engage in philosophical exploration.