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The Power of Poetry

by Gabrielle Grafin Von Bernstorff

Traditional philosophy has exhausted the power to renew language because it wants to stay alone in defining the life of the mind. Poetry is the movement away from the Cartesian “ I think therefore I am” to “ I am dream”, “I am language”, “I am poetry” and “I am imagination”. The systematization of knowledge runs the risk of becoming a dictatorship of the mind. It is in danger of being reductive. A method is both necessary and dangerous. As a way of approaching things, of initiating a discourse, it must be guided by principles, but these principles have a tendency to become frozen, into a system divorced from its formation, thereby paralyzing discovery. (Bachelard)

Poetry works against a systematization of knowledge. Poetry is reason beyond reason. Where philosophy gives room to desperation, poetry takes over thought. Poetry is the place of material imagination. “Matter is dreamed not perceived.” (Bachelard) Making is relational and is closer to art than aesthetic principles. Making in the realm of the imagination works against a totalizing method, it is a dispersed philosophy, a poly-philosophy of poly-joints and multiple connections. Bachelard speaks of the “penseur-charnière” and of a “rupture epistemologique.”

“Poetry is made of words”, (Mallarmé), just as architecture is made of light and dark, of materials, space, rhythm and so on. Modern poetry begins when space enters the time of poetry. Mallarmé is the explosion of space into poetry. It is space which allows the psyche to unfold in a free manner. In modern poetry there is another kind of interiority. The psyche opens up into space in the novels of Virginia Woolf and André Breton. “Communicating Vessels” explores the alchemical weave between waking and dream reality. In “To the Lighthouse”, “….the blue went out of the sea and it rolled in waves of pure lemon which curved and swelled and broke upon the beach and the ecstasy burst in her eyes and waves of pure delight raced over the floor of her mind and she felt, it is enough! It is enough!” The space “outside” enters the mind.

Novalis the poet of shadows could be seen as a precursor to Freud. With both the shadow becomes the place of ontic difference, a place of articulation and experience. The shadow here has become modern because it has moved beyond representation, it acquires a life of its own, it begins to move freely, without transcendental reserve. Poetry, like architecture, lives from its weave, from its suggestive power and from its radiant beauty. Like a poem, architecture remains free. “ We shall never enclose its fate in our own.” (Bachelard)

The architectural image is more than a symbol, representation or mere sign. “The psyche is animated by a veritable hunger for images,….it seeks the positive character of the image.” (Bachelard) Material Imagination moves in a weave between action, dynamic and resistance in the world of the mind, soul, psyche and in cultural space. Active imagination is not a reflex; it needs a dialectical dynamic, moving between love, anger, hardness, softness and so on. The poet absorbs the lesson of the stream just as architecture makes the city more like the city, the water more than water and the sky more than the sky.

This text has been inspired by Paola Iacucci’s Three Houses and other Buildings by Gangemi Publishers

Gabrielle is an architect, artist and writer. She has completed her studies at Columbia and Princeton Universities in the USA. She currently lives in Switzerland where she has her own architectural practice. Her websites are: and