Until Engineers Become Poets and Poets Become Engineers there will be No Perfected World

Praxiteles and Polemarchus were brothers in the Greek colony of Melos in the Aegean sea, during the period directly before the Peleponessian war.  Praxiteles, who was the eldest, won the laurel crown at the local ode-writing competition while Polemarchus went into business.  Praxiteles once came to visit Polemarchus’s place of business, a gold mine in Scotland and wrote a poem about it which gathered him some reknown.  Horrified by the acrid smoke, the dead vegetation, and the sheer ugliness of the hole in the Earth Praxiteles wrote a poem comparing the Earth to a mother and the mine to a wound that her ungrateful children had stabbed into her breast.

Polemarchus felt indignant in his breast but finally went to his brother and gave vent to his heart:

“Brother, your most successful ode was one that compared a gold necklace on the neck of your girlfriend Lydia to the sun setting behind mountains.”

“It was, brother” quoth Praxiteles “Did you like it?

“I may I may not.  But I cannot both like it and the ode you just wrote condemning the mine that brought forth the gold that made the jewelry in which you find beauty.”

Tears came to the eyes of Praxiteles.  “Forgive me brother!”  He knelt at his feet.  “I have wronged you.  How can I make amends?”

“Before you write a line of verse, my beloved brother” said Polemarchus “I beg you to submit it to the rules of the guild of engineers.  Is what it says true?  Is it consistent with other poems?  Will those who endeavor to live according to your poetic vision in fact have their lives enriched thereby?  Or will they suffer?  Your poems are after all structures that you erect in the minds of men.  Exercise due care, I pray thee, that the structures not collapse crushing the men within them.”

“I will do so, brother.  I promise.”

The two brothers started a school of engineering and poetry called The School of the Brothers.  At this school,  engineers were taught to open their hearts to beauty in order to embody it within their work and in fact, to recognize that their work of remaking the Earth as a fit habitation for man was nothing but poetry in stone and steel, while poets were taught to think carefully and honestly about the consequences of their poems, and, indeed to view their poems as so many machines and structures for the upbuilding of the human psyche.

The greatest result of their work was the line “there is a budding morn in midnight” and the mobile siege tower, used to great effect in the siege of Rhodes.

As many know Melos was conquered by Athens, its inhabitants enslaved, and its wealth taken as booty.  Among the stolen wealth was the motto of the School of the Brothers “Engineers Must Become Poets and Poets Must Become Engineers” which was appropriated and debased by the philosopher Plato into “Kings Must Become Philosophers and Philosophers Must Become Kings” — a much worse motto as it appeals to bullies and braggarts of all stripes.  Because if a King claims to be a philosopher who has the courage to tell him he is not?

If Plato had suggested his motto at the School of the Brothers he would have been sent back to the drawing board!


8 thoughts on “Until Engineers Become Poets and Poets Become Engineers there will be No Perfected World

  1. Mikey says:

    Haven’t engineers always opened their hearts to beauty etc etc? What’s the difference between a poet-engineer and just an engineer?

  2. I think some just solve problems given to them by somebody else, more craftsmen or technicians than poets. could be wrong — I’ve worked in professional writing for 20 years or so and I see that there are a range of people — some more on the artist side of things some more like craftsmen who can devise stories or lines to a specification but aren’t unfolding new visions of greatness for humanity especially.

  3. A former boss of mine used to define engineering as “the art of finding adequate solutions.” The definition of “adequate” varies from case to case (and doubtless from beholder to beholder as well); sometimes it amounts to little more than “not demonstrably inadequate.” Elegance is always welcome but is not always a requirement: form ever follows function, but not necessarily closely. Perhaps an engineer-poet is one who makes elegance a requirement every time, one who gives high priority to minimizing the gap between function and form?

  4. Judith Newman says:

    I recently read that students either learn by being engineers or poets. I think that at some stage in every child’s life a teacher must have inspired them in some sort of poetic way unless they have been forced (or engineered) socially into learning something. In some ways children learn that the poetic justice of getting a good education is a good standard of living.

  5. Robert French says:

    As a former hydrological engineer, I did not work with stone and steel, as many engineers do, but with clouds and rain and soil and vegetation and flowing water – all the things of nature likely to inspire the poetic soul. But listen to the chorus of my co-practitioners: “I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a 1000-page book of guidelines
    Which, if I do not conform to, I shall be facing court on charges of negligence and paying fines.”
    (I know that you will appreciate the strict Ogden Nash-ian approach to rhyme.)

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