Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Several of the terms in the poem are taken specifically from Kant’s work: categories, antinomies, space and time, and mathematics. In Critique of Pure Reason, Kant defines the categories as “concepts of synthesis that the understanding contains within itself a priori.” The categories, which include such thing as “Unity,” “Reality,” and “Possibility-Impossibility,” are ways in which the understanding synthesizes or groups its ideas and which have not been taught to the understanding; they are known intuitively, without benefit of experience. The antinomies consist of the conflicts between different ideas in transcendental philosophy that cannot be proved or disproved experientially; they transcend all experiences. Kant’s first conflict, for example, is between the thesis that the world has a beginning in time and the antithetical statement that it has none: Space and time are not concepts that can be derived from experience but are rather a priori concepts upon which a person’s intuitions are based (space underlies outer intuitions and time underlies inner ones). Mathematics is an example of a form of synthetic knowledge derived from the a priori knowledge of space and time.

In the poem, Thomas is juxtaposing Kant’s ideas of a knowledge that is not based on experience or empirical data with Prytherch’s understanding. Prytherch comprehends and understands the world through his experiences, through the flesh,...

(The entire section is 530 words.)