Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 530

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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, through the things of the natural world around him. When the speaker says, “Space and time/ Are not the mathematics that your will/ Imposes, but a green calendar/ Your heart observes,” the distinction being made is between Kant’s ideas of space and time as something that leads to a pure science (such as mathematics) and Prytherch’s experience of space and time as connected to the physical earth and the seasons. Prytherch’s knowledge comes not from intuition but from experience.

In the last stanza, Thomas claims that Kant’s logic could not continue in the face of Prytherch’s relationship with the world, even while Prytherch’s mind would be unable to comprehend Kant’s. The speaker does find a connection between them, however, in the faith that they share “over a star’s blue fire.” What he means by “faith” is not clear; one strong possibility, however, is that both men have a faith in existence itself. While Kant’s logic is indeed “remote” to Prytherch’s world, it is founded on the idea that one does exist. Space and time are intuitive concepts, and the world’s beginning cannot be substantiated through any experience, but the antinomy does not deny the world’s existence itself. Thomas imagines Prytherch and Kant together at night with the hostile moor outside, a condition that would make each man aware of his own existence and his desire to continue to exist. Beneath intuition, beneath experience, there is the enduring faith that one is and things are. “Green Categories” uses Prytherch’s life to point out the remoteness of Kant’s philosophy from everyday experiences, but it does not validate Prytherch’s life as the best way to exist either. Instead, the poem moves beyond asking how one knows the world to affirming that one is in the world.