The fist number of L. refer to the standard CtP edition published in 1987. The following number shows correspondence between letters in the new 2010 edition. Note that on this website CtP is available only 1987 edition with minor additions.

[L. 136 | 146] 25 December 1964

The philosophical works with me will be enough to occupy me for the time being. Actually, with a well-written bit of philosophy I probably take as much time to read it as I suppose you do with a good volume of poetry. And also, the satisfaction that philosophy can provide (when the philosopher has a valid thought—i.e., a thought that one has oneself thought, or might have thought—and succeeds in communicating) is surely not less than what an experienced reader of poetry derives from a good poet, even if the atmosphere is not quite the same. For example, the passage from the Grenier on being dépaysé (which you yourself recognize as part of your own experience) can be read repeatedly, each time with the same, or increased, resonance. And an opening passage such as this (from Heidegger), despite—or perhaps because of—its apparent simplicity, at once reveals endless unsuspected perspectives to the mind, and, for me at least, is extraordinarily stimulating:

Why, in a general way, is there something rather than nothing? That is the question. And probably it is not just any question. Why is there something rather than nothing? It is, manifestly, the first of all questions...[a]
And notice the subtle nuance of the word 'probably'—'probably it is not just any question'—which leaves us the tantalizing possibility, the bare possibility, that there may be other questions—as yet unsuspected—that take precedence over this one.

This last paragraph is rather by way of apologizing for having returned the four volumes of Yeats quite so quickly. I have a feeling that you would like me to like Yeats, and I feel a little guilty that I am unable to do very much about it. In earlier days, perhaps, I might have convinced myself that I ought to like him, and with persistence I might even have to some extent succeeded. But now it is too late. He is pleasing, certainly; but if one is no more than pleased by a poet, then it is quite obvious that one is incapable of reading poetry.

Graham Greene, I allow, is a first-class writer—at least he would be if he were a little less convinced of the infallibility of Catholic dogma. If one believes in this dogma (as he evidently does), no doubt all the tensions and anguishes that his characters go through will seem valid enough; but if one does not happen to share these beliefs, one comes away from his books with the feeling that he is making things unnecessarily difficult for everybody. He is quite right to insist that more is at stake in our worldly affairs than meets the eye—I know this myself, and I am satisfied that I have (from the Suttas) some idea of what is at stake (beyond this life, I mean)—; but it weakens one's case, not strengthens it, to be dogmatic about it, no matter whether that dogma is right or wrong. There is more eschatological dogma in one of Graham Greene's novels than there is in my Notes on Dhamma.


[136.a] It is probably a bogus question. [Back to text]