Rodin’s Thinking Poet

Sculptor Auguste Rodin’s 172nd birthday was yesterday, celebrated on the web by a Google Doodle of his iconic sculpture known as The Thinker. Rodin’s commentary on his sculpture makes clear, though, that this thought is not merely cerebral:

What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back, and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes.

Rodin, "The Gates of Hell"
Rodin’s Poet contemplates the plight of humanity in Dante’s Inferno.

Rodin did not originally title this sculpture The Thinker, but The Poet. First created as part of his monumental work, The Gates of Hell, depicting scenes from the first book of Dante’s Divine Comedy, the figure is seated at the top of the gates while the epic drama of human damnation & salvation plays out before him. No wonder this Poet’s contemplation grips his whole self!

For Rodin the sculptor, every aspect of action, character, and spirit that he wanted to convey had to be embodied in the physical form of his works. It’s a reminder to us that we, too, are bodily works. No matter how much we may wish to separate logic from emotion, “left-brain” from “right-brain,” reason from passion, body from mind, leisure from toil, suffering from joy, love of self from love of neighbors, virtue from practicality, strength from weakness, the holy from the everyday, the feminine from the masculine — all these are part and parcel of each other; and all born, maintained, and proved in our bodies.

Diagram model of the psyche, from Dr. Ernie

A whole-person model from Dr. Ernie

It’s such a hard thing for us to remember! Earth-creatures who long to be more than dust, we forget our origins & calling here. We need reminders — a book of stories, a theory with pictures, or a monument in bronze.


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