At a stop sign in the middle of the desert, with no human beings for miles around, should you stop? If you break a "rule" and nobody's harmed (or could have been harmed), was that wrong? Are some rules sacred, by consensus or Higher Authority? If you know you broke a rule, should you feel guilty even if no one else knows? If a rule seems bad, is it wrong to obey it?
Robert Pinsky in The Sounds of Poetry: a brief guide begins with:
There are no rules.
However, principles may be discerned in actual practice: for example, in the way people actually speak, or in the lines poets have written. If a good line contradicts a principle one has formulated, then the principle, by which I mean a kind of working idea, should be discarded or amended.
Pinsky also comments, at the end of his second chapter:
Less formally, a mental process like such an exercise --- being aware of how a thing is done, and appreciating more by noticing more --- is the goal of this book.
Perhaps rules are only a step along the way to properly implementing principles in our lives. Rules serve as a kind of short cut to help us do the right thing, most of the time. But rules only dictate "what" --- good principles tell "why" and sometimes "how". We begin with rules when we're young, or first learning a skill. We may graduate, eventually, to understanding principles and applying them to situations far beyond the scope of the initial rules. That's maturity; that's wisdom.
Wednesday, June 23, 1999 at 06:03:11 (EDT) = Datetag19990623