‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]

‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.

There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

George 'Cincinnatus' Washington

Garry Wills, Cincinnatus: George Washington and the Enlightenment: Images of Power in Early America, (Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1984).

The crucial enactment of this virtue and the key to Washington's stature among his contemporaries was his willingness to surrender power. Americans of the Enlighten- ment, Wills argues, needed a special kind of hero. They were trying to govern them- selves by the light of their own reason, and they needed evidence that they could succeed. Washington's accomplishments?combined with his carefully dramatized re- spect for republicanism?as army commander, constitution-maker, and chief executive made him not a divine emperor but a republican hero who typified in a more nearly perfect way the virtue that he and his fellow citizens shared. What could better link Washington with the people than his readiness to rejoin them as a private citizen? What could make him more worthy to hold power than his conspicuous refusal to prolong or abuse it? What could more fully vindicate self-government than being governed by a Washington? [review by Charles Royster, in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 93: 3 (1985), 345]

Talking of which, here's a bit from Marianne Moore's 1932 poem, 'The Hero':

Cincinnatus was; Regulus; and some of our fellow
men have been, though

devout, like Pilgrim having to go slow
to find his roll; tired but hopeful
hope not being hope
until all ground for hope has
vanished; and lenient, looking
upon a fellow creature's error with the
feelings of a mother-a
woman or a cat. The decorous frock-coated Negro
by the grotto

answers the fearless sightseeing hobo
who asks the man she's with, what's this,
what's that, where's Martha
buried, "Gen-ral Washington
there; his lady, here"; speaking
as if in a play-not seeing her; with a
sense of human dignity
and reverence for mystery, standing like the shadow of the willow.

Moses would not be grandson to Pharaoh.
It is not what I eat that is
my natural meat,
the hero says. He's not out
seeing a sight but the rock
crystal thing to see-the startling El Greco
brimming with inner light-that
covets nothing that it has let go. This then you may know
as the hero.

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