‘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, 3 April 2013

An algorithm for poetry

Don Paterson (says Peter Howarth, 'Degrees of Famousness etc', LRB [21 March 2013], 33) is 'vigilant about not making poetry into a surrogate justification for fantasies of individual importance.' As he writes in a recent essay on 'The Lyric Principle': "An algorithm for poetry would be incredibly complex, but not infinitely so; and its detachment from such overvalued constructs as 'the individual voice' could be just the thing to propel us into a new era of classicism, should we desire or require such a thing."

How cool this is. How it would have infuriated Coleridge; who believed its exact opposite.

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