‘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.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Babylon: 16th- and 18th-century perspectives

In 1764 The Critical Review, or Annals of Literature covered A General History of the World, from the Creation to the present lime. Including all the Empires, Kingdoms, and States; their Revolutions, Forms of Government, Laws, Religions, Customs and Manners; the Progress of their Learning, Arts, Sciences, Commerce and Trade; together with their Chronology, Antiquities, Public Buildings, and Curiosities of Nature and Art, which work was written 'By William Guthrie, Esq. John Gray, Esq. and others eminent in this Branch of Literature' (2 vols, 1764). One question addressed: what happened to the Biblical Babylon?
Whether any remains of it are to be seen at this day, is very uncertain. Modern travellers even differ as to the situation of Babylon, so completely has that immense city been destroyed. There are several large and remarkable ruins still to be seen in the neighbourhood of the Euphrates, and at many miles distance from each other; but which of them, or if any of them, may be supposed the ruins of Babel, is still very doubtful.

Tavernier, and several other travellers, have visited a mass of ruins about eight or nine miles to the north west of Bagdat, called by the present inhabitants the Tower of Nimrod. This lower tower appears now a shapeless hill, and stands by itself in a wide plain. Towards the middle there is an opening that passes quite thro' the building, and towards the top there is a great window. Authors give very different accounts of the heighth. of the tower, and of the bulk and form of the bricks, and of the manner how they are ranged. Some suppose it to be the fame with the tower mentioned by Moses; and others thinking it cannot agree with his account, embrace the opinion of the Arabs, who say, that it was built by one of their princes for a beacon.

Rawwolf, a German physician, who in the year 1574, passed down the Euphrates, supposes he found the ruins of Babylon on that river, 36 miles to the south-west of Bagdat, where the village Elugo, or Felujia, now stands. He says the country is dry and barren, and that it might be doubted whether that potent city ever stood there, if it were not for some delicate antiquities still remaining. Some pieces and arches of the old bridge over Euphrates are still to be seen; and at a small distance the ruins of the tower of Babel, half a league in diameter; but so low and so full of venomous beasts, that it is dangerous to approach within half a mile of it; except in two months of the year, when those animals do not stir out. On his journey from thence to Bagdat, he observed many large and stately buildings, arches, and turrets, standing in the sand, some decayed and in ruins, others pretty entire, and adorned with curious artificial work.
Two things strike me: one, what a great name 'Rawwolf' is! And, two: the mournful reflection that recent events have made 'Falujiah' much better known than was formerly the case. I wonder if it could have been Babylon?

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