‘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.

Monday, 14 October 2013

A question of nomenclature

'Achilles is brave as a lion' is a simile. So far, so elementary. But what do we call this simile?--
He's a poor man, as empty as a pocket
As empty as a pocket, with nothing to lose.
Ah say tanana ... tanana-nah etc. etc.
It's a particular kind of simile: because in the round a pocket might be empty or full, and yet we somehow know what kind of pocket is being alluded to (we might say: a particular lion may be brave or cowardly, but in the round -- in the world of the simile -- lions are always brave). The point is that this a kind self-reflexive simile. This Simonesque poor man is empty as an empty pocket; but the simile doesn't need to specify the kind of pocket being mentioned, because the assumption is that it is the poor man's pocket which by definition will be empty. There's something neatly folded together, semantically, about this I think. Should we name it?

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