Neglected by most academic scholars of modern poetry, alternately celebrated and reviled by feminists, banished from the syllabus in departments of classics, Celtic studies, and anthropology, The White Goddess has nonetheless exercised a persistent influence in these and many other fields for more than half a century, and has continued, above all, to be a central source of inspiration for poets, the more potent for remaining hidden.There's something in this. The White Goddess is one of my holy books; I read it as a teenager and was alternately baffled and thrilled by it -- often both at the same time, for some of its most incomprehensible passages were the ground of much of its most overwhelming poetic effectiveness, or so I thought. I have re-read it several times. I still read it. I also, now, have studied the Classics to degree and PhD level, and can see why so many Classicists dismiss Graves' idiosyncratic, largely autodidact and spotty classical 'scholarship'. But that is to miss an important point. To condemn the book because it does not approach the standards expected in modern-day departments of classics, Celtic studies, and anthropology makes about as much sense as condemning Yeats's A Vision because it has nothing practical to say about ophthalmology.
‘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.
Thursday, 21 November 2013
The White Goddess
In Graves and the Goddess (a book I bought in hardback when it was published, actually; but which I thought rather disappointing) Ian Firla and Grevel Lindop write: