‘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.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Choheleth

Walter Bradick's 1765 publication of Choheleth: or, The Royal Preacher: a Poem most Humbly Inscribed to The King opens with a preface attributing the original version of the poem to somebody else (J. Dennis Furley, according to some sources) and claiming it first appeared in 1691. The DNB, though, seems to imply Bradick was himself the author (it also laments that 'it may be doubted whether the work is now extant'. Cheer up, DNB! Here it is, on Google Books!) 'Koheleth' is the Hebrew name for this geezer; and the poem is a versification of that Biblical book.

The poem starts on a suitably gloomy, Ecclesiastesiesque note:
O vain, deluding world! whose largest gifts
Thine emptiness betray, like painted clouds,
Or watry bubbles: as the vapour flies,
Dispers'd by lightest blast, so fleet thy joys,
And leave no trace behind. This serious truth
The Royal Preacher loud proclaims, convinc'd
By sad experience; with a sigh, repeats
The mournful theme, that nothing here below
Can solid comfort yield: 'Tis all a scene
Of vanity, beyond the pow'r of words
T'express, or thought conceive. [1-11]
If it's really 'beyond the pow'r of words/T'express, or thought conceive' you have to wonder what the point is in writing a poem about it. Still. Nature, the poem (takings its prompt from scripture) insists, is a Heraclitan flow:
See, how the winds
From ev'ry point are whirl'd, and still renew
Their circuit. Rapid torrents rivers fill,
And these their tribute to the Ocean pay,
Whose vast abyss ne'er overswells its bounds;
For strait, in vapours, by the Sun exhal'd
Or through Earth's secret caverns, it restores
All back again.
This is the first I've come across the idea (was it common in the 17th/18th centuries?) that the ocean supplies waters back to the sources of rivers via 'secret caverns'. I'd like to know more about this idea, actually: is it, for instance, behind Coleridge's dream-vision caverns measureless to man through which Alph flows? Is (that is to say) Alph the sacred river running back from the sea to the springs of creation? (The original Biblical verses don't include the secret caverns: 'The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again' [Ecc. 1:6-7]) '

The poem adds another very Romantic-sounding passage to the original Bible verse, viz.:
More anxious none t' explore the hidden springs
Of Nature's wondrous works; nor less intent,
Though more abstruse the study, to trace out
The mazy lab'rinths of the human heart,
Its dark recesses, various and perplex'd
Its motions, diff'rent passions and pursuits.
Immense the labour, thorny was the road:
This sounds very like Wordsworth. But then we go on, and the anticipatory shadow of Kubla Khan falls again across the reader's mind:
In the royal Seats I rais'd,
United shone magnificence and taste;
With ev'ry precious thing within adorn'd,
That wealth immense could furnish; planted round
With choicest vines, in beauteous order rank'd,
Whose racy juice supply'd the sumptuous board,
And cheer'd the heaviest heart. When tir'd with pomp
Of Court, and Solitude to rural scenes
Invited, entertainment sweet I found
In gardens, which with Eden might compare
Here flow'rs profuse exhal'd their odours, more
Reviving than Arabia's spicy gales;
Nor could Aurora paint on clouds, nor bow
Of Heav'n, by solar beams reflected, shew
Colours so various, or of lovelier hue.
There lofty trees th' extended vista form'd,
Or shady grove. The most delicious fruits
Of ev'ry kind, so plenteous, that, beneath
Their weight, the branches funk. Nor chrystal streams
Were wanting, which in pleasing torrents roll'd
From high cascades, or, in meanders flow,
Through artificial channels taught to glide,
Or rise in figur'd shapes from marble font.
Each tender plant the kindly moisture shar'd,
Nor felt the scorching rays. In this retreat
I pass'd my vacant hours, the cares of life
In sweet oblivion lost.
The parallels with Coleridge's Xanadu aren't, perhaps, very close; although this account is rather more languidly orientalist than the Biblical original (' made me great works; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kind of fruits: I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees: I got me servants and maidens, and had servants born in my house; also I had great possessions of great and small cattle above all that were in Jerusalem before me: I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers, and the delights of the sons of men, as musical instruments, and that of all sorts.' Ecc. 2:4-8). Still, Ecclesiastes as a source for 'Kubla Khan' (or maybe it would be better to say: 'Kubla Khan' as a sort of exoticised, far-eastern version of Ecclesiastes) hadn't occurred to me before.

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