‘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.

Saturday 28 June 2014

Sophocles in Elizabethan English

Writing pastiche Shakespeare is both too easy and much, much too hard. It's too easy in the sense that anyone can do it, as ten thousand examples prove. But it's much too hard, because -- well, obviously: setting yourself the challenge of writing as well as Shakespeare is setting yourself up to fail.

Shakespeare may be the wrong analogue for Sophocles actually. He certainly has the grandeur of the Greek, and his plays have the force and fame of the Oedipus Tyrannus and Antigone. But Shakespeare is primarily, of course, distinguished by the extraordinary range and liveliness of his characters, and in that he's closer to Euripides (who was criticised in his own day for writing 'lifelike' aka common individuals into his art). By 'closer to' I mean 'surpasses in every way'; but Euripides is still the best fit amongst the Attic crowd in that regard. I certainly don't want to be misled by a mere co-incidence of birthdays: that Shakespeare (b. 1565) and Middleton (1580) happen to have approximately the same generational gap as Sophocles (b. 496 BC) and Euripides (b. 480). Of course, that counts for little -- especially as Marlowe was only one year older than Shakespeare and died young, where Aeschylus was two decades or more older than Sophocles and lived to be almost a hundred.

At any rate, I've split the difference here, and translated the scene from the middle of the Antigone (where Creon orders Antigone off to be buried alive) into a blank verse too bland to be called properly Shakespearian, but Elizabethan enough to keep it relevant to this project.

I'll need to think, and write, harder about other Sophoclean passages if I want to generate an actually Shakespearian affect. Ho hum.

[Enter CREON, GUARDS, ALCESTIS, shee weeping full]

Know ye that Songes and shreeking afore death
Would neuer sease if they auerted it?
Begonne with her—away! And when ye haue
Fidelous to my word, inclosed her fast
Within her chaumbered Graue, lett her alone:
It is her forlorn choyse to die inside
Or liue her buried life in such a home.
Prystine our hands in handelling this maide.
And only this is certaine, as for us:
Shee soon shall lose her pleasaunce in the Light.

Tombe and bridal-bower sunk in Rock!
Prison Infinite I enter as abode
And all the perishéd are brickd within
Where gracious Persephon receiues the dead!
So now Ile wander in the marrowd stone
At last, and armed in simple miserie,
Dischargd before my purs of life is spent.
But I clasp Good Hope to my breast, and pray
I may find Father welcome, Mother kinde,
And kisse againe my Brothers lippes sweet;
For at your deathe I washd and dressd you al
And poored down honie wine upon your graues
In apt Lybation. Polynisces mine
It is in sufferance such I now must goe.
And yet I honourd thee, as wise muste deem.
I woud not, had I been bereft of childe,
Would not had husband mowldered in strong death
Would not haue done thus in the lawes despyte
And sturrd the citie with my insolence.
What law, ye ask, is Warrant for my worde?
One Husband lost, another might be found,
Child browke of life, another might be borne.
But Father Mother mine in Hades hidd
From whens could other Brother bloome to life?
Such was the law I held in honore firste
But Creon claimed me guilty of graue faulte,
And saies my outrage choake the ayre with shame
O Brother mine! And now he leads me thus
A captiff in his hands; no bridall bed,
No bridal songe for me, no marriage ioy,
No portion in the nurture of children;
But thus, forlorn of friends, unhappy one,
I go aliue into the Vaults of death.
What law of heauen haue I trampled on?
What power the gods to help me in this caue?
What ally darst to stand aside me, when
By pyetie I earne unpyous name?
If such as this giues pleasure to the gods
When I haue faced my doom, I shall goe on
To know in what it is my sin indwels.
But if the sin is with my iudges—ay!
May they endure no fuller euil thann
They haue heere meted wrongfully to me.

The same wilde tempest vexes still the soul
Of this most storm compeled maiden.

For this her guards shall rew their snayl slowness!

Ah me! that word hath brought me near to death.

Ile cheere thee with no hope that this thy doom
Is torrent to avert as you your fate.

O citie of my fathers! Theban land!
O gods, the eldest of our race!—I am led hence
Now, now—they tarry not! Behold me here
Ye noblemen of Thebes, I am the last,
Last daughter of the house of your great kings,
See what I suffer here, and see from whom,
Because I feared to floute the fear of Heauen!
[Exeunt ANTIGONE and her guards.]

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