‘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.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Mahon on Meaningfulness


This Paris Review interview with (Protestant) Irish poet Derek Mahon is pretty interesting. I was struck by this section in particular:
INTERVIEWER

Let’s get back to composition itself, which you’ve described as a shaking of the bars, a link moment between the human condition and the song.

MAHON

Something like that. There’s a certain moment in which that happens, but that’s a very rare occurrence, of course. Although every poem, I suppose, is an attempt. I suppose it’s religious—the notion of art as consolation, the belief that “everything will be all right.” I suppose I can’t finally seriously believe that we’re not immortal. So yes, in some sense everything is going to be all right. That seems a really crass thing to say. But it would be pernicious to insist that this was the be-all and end-all; it’s not. It’s only one of the poetic experiences—although it has a kind of privileged status, I think. For example, in “The Sea in Winter,” writing to O’Grady below in Paros, I assign such a moment to him:
You too have known the curious sense
of working on the circumference—
the midnight oil, familiar sea,
elusive dawn epiphany,
faith that the trivia doodled here
will bear their fruit sometime, somewhere.
That reflects on it.

INTERVIEWER

Would you call the poem, then, any poem, a secular act of faith?

MAHON

I suppose it is. If we’re going to start from religion, yes, “a secular act of faith” would do. A faith in meaningfulness, a defiance of nihilism—to which one is rather prone, of course.
A faith in meaning as such, not what things means but that things mean. What Browning has his corrupt, gifted (Catholic) brother Lippi say: 'This world's no blot for us,/Nor blank; it means intensely, and means good'. Ah and wouldn't that be fine, though, if it were true?

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