‘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.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Leopardi's 'L'infinito' (1819)

Autumn 1819, a young Giacomo Leopardi was sitting on the hill near his small home town of Recanati, yearning to see more of the world. He wrote a poem about it, which he called 'L'infinito'. It is, by all accounts, very widely known in Italy. Indeed the actual hill in actual Recanati even has the above monument to it. Here's the poem:

Sempre caro mi fu quest’ermo colle,
e questa siepe, che da tanta parte
dell’ultimo orizzonte il guardo esclude.
Ma sedendo e mirando, interminati
spazi di là da quella, e sovrumani
silenzi, e profondissima quiete
io nel pensier mi fingo; ove per poco
il cor non si spaura. E come il vento
odo stormir tra queste piante, io quello
infinito silenzio a questa voce
vo comparando: e mi sovvien l’eterno,
e le morte stagioni, e la presente
e viva, e il suon di lei. Così tra questa
immensità s’annega il pensier mio:
e il naufragar m’è dolce in questo mare.
Here's my go at an English version:

was always in my heart, this lonely hill,
and this hedgerow, and the larger part
of the far horizon it blocks from view;
my sedentary amazement at endless
spaces opening beyond, the superhuman
silences, this most profound quiet,
I fix it all up with my thoughts. It
almost scares my soul. As the wind
hisses through the leaves I set that
infinite silence against this voice,
for comparison: and remember eternity,
and the dead seasons, and the present
live one, and the sound it makes. Into this
immensity go my thoughts to drown:
and shipwreck is sweet in such an ocean.
I'm not sure any poet ever had a cooler name than 'Jack Leopard'. I may be wrong about this.

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