‘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, 4 October 2018

Tragic Content

Derek Walcott, writing in Poetry Review on the subject of ‘The Poet in the Theatre’ [PR 80:4, 1990-1], asserts:
Great tragedies are based on the propulsion of metre as well as of character; that is, a symmetry of sound as well as of plot.
Wishful thinking, this (of course a poet would like to think this is the case). But nobody ever cried at a poetic sound effect. Even if Walcott means 'tragic content is rendered more tragic by the proper use of metre and language (though that's not what he said), I suspect he is seriously underestimating the ability to drop into the melting mood at the prompt of an old song, an advert, a limerick, a pub anecdote, a look in a particular somebody's eye ...

Later he is more on-target:
The idea of vacuity in modern tragedy is like the idea of the existential or the nihilistic: spiritual vanity. The depth of modern contemplation is of staring into the holes, the emptiest ‘O’ of all. Such vanity lies in the faith that for the tragic poets of the modern theatre, be they absurdists or minimalists, history happens only where it has meaning. And since for such writers history is now meaningless—at least as morality—where history does happen is the only place where modern tragedy can be played.
There's definitely something in this, I think. Although, on the other hand, that 'O' has tragic potential, don't you think ...? A kind of Singularity of tragic content; the black hole of empathetic affective suffering.

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