‘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, 7 December 2019

Rudyard Kipling's “The Moon Miners”


[Excerpted here are lines 20-79; this is the passage immediately before the miners unearth the mysterious artefact buried deep beneath Copernicus crater. The text is taken from Smithee's edition. Kipling's Moon Miners antedates 2001: A Space Odyssey by half a century.]


We worked, digging down slant and delving deep from Copernicus’ crater
And each of us working a ten hour day, and grinding their Excavator.
Our suits’ remote commanding the drills, tunnelling lasers and Chutes
Six foot men are small as dwarves beside those mechanical brutes—
Moon miners we, paid to tunnel, the regolith over us all;
The only sounds our helmet-pent breath, the world coloured black and pall.
And the cavern advancing inch by inch, punching through lunar crust;
Each morning meeting the frozen rock, each evening leaving it dust.
And the days on the moon are a fortnight long and are hotter than boiled lead
And the nights are exactly as long again and cold as the thoughts of the dead.
And the dust is fine as sea-beach sand where breakers turn onto their side—
Though the moon’s an oceanless beach, and parched, and rockfall’s the only tide;
It's pebbles and rocks and meteors that come crashing out of blank sky
And millennia pass between each splash, and that surf is deathly dry.
Hurtling down, smashing and crashing, and milling rough rock into dust
An anvil of land and myriad hammers, and so the topography’s crushed.
Soundlessness, vacuum, eerie and dark, confusion of far and near:
The miner toils in his cell spurred on by ‘we’re building a city here!’
Die-cut shadows dance in the blackness thrown by the welder’s spark;
There are twenty types of moonrock, lads, but a thousand types of dark—
A thousand kinds of darkness there, and the cold comes on up through your boots:
Those lunar hilltops are bleak, for sure; but it's bleaker by far at their roots.

We’d dug the main chamber, and sealed the sides with Palmact agent and Glu
And we’d paved the floor with laze-planed stones, and fitted these flags to the true.
And the echoless cavern reared eerily over us, arc-lit, hooped and tall
Shadows seemed of elastic, and stretched, flitted and slid on the wall.
Our suits were black as charcoal up from the boots to the helmets’ peaks;
A thing you don't know about moondust, perhaps, is just how vile it reeks:
It stinks with the taint of sulphur, of a gunpowder fashioned in hell,
And you never quite wash yourself of it clean, though you scrub down ever so well.
So we eat and we sleep; and ready ourselves, and its back sublunar again—
Though it’s hard and ill-paid and dangerous too, yet we’re Lunewomen and -men.
And so we dig on, and the Vaters moved, jabbed blades, turn, dig and sweep,
On earth they’d have clanked, hissed and grumbled; but here all was quiet as sleep.
We drove three new tunnels, went downward slow, and aimed for the moon’s still heart…
But we found what we never thought to find, and it clattered our world apart.

We’re Lune, and we’re proud of that fact, though our suits bear House sigils now—
This is our world, and if you want digging it's us are the ones who know how.
We’ll take the Merchant House’s money, we'll let them supply new kit
But ours are the hands, and the minds and the lives we take down into the pit.
Ours are the death too: the pit is a deadly-dangerous workplace, and deep;
You need not think us your slaves, you Housers, though you have bought us cheap.
A human who’s gone inside the moon and crawled through the grave-holes there
Is indifferent to threats as to money—for us moonminers are hard to scare.
But scared I was, for all my vaunting, by what my Vater dug through
And my heart near stopped, and my breathing froze and my monitor light burned blue.

8 comments:

  1. Amongst the many interesting things to note of this excerpt is Kipling's use of the word "laser". Until 1960, some time after his death, it would more usually have been called an "optical maser".

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    1. What a remarkably perceptive and prophetic writer he was!

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  2. Well, Neil, at least he's kipled now.

    Laze-planed, indeed!

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