‘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 16 January 2013


Teaching my pastoral course this term, it occurs to me that this is a mode with two fountainheads-- what might be called a Georgic point of origin, and an Eclogic point-of-origin (that is, on the one hand the idea of writing a practical manual for agricultural or horticultural themes, and on the other the idea of using 'the countryside' as an idyllic setting for meditations on love and life). Pastoral picks up on the latter to a much greater degree than the former. But the former had its own life. Here, hidden behind the hedgerow of its Latinity:
The De Hortorum Libri IV by René Rapin S.J. [1620/21-1681] was one of the more popular items of seventeenth century Neo-Latin literature. Since its original publication in Paris in 1665, it has gone through no fewer than 21 printings (the most recent being the 1932 Worcester Mass. edition of Thomas McDonald), and has been translated into English (twice), French, and Italian in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In her study, Ruth Monreal subjects Rapin’s poem to a lengthy and thorough analysis, beginning by pointing out that it and Abraham Cowley’s De Plantis Libri VI belong to a lengthy tradition of Lehrgedichte that can be traced back as far as Hesiod’s Works and Days and Vergil’s Georgics, and that resurfaced in Neo-Latin literature in works by such writers as Pontanus, Vida, and Fracastorio. This one is a didactic poem about the design of gardens (Book I is about flowers, II about forests and glades, III about irrigation and decorative water features, and IV about orchards) ... [unfortunately] (as Monreal observes on p. 16) the scholarship devoted to Abraham Cowley’s plant poem is very scanty. This is one of those poems which, like Thomas Watson’s 1592 Amintae Gaudia, languishes in undeserved neglect because it was written in Latin; had these poems been written in English, they would be very familiar indeed, and some readers would no doubt love them and consider them minor masterpieces.
Lehrgedichte is my word of the day. Excellent word.

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