‘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 13 June 2013

Bowles 15: Written at a Convent

If chance some pensive stranger, hither led,
His bosom glowing from majestic views,
The gorgeous dome or the proud landscape's hues,
Should ask who sleeps beneath this lowly bed—
'Tis poor MATILDA. To the cloister'd scene
A mourner, beauteous and unknown, she came,
To shed her tears unseen; and quench the flame
Of fruitless love: yet was her look serene
As the pale moon-light in the midnight isle;—
Her voice was soft, which yet a charm could lend,
Like that which spoke of a departed friend,
And a meek sadness sat upon her smile!—
Ah! be the spot by passing pity blest
Where, hush’d to long repose, the wretched rest.
Poor old Matilda. We're still in Germany, or at least northern Europe (we know this because 'Matilda' is, for eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century English writers, coded 'Germanic' and 'Gothic'). The irony, as in many other instances of this kind of scenario, is that M.'s removal from the world of erotic love only makes her more beautifully desirable: her look serene, her voice charming, beautiful and meekly sad. Phwoar! These lines
....yet was her look serene
As the pale moon-light in the midnight isle;
interest me. Is that an 'isle' as in island? (Like the moonlit islands of Arnold's 1853 'To Marguerite—Continued') Or is it Bowlesian spelling of 'aisle', and the image is of a church at midnight? Either would work, I suppose; and both are appropriately Gothic. The original version of the poem had a completely different final couplet:
Now, far removed from every earthly ill,
Her woes are buried, and her heart is still.
This is bland, but perhaps better than the revision, where 'wretched' is used as a noun, but can hardly fail to strike the reader as an adjective, whereupon the final word comes unexpectedly, as when you're climbing the stairs and have come to the top but think there is another step to take, and bring your foot down with a startling thud.

No comments:

Post a Comment