‘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 17: In a Storm

Holding in mind the main purpose of these scattered sonnet-blogs, viz. plumbing the (shaping) appeal of Bowles's poetry to Coleridge, we come to this stormy piece:
Thou, whose stern spirit loves the awful storm,
That, borne on terror's desolating wings
Shakes the deep forest, or remorseless flings
The shivered surge; when rising griefs deform
Thy peaceful breast, oh! hie thee to the steep
That beetles o'er the rude and raving tide;
And when thou hear'st distress careering wide,
Tossed on the surge of life how many sink!
Think in a world of woe what thousands weep.
But if the kindred prospect fail to arm
Thy patient breast; if hope, long since forgot,
Be fled, like the wild blast which hears thee not;
Seek not in nature’s fairer scenes a charm,
But shroud thee in the mantle of distress,
And tell thy poor heart “This is happiness.”
Bowles is returning from the Continent (later editions titled this piece 'Written at Dover'). He has travelled over what were, evidently, rough seas. The original version of this sonnet had a completely different sestet:
And if thy cheek with one kind tear be wet,
And if thy heart be smitten, when the cry
Of danger and of death is heard more nigh,
Oh, learn thy private sorrows to forget;
Intent, when hardest beats the storm, to save
One who, like thee, has suffered from the wave.
Weaker in several ways.

This sonnet, amongst others, is singled out for Coleridge's praise in a letter he wrote to Bowles in 1797 (Bowles mother was unwell; indeed, she died on 25 Mar. 1797)
Address: Revd W. L. Bowles | Donhead | near Shaftsbury | Wilts.

Thursday Morning. [16 March 1797]

Dear Sir

But that I am not likely to have another opportunity of transmitting the accompanying trifles to you, I would not intrude on you at a moment, when your heart is necessarily occupied with it's own feelings. -- You have the nightly prayers of my little family for the restoration of your dear Mother's health. To me the death of the aged has a more mournful effect than that of the young. Accustomed to observe a completeness in all the works of Nature, the departure of the Latter seems more of a transition -- the heart is dissatisfied, & says, this cannot be all. But of the aged we have seen the bud, the blossom, & the fruit -- & the whole circle of existence appears completed. -- But praise & thanksgiving to him who sent light & immortality into the world, bidding the corruptible put on incorruption, & the mortal immortality: for the young & old alike rejoice before God & the Lamb. --

The poems of Mr Lloyd will, I think, please you -- the Woman, whom they lament, approached as near perfection, as human nature admits. -- His affection for her was almost too great -- for her death has had the most melancholy effects on his health -- he fell into a nervous complaint, which has terminated in a species of epileptic seizures. -- He is at present domesticated in my cottage.

My Ode you will read with a kindly forbearance as to it's political sentiments. -- The base of our politics is, I doubt not, the same. We both feel strongly for whomever our imaginations present to us in the attitude of suffering. -- I confess, that mine is too often a stormy pity.'

The plan I had sketched for my tragedy is too chaotic to be transmitted at present -- but immediately I understand it myself, I will submit it to you: & feel greatly obliged to you for your permission to do it. -- It is 'romantic & wild & somewhat terrible' -& I shall have Siddons & Kemble in my mind -- but indeed I am almost weary of the Terrible, having been an hireling in the Critical Review for these last six or eight months -- I have been lately reviewing the Monk, the Italian, Hubert de Sevrac & &c & &c -in all of which dungeons, and old castles, & solitary Houses by the Sea Side, & Caverns, & Woods, & extraordinary characters, & all the tribe of Horror & Mystery, have crowded on me -- even to surfeiting. --

I rejoice to hear of your new Edition -- Why did you ever omit that sublime Sonnet, Thou, whose stern Spirit loves the awful storm -- ? I should have pleaded hard too for the first, Bereave me not -- & still more vehemently for the Sonnet to Harmony -- the only description of the effect of Music that suited my experience -- or rose above commonplace -- [In Sonn]et xvi (as they now stand) the parenthesis always [interr]upts the tide of my feelings -- We describe [for o]thers -- not when we speak to the object described -- perhaps I may be wrong -- but I am sure, you will excuse my freedom -- I do not like your alteration of Evening -- it seems now to possess less oneness than it did before -- in the 18th you use 'hope' in two ways -- once as an abstract -- he with new hope -- once as an impersonation -- Sweet Hope! -- is this an imperfection? -- I could write a great deal about your late alteration -but I will not detain you any more --

believe me | very sincerely | Your's S. T. Coleridge

I shall be anxious to hear of your dear Parent's Health. --
'Why did you ever omit that sublime Sonnet, Thou, whose stern Spirit loves the awful storm?' It's almost too clear how and in what ways this sonnet was liable to appeal to Coleridge: the storm blast is rendered with real force and heft.

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