‘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 20: O Harmony! thou tendrest nurse of pain

If we are to judge by the 1797 letter he sent to Bowles, Coleridge liked this sonnet best of all of them: '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 --'
O Harmony! thou tenderest nurse of pain,
If that thy note's sweet magic e'er can heal
Griefs which the patient spirit oft may feel,
Oh! let me listen to thy songs again,—
Till memory her fairest tints shall bring,
Hope wake with brighter eye, and list’ning seem
With smiles to think on some delightful dream,
That wav’d o'er the charmed sense its gladsome wing
For when thou leadest all thy soothing strains
More smooth along, the silent passions meet
In one suspended transport, sad and sweet—
And nought but sorrow's softest touch remains,
That, when the transitory charm is o'er,
Just wakes a tear, and then is felt no more.
I'm struggling to see what STC saw in this, I'll confess. 'Patient spirit' is another Bowlesian Empson-ambiguity, I suppose; and the idea (is it?) is that the diverse notes of the musical piece come harmoniously together in a way that propels the diverse emotional states of the poet's soul to unite, 'meet/In one suspended transport, sad and sweet.' Well, fair enough.

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