‘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 21: To the River Cherwell

Last one! Here, since it points up the way that the Cherwell marked both the end of Bowles's pilgrimage and the beginning of his poetic career, is the preface Bowles wrote for the 1837 edition of his own poems, that summarises the genesis of these works:
To account for the variations which may be remarked in this last edition of my Sonnets, from that which was first published fifty years ago, it may be proper to state, that to the best of my recollection, they now appear nearly as they were originally composed in my solitary hours; when, in youth a wanderer among distant scenes, I sought forgetfulness of the first disappointment in early affections.

Delicacy even now, though the grave has long closed over the beloved object, would forbid entering on a detail of the peculiar circumstances in early life, and the anguish which occasioned these poetical meditations. In fact, I never thought of writing them down at the time, and many had escaped my recollection; but three years after my return to England, on my way to the banks of Cherwell, where
"I bade the pipe farewell, and that sad lay Whose music, on my melancholy way, I wooed,"
passing through Bath, I wrote down all I could recollect of these effusions, most elaborately mending the versification from the natural flow of music in which they occurred to me, and having thus corrected and written them out, took them myself to the late Mr Cruttwell, with the name of Fourteen Sonnets, written chiefly on Picturesque Spots during a Journey.

I had three times knocked at this amiable printer's door, whose kind smile I still recollect; and at last, with much hesitation, ventured to unfold my message; it was to inquire whether he would give any thing for "Fourteen Sonnets," to be published with or without the name. He at once declined the purchase, and informed me he doubted very much whether the publication would repay the expense of printing, which would come to about five pounds. It was at last determined one hundred copies, in quarto, should be published as a kind of "forlorn hope;" and these "Fourteen Sonnets" I left to their fate and thought no more of getting rich by poetry! In fact, I owed the most I ever owed at Oxford, at this time, namely, seventy pounds; and knowing my father's large family and trying circumstances, and those of my poor mother, I shrunk from asking more money when I left home, and went back with a heavy heart to Oxford, under the conscious weight, that my poetic scheme failing, I had no means of paying Parsons, the mercer's, bill! This was the origin of the publication.

As this plain account is so connected with whatever may be my name in criticism and poetry, it is hoped it will be pardoned.

All thoughts of succeeding as a poet were now abandoned; but, half a year afterwards, I received a letter from the printer informing me that the hundred copies were all sold, adding, that if I had published five hundred copies, he had no doubt they would have been sold also.

This, in my then situation, my father now dead, and my mother a widow with seven children, and with a materially reduced income (from the loss of the rectories of Uphill and Brean in Somerset), was gratifying indeed; all my golden dreams of poetical success were renewed;—the number of the sonnets first published was increased, and five hundred copies, by the congratulating printer, with whose family I have lived in kindest amity from that hour, were recommended to issue from the press of the editor of the Bath Chronicle.

But this was not all, the five hundred copies were sold to great advantage, for it was against my will that five hundred copies should be printed, till the printer told me he would take the risk on himself, on the usual terms, at that time, of bookseller and author.

Soon afterwards, it was agreed that seven hundred and fifty copies should be printed, in a smaller and elegant size. I had received Coleridge's warm testimony.
Here's the Cherwell sonnet:
Cherwell! how pleased along thy willow’d edge
Erewhile I stray’d, or when the morn began
To tinge the distant turret's golden fan,
Or Evening glimmer’d o'er the sighing sedge!
And now repos’d on thy lorn banks once more,
I bid the pipe farewell, and that sad lay
Whose music on my melancholy way
I woo’d: amid thy willows waving hoar,
Seeking a while to rest—till the bright sun
Of joy return; as when Heaven's beauteous bow
Beams on the night-storm's passing wings below:—
Whate'er betide, yet something have I won
Of Solace, that may bear me on serene,
Till Eve's last hush shall close the silent scene.
‘Beauteous’ again! But of course.

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