‘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.

Friday 21 June 2013

Coleridge's 'Pensive at Eve' (1797)

Here's Coleridge's first 'Higgenbottom' sonnet:
Pensive at eve, on the hard world I mused,
And my poor heart was sad; so at the MOON
I gazed and sighed, and sighed; for ah how soon
Eve saddens into night! mine eyes perused
With tearful vacancy the dampy grass
That wept and glitter'd in the paly ray:
And I did pause me on my lonely way
And mused me on the wretched ones that pass
O'er the bleak heath of sorrow. But alas!
Most of myself I thought! when it befel,
That the soothe spirit of the breezy wood
Breath'd in mine ear: "All this is very well,
But much of ONE thing, is for NO thing good."
Oh my poor heart's INEXPLICABLE SWELL!
In the Biographia (where, at the end of the first chapter, he quotes all three sonnets) STC notes 'So long ago as the publication of the second number of the Monthly Magazine, under the name of NEHEMIAH HIGGENBOTTOM, I contributed three sonnets, the first of which had for its object to excite a good-natured laugh at the spirit of doleful egotism, and at the recurrence of favorite phrases, with the double defect of being at once trite and licentious.' Working backwards from the end.

(1) 'Inexplicable swell' is 'licentious' in its intimation of tumescence, I suppose. It appears to mock John Wesley:
Hear, Holy Ghost, our joint request,
And show thyself the Comforter;
And swell the inexplicable groan,
And breathe our wishes to the throne.
[Wesley, 'Hymn 428' (Psalm 113), John Wesley, A Collection of Hymns, for the use of the people called Methodists (1786), 414]
Would it be a little near the knuckle for Coleridge to mock a devotional work like this though? Particularly by focussing on what amounts to a double-entendre?

(2) 'My poor heart' pokes fun at the lyric, printed (amongst lots of other places) in The London Magazine 4 (1785), 45, 'Song in the Follies of a Day' (that is to say, the English adaptation of The Marriage of Figaro):
To the winds to the waves, to the woods I complain,
Ah! well-a-day, my poor heart;
They hear not my sighs and they heed not my pain;
Ah! well-a-day, my poor heart;

The name of my goddess,T grave on each tree;
Ah! well-a-day, my poor heart!
'Tis I wound thy bark, but love's arrows wound me;
Ah! well-a-day, my poor heart!

The heavens I view, and their azure bright skies;
Ah! well-a-day, my poor heart!
My heaven exists in her still brighter eyes;
Ah! well-a-day, my poor heart!

To thy sun's morning splendor thy poor Indian bows;
Ah! well-a-day, my poor heart!
But I dare not worship where I pay my vows;
Ah! well-a-day, my poor heart!
This was a popular song of the day (music by William Shield, who may or may not also have composed 'Auld Lang Syne'). The triteness is obvious enough; the 'licentiousness' a mode of emotional incontinence, perhaps.

(3)'The soothe spirit of the breezy wood'. This may pastiche a couplet from Young's second Night Thoughts (1743; 'On Time, Death and Friendship'):
How often we talk’d won the summer’s sun,
And cool’d our passions by the breezy stream!
'Cool our passions' has, I suppose, a post-coital smack to it.

(4) 'mine eyes perused/With tearful vacancy the dampy grass/That wept and glitter'd in the paly ray'. Well 'dampy' may be a dig at Ambrose Phillips. Here from the second Pastoral (1709), is his lament for a dead shepherd, called 'Albino':
In yonder gloomy grove stretch'd out he lay,
His beauteous limbs upon the dampy clay,
The roses on his palid cheeks decay'd,
And o'er his lips a livid hue display'd:
Bleating around him lie his pensive sheep,
And mourning shepherds come in crouds to weep.
The pious mother comes, with grief oppress'd;
Ye, conscious trees and fountains, can attest
With what fad accents and what moving cries
She sill'd the grove, and importun'd the skies.
O peaceful may thy gentle spirit rest!
And flow'ry turf lie light upon thy breast;
Nor shrieking owl, nor bat fly round thy tomb,
Nor midnight fairies there to revel come.
Not for nothing was Phillips known as 'Namby-Pamby'. The most you could say is that Coleridge is hardly parodying contemporary taste in 1797 by mocking a poem published at the other end of the century. Maybe he has in mind a frankly plagiarised (and if you were going to plagiarise, wouldn't you choose a source-text rather better than Namby-Pamby?) passage from the reverend Matthew Pilkington, part of his 'A Pastoral Elegy, on the Death of a Lady's Canary-bird' (1761):
All stiff he lies the dampy earth along,
His little bosom swells no more with song,
[Poems &c. by the Rev Mr Matthew Pilkington, revised and connected by the late Dean Swift (1761), 154]
which is trite enough.

(5) What of 'the paly ray'? I wonder if Coleridge saw or read The Regent, a Tragedy (by 'Bertie Greatheed', too cool a name to be a pseudonym), acted at Drury Lane 1788, and afterwards printed? It contains the following passage:
But as the crocus opes its saffron veil,
To catch at morn the cloud-dissolving ray;
And stain with deeper gold its paly brow;
So would her heart expand on sight of Carlos!
Coleridge may have read, if not the play itself, then the review of it in the Critical Review (which we know he read) for 1788, that singles this passage out for praise 'pretty, perhaps beautiful' although adding 'we object, however, to "paly brow"'.

(6) I can't find any 'did pause me' or 'mused me' antecedants; and 'wretched ones' returns various hits but none of them poetic. But the 'so at the MOON/I gazed, and sighed' is a dig at Charlotte Turner Smith's sonnet 'To the Moon' (1784) -- which also (in its second line) gives Coleridge's pastiche its opening:
Queen of the silver bow!—by thy pale beam,
Alone and pensive, I delight to stray,
And watch thy shadow trembling in the stream,
Or mark the floating clouds that cross thy way.
And while I gaze, thy mild and placid light
Sheds a soft calm upon my troubled breast;
And oft I think, fair planet of the night,
That in thy orb, the wretched may have rest:
The sufferers of the earth perhaps may go,
Releas'd by death to thy benignant sphere,
And the sad children of despair and woe
Forget in thee, their cup of sorrow here.
Oh! that I soon may reach thy world serene,
Poor wearied pilgrim—in this toiling scene!
That's doleful egotism if you like.

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