‘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.

Saturday 30 November 2013

Femme Cyborg

This is from a 1962 French satirical publication, Dictionnaire Canard (I found a bunch of scans from early 1960s issues of these at the Multiglom blog, here). It's Marianne, the French national emblem, reimagined for the nuclear age ('Force de Frappe', 'Strike Force', was De Gaulle's plan for French military forces to be organised to include nuclear weapons, part of his 'Force de dissuasion' rationale of strategic deterrence). You can see the Robot Marianne's head is full of a saucily posing De Gaulle, in sexy sweater and tie combo. But what a splendid piece of robot art this is! Click to embiggen.

Wednesday 27 November 2013


It only just occurred to me this morning: in 'Sgt Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band', when Paul sings 'you're such a lovely audience we'd like to take you home with us, we'd love to take you home' ... he's talking about groupies, isn't he? I'm such an innocent.

Sunday 24 November 2013

Nor are the titles any help.

Phyllis McGinley’s brilliant little poem about a Chagall canvas, ‘On the Far Wall, Marc Chagall’:
One eye without a head to wear it,
Sits on the pathway, and a chicken,
Pursued perhaps by astral ferret,
Flees, while the plot begins to thicken.
Two lovers kiss. Their hair is kelp.
Nor are the titles any help.

Thursday 21 November 2013

The White Goddess

In Graves and the Goddess (a book I bought in hardback when it was published, actually; but which I thought rather disappointing) Ian Firla and Grevel Lindop write:
Neglected by most academic scholars of modern poetry, alternately celebrated and reviled by feminists, banished from the syllabus in departments of classics, Celtic studies, and anthropology, The White Goddess has nonetheless exercised a persistent influence in these and many other fields for more than half a century, and has continued, above all, to be a central source of inspiration for poets, the more potent for remaining hidden.
There's something in this. The White Goddess is one of my holy books; I read it as a teenager and was alternately baffled and thrilled by it -- often both at the same time, for some of its most incomprehensible passages were the ground of much of its most overwhelming poetic effectiveness, or so I thought. I have re-read it several times. I still read it. I also, now, have studied the Classics to degree and PhD level, and can see why so many Classicists dismiss Graves' idiosyncratic, largely autodidact and spotty classical 'scholarship'. But that is to miss an important point. To condemn the book because it does not approach the standards expected in modern-day departments of classics, Celtic studies, and anthropology makes about as much sense as condemning Yeats's A Vision because it has nothing practical to say about ophthalmology.

Friday 1 November 2013

Psychic Death Klaxon

The justification of secular art is the responsibility it bears for the enrichment of human awareness. The cult of the child in certain authors at the end of the nineteenth century is a denial of this responsibility. Their awareness of childhood is no longer an interest in growth and integration, such as we found in The Prelude, but a means of detachment and retreat from the adult world. One feels their morbid withdrawal towards psychic death. The misery on the face of Carroll and Barrie was there because their response towards life had been subtly but irrevocably negated. Their photographs seem to look out at us from the nostalgic prisons they had created for themselves in the cult of Alice Liddell and Peter Pan. [Peter Coveney, The Image of Childhood: the Individual and Society: a Study of the Theme in English Literature (1957; 2nd ed 1967), 241]

Hmm. Where to start with this ...