‘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.

Sunday 29 December 2013

Hum poem

The wind leaps up and the downwind drones,
Cracks like the snap of your own green bones.
Heart beats a rhythm of years, weeks, days.
Taut skin a hum drum no man plays.

Duty and pleasure

I found the following written in one of my notebooks. I've no idea whether I wrote it, or if I found it somewhere and copied it out. I could google it, I suppose; but that would be a tiresomely literal minded way of going about things.
Duty has this advantage over pleasure: that whilst doing one's duty is often a pleasure in its own right, that moment when indulging in one's favourite pleasure becomes a duty is the moment the pleasure dies.

Lizard poem

The lizard’s Elizabethan ruff;
His bootlace tongue;
The way he throws his legs

From front-left/back-right
To front-right/back-left,
That stationary trot

As the starved sand
Made insane by the sun
Bites the soles of his feet.

All that tongue work, and nothing to say
Lizard? All that supple dancing
And no mate to impress?

You and I, lizard. You and I.

Tuesday 24 December 2013

Seasons poem

Summer, when the skies are white:
and brevity defines the night.

Autumn, as the trees disrobe:
a shadow in your lung's left lobe.

Winter's potatoes going green:
it's unclear what this may mean.

Spring: the leaves come back around.
The egg is buried underground.

The Ancient Malleter

David Mallet’s The Excursion (1728) was one of those early 18th-century epic poems, enormously popular in its day, entirely unknown now. Its first half ranges around terrestrial locations; but in the second Mallet leaps into space as his ‘excursive traveller’ moves from planets to stars. The verse is mostly humdrum, although sometimes it lifts itself. And, in particular, I found myself wondering about this description of the polar ice-cap:
Now beneath the North,
Alone with Winter in his Frost-bound Realm!
Where, a white Waste of Ice, the Polar Sea
Casts cold a cheerless Light: where Hills of Snow,
Pil’d up from eldest Ages, Hill on Hill,
In blue, bleak Precipices rise to Heaven.
Yet here, even here in this unjoyous World,
Adventrous Mortals, urg’d by Thirst of Gain,
Thro’ floating Isles of Ice and fighting Storms,
Roam the wild Waves, in Search of doubtful Shores,
By West or East, a Path yet unexplor’d. [28]
Could Coleridge have read this, rather vivid polar poetry, and (consciously or subconsciously) have transferred the north to south, the blue ice to green, and given the Adventrous Mortal the identity of his Ancient Mariner? Hard to prove. Suggestive, though.

Friday 13 December 2013

Modus Non Ponendo Ponens

I daresay actual Philosophers have a name for what I'm about to say in this blogpost, but I can't seem to find it on Wikipedia. I should probably stop relying on Wikipedia for my philosophical education. Here, though, on formal fallacy:
As modus ponens, the following argument contains no formal fallacies.

1.If P then Q
3.Therefore Q

A logical fallacy associated with this format of argument is referred to as affirming the consequent, which would look like this:

1.If P then Q
3.therefore P

This is a fallacy because it does not take into account other possibilities. To illustrate this more clearly, substitute the letters with premises.

1.If it rains, the street will be wet
2.The street is wet.
3.Therefore it rained.

Although it is possible that this conclusion is true, it does not necessarily mean it MUST be true. The street could be wet for a variety of other reasons that this argument does not take into account. However, if we look at the valid form of the argument, we can see that the conclusion must be true.

1.If it rains, the street will be wet.
2.It rained.
3.Therefore, the streets are wet.

This statement is both valid and sound.
No it's not, though. Maybe the Council have erected a giant awning over the street. Maybe it was a localised shower, and the wind blew the rain out of the way. Maybe it rained an hour ago and the street has subsequently dried. You take my point.

Do you, though? It is more than just to nitpick with that particular example. It is to say: there is no situation in the world which cannot be so nitcked. Thuswise nitpicken. 'Therefore it rained' does not follow in the third example, above, because, you know: maybe the streets are wet because a fire hydrant burst. But the same thing applies the other way around. Or more specifically, the attempt to rephrase the final example to exclude all the things that might falsify it -- as it might be, '(Assuming the council haven't erected a giant awning over the street, or that it was a localised shower, and the wind blew the rain out of the way, or that it rained so long ago that the street has subsequently dried etc ...) If it rains, the street will be wet' -- includes within it an 'etc' that potentially goes on forever. To quote the wiki again: 'This is a fallacy because it does not take into account other possibilities.' Ah, but there are always and inevitably other possibilities, no matter which way round you frame your argument.

Thursday 5 December 2013

Lillies that feſter, ſmell far worſe then weeds.

I was chatting to my colleague Roy Booth about this famous line from Sonnet 94 (he was telling me that the very same line appears in the play Edward III, now attributed in part at least to Shakespeare). I said it had always struck me as, well, mendacious. Either it means 'Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds do when they fester', which is surely not true -- you'd think that festering vegetation reeks pretty much on a par; or it means 'Lilies that fester smell far worse than normal, healthy, growing weeds', which is a 'well, durr' sort of observation. Roy countered with his belief that Shakespeare is actually thinking of carnations, which look and smell pretty for a short while and then go egregiously stinky as they rot in the vase, far worse than other flowers. I didn't know that; learned something today.