‘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, 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.