‘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.

Tuesday 24 December 2013

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.

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