‘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 June 2014

Euripides in Elizabethan English

I was undecided between Jonson or Middleton as the better prototype for an Elizabethan translation of Euripides. Jonson's classical tragedies are probably too stiff for my purposes here (Euripides, whatever other faults he may have, is rarely stiff); but we shouldn't be distracted by that -- it's not as a classicist, but as a contemporary writer of drama that we should take him, and Volpone has some of the verve and healthy cynicism of the Euripidean muse. But then again Medea (from which I've excerpted the most famous, or notorious, scene, below) is a much more Jacobean piece of work: violent in a disturbing way, monstrous and fascinated by monstrosity. So Middleton it is; for this one, at any rate.

O haste, ye slaues, and loose the bolts,
Undoe the fastenings, that I may see
Vision of doubled woe, my murderd sons
And her, whose blood in vengeance I shal shed.

[Medea appeareth in middest aire, aboue, on a chariot drawn by draggons; the childrens bodyes by her.]

Why rattle at those doors and trie to loose
Their bolts, in quest of corpses and their murderess?
Let such toil goe. If thou wouldst aught with mee
Saie on, man: saie whatere thy tonge can shape.
But neuer shalt thou lay a hand on mee,
So swift the draggons of the sun, my father’s sire,
Wil carrye mee from grasping hand of foes.

O cursed woman! Thourte abhorred worste
By gods, by al mankind, and moste by mee
As neuer woman was revyled before,
Who hadst the stomach so to stabbe thy babes,
And thou their mother, leauing mee undone
Mee childless; blacke sin perpetrate by thee.
And still thou gazest upon Sunne and Earth
Still wide yourn eyes and after deeds like these
Impious. Foullest curses spit at thee.
I now perceve what I then failed to see
The day I brought thee, pregnant with thy doom,
From thy barbarian home to dwell in Greace,
Traitress to thy sire and to thy lande
The borne hat nurtured thee. On mee the gods
Haue turnd the curse that dogged ones thy steps,
For thou didst slay thy brother at his hearth
Before thou euer cam’st aboard our ship
And weyted Argo down with pitchest sinne.
Such was prenticeship of thy life’s crime;
Then didst thou wed with mee, bore mee sons
But onlie so to glutt thy passion’s lust,
Thou now hast murderde of them al in blood.
Not one amongst the wiues of Greace eer had
Attempted such grimm deeds before this day.
Yet I chose thee before them al as wife,
Joyning close to mee my hardest foe as doom:
No woman, but a lioness slach-clawed
More fierce than Tyrren Scylla in her soule.
But with reproaches heaped a thousandfold
I cannot wound thee, for thy soul is brass.
Die die vyle witch thy babees slaughterer
Whilst I remain to mourn my luckless fate,
I neuer shal agayne take wife into my bedd
I neuer shal agayne haue children bred
And reared to say the last rytes at my tombe.
I haue lost them.

To this thy speech I could make long retort,
But Father Zeus knows well al I haue done
For thee, and how thou hast repayd my loue.
Thou wert not priuileged to scorn my loue
And lead a life of ioy in mocking mee,
Nor was thy royal bride nor Creon, hee
Who gaue thee second wife, to chase mee out
In beggary from this lande and rew it not.
Wherefore, if thou wilt speake, call mee a lyonesse,
Saie I am Scylla from the Tyrren land;
For I at leaste haue wrung thy mannes heart.

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