‘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 27 December 2014


I wonder exactly when the shift in the public perception of Ruskin occurred, from seeing him as a great sage and inspiration (as Gandhi, for example, saw him) to seeing him as a Victorian weirdo unable to contemplate his wife's pubic hair without freaking out—to, in short, seeing him as risible and dismissable? Of course, whilst our attention is wholly on our own sense of superiority to Ruskin's oddball sexual hang-ups, we are able to ignore the fact that he posed some of the most profound and relevant questions (today, if anything, more relevant than they have ever been) worth asking about the logic of Capitalism. This fact may not be a co-incidence. Sesame and Lilies 3, for instance:
Which of us, in brief word, is to do the hard and dirty work for the rest, and for what pay? Who is to do the pleasant and clean work, and for what pay? Who is do no work, and for what pay? And there are curious moral and religious questions connected with these. How far is it lawful to suck a portion of the soul out of a great many persons, in order to put the abstracted psychical quantities together and make one very beautiful or ideal soul? If we had to deal with mere blood instead of spirit, (and the thing might literally be done--as it has been done with infants before now)--so that it were possible, by taking a certain quantity of blood from the arms of a given number of the mob, and putting it all into one person, to make a more azure-blooded gentleman of him, the thing would of course be managed; but secretly, I should conceive. But now, because it is brain and soul that we abstract, not visible blood, it can be done quite openly, and we live, we gentlemen, on delicatest prey, after the manner of weasels; that is to say, we keep a certain number of clowns digging and ditching, and generally stupefied, in order that we, being fed gratis, may have all the thinking and feeling to ourselves.


  1. He also had some very unorthodox ideas about teaching draftsmanship … instead of focusing on line and contour as is customary, he preferred drawing in blocks of volume and shading. Is this related to his pubophobia? Gynopogonophobia?

    99% of modern political commentary is covered by your Ruskin quote … hurrah for concision!

  2. It's a hairy line of thought, my friend!