‘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.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Walcott: Puns as Praise

No opera, no gilded columns, no wine-dark seats,
no Penelope scouring the stalls with delicate glasses,
no practiced ecstasy from the tireless tenor, no sweets
and wine at no interval, no altos, no basses
and violins sobbing as one; no opera house,
no museum, no actual theatre, no civic center
—and what else? Only the huge doors of clouds
with the setting disc through which we leave and enter,
only the deafening parks with their jumping crowds,
and the thudding speakers. Only the Government
Buildings down by the wharf, and another cruise ship
big as the capital, all blue glass and cement.
No masterpieces in huge frames to worship,
on such banalities has life been spent
in brightness, and yet there are the days
when every street corner rounds itself into
a sunlit surprise, a painting or a phrase,
canoes drawn up by the market, the harbour’s blue
the barracks. So much to do still, all of it praise.

The 'setting disc through which we leave and enter', I suppose, is a Wordsworthian sun ('a sense sublime/Of something far more deeply interfused,/Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns' and so on); and one of the questions this poem poses us is whether there's a deeper, we might say spiritual, significance in the principle of punning by which it structures itself. I don't just mean stuff like 'wine-dark seats', fine and groany though that pun is. I mean the visual punnning whereby the architecture of clouds and the architecture of opera houses are somehow juxtaposable, art and nature become versions of one another. It's the same gag as Joyce (ordinary life punningly recapitulates Homer), but that's not a problem; sometimes the oldest puns are the best; and like Joyce Walcott understands that puns' doubleness has depth that resonates in important ways, where plain one-to-one significance doesn't. I have no problem with puns, you'll be unsurprised to discover. And there's genuine splendour in the poem's last nine words. Now, that's a place to get to. Now there's a way to approach life!

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