‘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, 13 December 2014

Water Savage Landor, 'Amicus Meus, Strenuus Miles, Vulneratus' (1855)


Perfusa quanto sanguine Hyems tepet
Britannico de fonte! Virilium
Semper fuisti victimarum
Prodiga, Taurica Chersonese!

Quis vulneratum deferet auribus
Nuper relictae celsum animi virum?
Pallebit ut conjux sub Haemo
Vipereo moritura morsu.

Spes insusurret credula credulae
Jam jam reversurum edomito Scythii,
Jam jamque sanandum; salutem
Contulerit popularis aura.

Equus sed idem non revehet domum,
Discerptus ille est sulphureo globo,
Restabat ante atque inter hostes
Solus eques, medius suorum.

Plerosque mortis perpetuus sopor
Pressit : quibusdem cara parentium,
Quibusdam et ipsis cariora,
Nomina contremuere labro.

Sublimiore, O Anglia, anhelitu
Nunquam attigisti culmina gloriae,
Nec fortiores militfirunt
Sub ducibus magis imperitis.

'To a Friend of Mine, A Hard-Fighting Soldier, Wounded'

So much gushing blood, enough to warm Winter,
flows from British fountains! It was always men
who were your sacrificial victims,
and in great numbers, Tauric Chersonese!

Who will carry such wounding news to her ears
tell the new widow of her hero-husband?
She will pale, like the wife under Haemus,
Bitten by a viper and certain to die.

Hope whispers credible credulity:
Right now he's coming, leaving conquered Scythia!
And right now: restored to health; delivered!
Or so the general rumour tells the story.

But his own horse can't carry him back home now,
Ripped to shreds by a sulphurous cannonball;
He stood, enemies before and beside,
The only cavalryman left alive there.

The rest taken by death's perpetual sleep.
As it pressed them some called for their dear parents,
And some for others dearer than themselves,
Whose names trembled on their dying lips.

Such heights, o England, strenuously achieved
Were never before reached: such peaks of glory;
Never have such brave soldiers
Served under officers so incompetent.

Note. The friend was Major David Paynter. The Athenaeum in 1899 noted the circumstances of this poem: 'Major (afterwards General) David Paynter, H. A , was in command of 1-A Battery at Inkerman, when his horse was shot under him. Landor's Latin verses on this incident were published in the Athenaeum, January 6th, 1855.' The verses were afterwards collected in Dry Sticks, Fagoted by Walter Savage Landor (1858)

So, yes: this is a Crimean War poem. The 'Tauric Chersonese' is the peninsular of Tauris, as in Euripides' Iphigenia in Tauris: modern-day Crimea. In Euripides' play, Iphigenia's opening monologue reveals her duties as the priestess of the goddess: 'There is a law here. A law that says that if a Greek man sets foot on this land, he will be sacrificed to the goddess. My duty is to purify him and to prepare him for the slaughter. The rest of the work—work that can not be talked about—is done inside. Inside the temple.' [George Theodoridis' translation]. Hence the reference to male sacrifices, in the first stanza. Similarly, 'Scythia' is the poetic-Latin for 'Russia'. Other references are equally classical: Mount Haemus is a Balkan peak, whose name means 'bloody'. The identity of the woman, snake-bitten and dying, is probably Eurydice, who was bitten by a viper and passed into the underworld from where Orpheus later rescued her. Ovid's Metamorphosis 10:77 has Orpheus grieving for his loss on 'windswept Haemus'. The point, presumably, is that Orpheus eventually got his woman back; and so too did Landor's friend emerge from the valley of death. Still: not even Tennyson's 'Charge of the Light Brigade' was so direct in calling the idiocy of the generals as Landor is, in the last line here.

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