‘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.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Milton's "Pastures New"

One of John Milton's most famous phrases, this; perhaps his most famous phrase of all. It's from 'Lycidas' (1638) of course. Lines 190-93, the last of the poem:
And now the Sun had stretch'd out all the hills,
And now was dropt into the Western bay;
At last he rose, and twitch'd his Mantle blew:
To morrow to fresh Woods, and Pastures new.
Well here's a surprising thing: Milton more-or-less plagiarised these lines from Phineas Fletcher's allegorical epic The Purple Island (1633):
But see, the stealing night with softly pace,
To flie the Western Sunne, creeps up the East;
Cold Hesper 'gins unmask his evening face,
And calls the winking starres from drouzie rest:
Home then my lambes; the falling drops eschew:
To morrow shall ye feast in pastures new,
And with the rising Sunne banquet on pearled dew. [6:77]
Naughty Milton!

1 comment:

  1. There's some context for this in Gary M. Bouchard's article "Phineas Fletcher: The Piscatory Link between Spenserian and Miltonic Pastoral" (Studies in Philology 89:2, 1992, pp. 232-243). ("Piscatory link" is a term we should all use more often!) Bouchard connects the "Mantles blew" to blue-clad "fisher-boyes" in Fletcher's "Eclogue VII", saying these are the only two instances of blue clothing for workers in pastorals (which is not quite accurate -- the more recent Complete Poems and Essential Prose of John Milton notes that there were a few other instances, such as in William Browne's Shepherd's Pipe). Milton certainly seems to have read at least some of Fletcher's work. Some people have seen the influence of Fletcher's Locustae on Milton's very early Gunpowder Plot poem, "In Quintem Novembris", but if Milton was accurate in dating it to his own 17th year, then that's probably impossible, unless Milton read it in manuscript.