‘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.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Shelley's Dome of Many-Coloured Glass

I've been reading Statius's Thebiad, for non-Shelley-related reasons, when I came across something that put me in mind of the wonderful image from the last bit of ‘Adonaïs’:
The One remains, the many change and pass;
Heaven’s light forever shines, Earth’s shadows fly;
Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,
Stains the white radiance of Eternity,
Until Death tramples it to fragments.—Die,
If thou wouldst be with that which thou dost seek! [‘Adonaïs’, 460-65]
The Thebiad is an epic retelling of the story of the Seven Against Thebes, and in Book 1, as per epic convention, Jove commands the gods to assemble so as to consider the sorry mess Oedipus's descendents are making of things. This is where they gather:
                                  Mox turba vagorum
semideum et summis cognati Nubibus Amnes
et compressa metu servantes murmura Venti
aurea tecta replent, mixta convexa deorum
maiestate tremunt, radiant maiore sereno
culmina et arcano florentes lumine postes. [Thebiad, 205-10]
In English:
Soon enough a multitude of wandering
demigods and cloud-kin river deities
(timidly restraining their usual roars) and wind-spirits
crowd under the golden ceilings; the mingling of gods made that
majestic dome tremble, its heights glowing sky-bluer,
and its doorways florescing with arcane light.
There's no glass here, but there is a divine dome that shines with many colours (gold, blue, and whatever colour ‘arcane light’ is) mediating, through semidivine multiplicity, the divine oneness of Jove. We know Shelley read Statius: he mentions him in the Defence of Poetry. Was this mixtum convexum, this many-coloured dome, in his mind as he wrote his great Keatsian elegy?

1 comment:

  1. It's probably worth adding that some critics have suggested the title Adonaïs relates to Adonis the same way the title of Statius's later epic Achilleïs relates to Achilles. I have my doubts about this (he's called Adonaïs, not Adonis, in the actual poem after all) but there's no denying the Statius-esque framing of the title.