‘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 20 September 2019

Two Hawk Poems

C Day Lewis's poem ‘The Hawk Comes Down From The Air’ (1936) starts as Ted Hughesy avant la lettre:
The hawk comes down from the air.
Sharpening his eye upon
A wheeling horizon
Turning scrutiny to prayer.

He guessed the prey that cowers
Below, and learnt to keep
The distance which can strip
Earth to its black contours.

Then trod the air, content
With contemplation till
The truth of valley and hill
Should be self-evident.
The cowers/Below enjambment is a bit clumsy; and the third stanza has the feel of marking time that makes it seem more anticlimactic than it needs to after such a sweeping opening. But then the poem takes a turn for the twee:
Or as the little lark ...
I'll stop there, for a moment, to observe that I don't think there's a poet in the English tradition with the skill to prevent ‘or as the little lark’ coming off as soppy. Anyway.
Or as the little lark
Who veins the sky with song,
Asking from dawn to dark
No revenues of spring:

But with the night descends
Into his chosen tree,
And the famed singer ends
In anonymity.

So from a summer's height
I come into my peace;
The wings have earned their night
And the song may cease.
That ending, retrogressing from Hughes to Newman or indeed Newbolt, feels unearned. A shame, because it starts pretty well.

So: I took this poem, fed it into Google translate on an English-Dutch setting, then took the result and fed it back through the Dutch-English filter. What emerged is below. I prefer it to the original, I think.
The hawk comes down from the sky.
Grinding his eye
Wheeling a horizon
Test run prayer.

He recommended that to the cowering prey
Below, and learned to keep
The distances that strip
The earth for its black contours.

Then enter the air, the contents
With contemplation of
The truth of the valley and hill
Must of course be

Or  the Lark
Whose veins the sky singing,
Questions from dawn to sunset
No income of spring:

But with the night falls
In his chosen tree,
And the famous singer ends
In anonymity.

So from a summer height
I come into my peace;
The wings have earned their night
And the song may be present.
I'd say it needs a little extra tinkering to take out the residual rhymes, which are now just distracting now. But otherwise: better!


  1. Adam Two Hawks > John Twelve Hawks.

    In an interesting bit of synchronicity, I was sat in a pub in Greenwich on Wednesday night, and directly across the road from the window I was sat in I observed a blue plaque declaring the former Day Lewis residence. Clearly you are a harbinger, though of what exactly, I dare not even guess.

  2. This reminds me of the idea behind McSweeny's Quarterly #42, which was a giant game of literary telephone: https://store.mcsweeneys.net/products/mcsweeneys-issue-42

    (different Paul, by the way)

  3. I do like the idea of a test run prayer.