‘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.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

O lux mentis! o lucens veritas!

Saint Augustine (glossing John 1:5), cropping up unexpectedly in Shelley’s ‘To A Skylark’:
Like a Poet hidden
In the light of thought,
Singing hymns unbidden,
Till the world is wrought
To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not.
Although actually, if I come to think of it: maybe not so unexpectedly after all.

Augustine's third exposition of Psalm 103, there.


  1. The birds chirp, but we, in our spiritual poverty, but tweet.

    1. You lifted yourself out of the Slough of Twitter for a while, Alan; but now ... have you sunk back down?

      It (I mean Shelley and Augustine) does interest me, I must say. The epigraph to Alastor is a quotation from the Confessions, for instance; not what one might imagine "Shelley The Atheist" reading. Except he clearly was.

  2. Not to flog this to death or anything, but just to note: "O lux mentis! o lucens veritas!" is a rather handsome pentameter.