‘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.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013


From Maria Artamonova* I learn that Tolkien, not content with writing Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion in modern English, also composed Old English Annals or Chronicles-style texts concerning various events in his imagined history. Here’s an example:
MMCCCCXCIX Hér gefeaht Féanores fierd wiþ þam orcum / sige námon / þá orcas gefliemdon oþ Angband (þaet is Irenhelle); ac Goðmog, Morgoðes þegn, ofslóh Féanor, and Maegdros gewéold siþþan Féanores folc. Þis gefeoht hátte Tungolguð

Here Fëanor’s host fought with the Orcs and was victorious, and pursued them to Angband (that is Iron Hell); but Gothmog, servant of Morgoth, slew Fëanor, and Maedhros ruled Fëanor’s folk after that. This battle was called the Battle-under-the-Stars [quoted in Artamonova, 86]
From this I learn (a) that Tolkien was Method, when it came to his own writing; and (b) that he chanced upon the greatest name for a villain in the history of Fantasy—Gothmog. Beware the coming of The Gothmog! Black, black like the heart of a crow, his collar studded with silver skulls, his soundtrack of Sisters of Mercy abruptly drowned-out by his earth-shattering MIAOW.


[* ‘Writing for an Anglo-Saxon Audience in the Twentieth Century: J.R.R.Tolkien’s Old English Chronicles’, in David Clark and Nicholas Perkins (eds), Anglo Saxon Culture and the Modern Imagination (Cambridge: D S Brewer, 2000), 71-88]


  1. There is a village in Surrey called Mogador, which I thought was either a sleepy Mordor or an excellent brand name for a cat flap.

  2. It's a dangerous place, Surrey.