‘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, 12 June 2013

Bowles 10. 'O Poverty! though from thy haggard eye'

O Poverty! though from thy haggard eye,
Thy cheerless mien, of every charm bereft,
Thy brow, that Hope's last traces long have left,
Vain Fortune's feeble sons with terror fly;
Thy loneliest haunts all desolate I seek—
For Pity, reckless of her own distress;
And Patience, in the pall of wretchedness,
That turns to the bleak storm her faded cheek;
And Piety, that never told her wrong;
And meek Content, whose griefs no more rebel;
And Genius, warbling sweet her saddest song;
And Sorrow, list'ning to a lost friend's knell,
Long banish'd from the world's insulting throng;—
With thee, and thy unfriended Virtues, dwell.

This may be Bowles's slackest sonnet yet -- a wilderness of non-specific Abstract Qualities that do nothing to bring the notion of 'poverty' alive to the reader. Line 5, 'Thy loneliest haunts all desolate I seek': does 'desolate' modify 'haunts' or 'I'? It makes a difference. If the point of the poem is to record that the poet visits charitably amongst the poor, it casts a rather offputtingly self-congratulatory light over the whole (the splendid 21st-century coinage 'humblebrag' comes to mind). Do I not like this.

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