‘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, 13 June 2013

Bowles 13: Written at Ostend, July 22th 1787

How sweet the tuneful bells’ responsive peal!
As when, at opening morn, the fragrant breeze
Breathes on the trembling sense of wan disease,
So piercing to my heart their force I feel!
And hark! with lessening cadence now they fall,
And now, along the white and level tide,
They fling their melancholy music wide;
Bidding me many a tender thought recall
Of summer-days, and those delightful years
When by my native streams, in life’s fair prime,
The mournful magic of their mingling chime
First wak’d my wond’ring childhood into tears!
But seeming now, when all those days are o’er,
The sounds of joy, once heard, and heard no more.
Much better: music is troped as nature (piercing to the heart of an individual lacking ease, or actively suffering from some disease; either would work, and neither really contradicts the other). It may be that I'm over-rating the poem, perhaps because unlike the sonnets I've read so far, this one feels like a poem looking forward, rather than looking back. By 'looking forward', I mean something specific ('Professor of Nineteenth-century Literature' specific). Reading this poem put me in mind of Arnold's 1851 masterpiece, 'Dover Beach'. In particular, the striking image of the sound of the pealing bells rolling out across the beach at Ostend
...with lessening cadence now they fall,
And now, along the white and level tide,
They fling their melancholy music wide;
..... and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
The parallels here, actually, are quite striking: though Arnold is talking about waves and Bowles is talking about bells. But church bells are markers of religious observance; and the fact that these are 'flung', with the word's implication of careless disposal, across the beach, and that they connote 'melancholy', connects even if only obliquely with Arnold's withdrawing Sea of Faith. Above all, there is something genuine about the affect here: not (as, I was suggesting, in the preceding sonnet) mere emotional posing. Something modern and touching about the sadness.

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