‘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.

Saturday, 13 September 2014


In the preface to his 1911 play The Fountain, George Calderon says 'my inspiration was certainly not derived from [Shaw's] Widowers’ Houses. Bernard Shaw, like Lloyd George and all those nurtured in the socialism of the early eighties, still believes in the fantastic old Wicked Rich myth. Wren’s jaunty epigram "Villains are a literary invention of the Elizabethan drama inherited from the demonology of the Middle Ages" expresses a truth which has certainly never entered the Shavian head. Mr Shaw’s villainous landlord does not correspond to anything in real life, but is derived straight from the Iagos and Don Johns of the Tudor stage.'

I'm very struck by the line he quotes: ‘Villains are a literary invention of the Elizabethan drama inherited from the demonology of the Middle Ages’, but I can't seem to nail it down. Google is no help. I can't even be sure which Wren Calderon means (surely not this one? And if not him, then whom?). Still, the more I think about it, the more I find myself inclining towards its truth.

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