‘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 November 2014

Sophocles Long Ago ...

Here's an old chestnut of 19th-century scholarship. It's an unidentified allusion in Arnold's 'Dover Beach' (probably written 1851), one of the most famous short poems of the 19th-century:

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, 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.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
So 'Sophocles long ago ...' Where in Sophocles? Nowhere, according to scholarship: 'Sophocles was Arnold's favorite Greek dramatist, but no passage in the plays is strictly applicable. See Baum 88: "the alleged parallels simply do not meet the case; they are irrelevant".' [Kenneth Allott, The Poems of Matthew Arnold (Longman 1965), 255]. But that edition is as old as I am: surely somebody has something more, now? Apparently not. ('The passage most often adduced,' said Richard Cronin in 2012, 'is from the third chorus in the Antigone.' But that hardly fits. Check for yourself.)

Well, I have a suggestion. I recently chanced upon William Crowe's Lewesdon Hill (1788) and noticed that it, from the first edition through to later ones, carried the following epigraph on the title page:

Click to embiggen. That must be the passage Arnold has in mind, yes? I think it fits. Here's the Greek as Crowe quotes it:
Χαιρ’ ω ϖεδον αγχιαλον,
Και μ’ ευπλοιᾳ ϖεμψον αμεμπτως
Ενθ’ ἡ μεγαλη μοιρα χομιζει,
————— χψῶανδαματωρ
Δαιμων, ος ταυτ’ επεκρανεν.
The Greek is Englished, presumably by Crowe himself, as:
Farewell thy printless sands and pebbly shore!
I hear the white surge beat thy coast no more,
Pure, gentle source of the high, rapturous mood!
Where'er, like the great Flood, by thy dread force
Propelled—shape Thou my calm, my blameless course,
Heaven, Earth and Ocean's Lord!—and Father of the Good!

So, it turns out that this is a slightly mangled version of Philoctetes' last speech in Sophocles' play of that name:
χαῖρ᾽, ὦ Λήμνου πέδον ἀμφίαλον,
καί μ᾽ εὐπλοίᾳ πέμψον ἀμέμπτως,
ἔνθ᾽ ἡ μεγάλη Μοῖρα κομίζει
γνώμη τε φίλων χὠ πανδαμάτωρ
δαίμων, ὃς ταῦτ᾽ ἐπέκρανεν.
Here's Gregory McNamee's 1986 translation:
Farewell, Lemnos, bound by waves [Crowe changes this to 'Farewell shores of Lemnos'], give me no further cause to mourn, but send me off on fair seas to win my glory where fate now carries me, to the judgment of friends [Crowe omits these last five words] and the all-governing spirit that rules these events.
Part of the issue here is that Crowe reads 'αγχιαλος' ('maritime, of the sea shore') for 'ἀμφίαλος' ('place where two seas meet, headland'). He also reads 'χψῶανδαματωρ', which isn't a word in any Greek Lexicon, but which we can take as a typo for [χὠ] πανδαμάτωρ, 'all-governing'.


  1. Is all of that in the Greek? I can see great Moira (good old Moira), the knowledge of friends & an all-governing daimon, but can't make out much before that. But surely he can't have got the cave, the nymphs and the waves wetting his head with spray from the cliffs into a line and a half. And what about the 'fair seas'?

    I'm interested because the whole thing seems like a misreading, or possibly a deliberate rewrite, on Crowe's part: Philoctetes may be saying farewell to the shore, heading elsewhere (possibly on fair seas) and entrusting himself to fate, but he's not bracketing the Fate thought with the sea thought, as Crowe did. And if he's not doing that, "Sophocles long ago" never thought any such thing. Which might explain why nobody spotted it.

  2. Phil: quite a lot of it is not in the Greek, and some of the Greek seems to be Crowe's own idiosyncratic reading. I've expanded the post a smidgen to make it clearer. (So, even if we accept Crowe's emendation, Sophocles still says 'seashore', and certainly doesn't say 'thy printless sands and pebbly shore'. But it's the pebbles that worked their way into Arnold's imagination.

  3. Phil: ... but as far as your point goes, yes absolutely. I think the reason scholarship missed this is that scholars were looking at actual Sophocles, where Arnold (as he wrote 'Dover Beach') had in mind this altered version by Crowe.

  4. Could you jot down a quick translation of those five lines? I'm guessing a lot of the 'farewell' stuff is earlier in the speech, even though Lemnos is in the first line quoted.

  5. Phil: sorry -- I originally quoted the whole of this speech in English transl., where the Greek was only the last bit. I've edited the post now to make it clearer, and noting what Crow altered.

  6. It's laconic stuff - even McNamee succumbs to the temptation to pump up the rhetoric a bit ("give me no further cause to mourn" seems to translate a single word meaning "blameless", and I can't see "to win my glory" anywhere). And Crowe embroiders like crazy, of course.

    What also strikes me now is that Arnold even goes beyond Crowe. In Crowe's rendering, Philoctetes listens to the sound of the sea, associates it with "the high, rapturous mood" and says that the gods guide his fate just as they guide the sea, none of which is in the original. But Arnold says that the sound of the sea, for Sophocles, brought to mind "the turbid ebb and flow/Of human misery", which isn't even in Crowe. I'm sure you're right about this being Arnold's source, but his use of it leaves more than one thing to be desired. (I've always thought Arnold wasn't nearly as deep or systematic a thinker as he took himself to be.)

    Somebody has spotted the Philoctetes passage, I'm afraid - google "Farewell Lemnos" and Arnold. But the Crowe connection is all yours AFAICS.