‘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, 16 March 2016

Further Thoughts on Sonnet 146: the Musica Sacra Connection



I've noted on this blog before that I've a soft-spot for Sonnet 146, the 'Poor Soule the center of my Sinfull Earth' one. Here are some more thoughts on it.

Fairly abstruse thoughts, mind. Still: there are many songs in Shakespeare's plays, and he often collaborated with musicians and composers. For example, it seems likely that 'It Was A Lover And His Lass' from As You Like It was either a collaboration between Shakespeare and Thomas Morley: Shakespeare and Morley lived in the same London parish; and 'It Was A Lover And His Lass' was printed, as by Morley alone, in The First Book of Ayres of 1600. It's surely as likely that Shakespeare appropriated Morley's song for his play as that he wrote it himself, although it's also likely that he cultivated professional relationships with various London musicians. Plays needed music, after all.

Morley was a publisher of music as well as a composer, and Thomas Este (his name is on the title page of the Musica Sacra to Sixe Voyces, above) was his chief 'assigne' or printer. Musica Sacra to Sixe Voyces is a translation from the Italian of Francesco Bembo, with music by Croce, translated into English by 'R.H.':


Soko Tomita calls this 'a set of authentic Italian madrigali spirituali and the only the only Italian madrigal book translated complete into English'. There's some evidence that Shakespeare was interested in Bembo; and I wonder if R.H.'s version of the sixth sonnet here directly influenced Shakespeare's own collection of sonnets, published the following year.


Since we know almost nothing about the sequence of events that led to the publication of Shakespeare's Sonnets by Thomas Thorpe in 1609, not even whether Shakespeare was involved in the process or not, we are licensed to speculate. It's possible Thorpe published with Shakespeare's permission. It's even possible that Shakespeare, asked for copy by his publisher, bundled together some sonnets he'd written as a young man, in the early 1590s, when he was randier and more lustful, with some newer sonnets written in 1608 and 1609, by which time he had become more moral, more (in the loose sense of the word) puritanical about sex, more religious. Sonnet 146 would surely be one of the later poems, if so. And it's not impossible that Shakespeare might have read T.H.'s Musica Sacra sonnets, and written his Sonnet 146 as a version of, or a more loosely inspired extrapolation of, sonnet 6 up there. What do you reckon?
Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
Prest by these rebel powers that thee array?
Why dost thou pine within, and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? is this thy body's end?
Then soul, live thou upon thy servant's loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more:
So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And, Death once dead, there's no more dying then.
The various similarities and verbal parallels can be left as an exercise for the reader. One attractive aspect to this theory howsoever farfetched it may be, is that if it is true then we have a strong steer as to the music in Shakespeare's head as he wrote this sonnet. Sonnets are little songs after all; and 'Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth' goes pretty well to this:



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