‘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.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

William Blake, 'Angel of the Divine Presence Bringing Eve to Adam' (c. 1803)


An engraving Blake made for his patron, the government clerk Thomas Butts. I took this from the NY Metropolitan Museum website (as per previous post), and you can download a huge, zoomable version of it if you go there, which is very cool. ʿInstead of showing the first woman emerging from Adam’s side,ʾ the museum notes explain, with a certain superfluousness, ʿBlake presents the couple meeting with ceremonial solemnity. A divine figure prepares to join their hands while a recumbent Adam looks up eagerly as his mate steps down from blue-tinged clouds.ʾ

It is lovely, and presumably a deliberate riff (as it were) on Michelangelo's creation of Adam, such that instead of Adam's hand lovingly-erotically connecting directly with Eve's, both lovers are mediated by the (is it just me, or) rather phallic-looking ʿAngel of the Divine Presenceʾ. This latter is not God, it seems; but a divine emanation of angelic presence. Adam's supineness, and the (rather oddly small-headed) Eve's lightness of foot as she steps down, are both beautifully expressive. The vines presumably signify fertility, and a lion lies down with a lamb peaceably in the bottom-right-hand corner. One little touch I especially like is the way Adam's hair mimics the texture and coloration of Eve's clouds, while Eve's hair mimics the texture of Adam's golden vine-leaves: a visual ʿrhyme' that links the two of them before they have even met. I don't know my birds well enough to be able to identify the breed of bird perched on the left. Would 'Bird of Paradise' be too obvious?


One last thing. I have a theory about this image, which it would be hard to prove, but which I'm going to air here anywhere. I think Blake has modeled it, formally, on the Hebrew letter שׂ, 'shin'. I'm not suggesting the underschooled, autodidact Blake was fluent in Hebrew or anything like that; but he certainly was interested in the Biblical languages, and one wouldn't need a detailed grasp of the alphabet or grammar to understand that this letter, 'sh' or 's', was of particular significance to Judaism. In Jewish worship it stands for the word Shaddai, a name for God; and the kohen, or priest, forms the letter shin with his hands as he recites the priestly blessing (unrelated interesting fact: young Leonard Nimoy, observing this in synagogue when he was growing up, later used a single-handed version of the gesture as Spock's Vulcan hand salute on Star Trek). Because it is so holy a letter, it is sometimes written with a special crown on the left hand upstroke.


Am I alone in seeing a structural echo of this in Blake's composition? The crown becomes the foliate vine; the central upstroke the angel of the divine, the right-hand one Eve, Adam the bar across the bottom? It would be a way of Blake saying, in effect: all these elements together constitute one holy name, God. God pervades all this.

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