The world against me rages, its fury I disdain;
Though bitter war it wages, its work is all in vain.
My heart from care is free, no trouble troubles me.
Misfortune now is play, and night is bright as day.

--Awake, My Heart, with Gladness (Auf, Auf, Mein Herz, mit Freuden), Paul Gerhardt

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Barfield, Owen ; Poetic diction: a study in meaning, foreward a (by Howard Nemerov)

Barfield, Owen ; Poetic diction: a study in meaning (1973, 1952 [2nd ed.], 1927)


“Among the few poets and teachers of my acquaintance who know POETIC DICTION it has been valued not only as a secret book, but nearly as a sacred one; with a certain sense that its teaching was quite properly esoteric…”


“…not as the possession of a few snobs but as something that would easily fail of being understood by even the most learned of those jugheads whose mouths continually pour forth but whose ears will serve only for carrying purposes.” (1)

“Two main ways of taking poetic diction as a subject of study”:

1. Technical matter belonging to the art of poetry.  More: How could it ever have appeared seemly, appropriate, natural, to a poet, in his character of angler, to call fish “the finney prey”? (today, [1973] if someone did, he’d not only feel silly but be silly).  A reflective poet may realize he has been using words as if were natural, “as if the words really belonged to things, as if the words were really the ‘souls’ of things, their essences or Logoi, and not by any means the mere conventional tags they are said to be.” (2)

Leads to...
2. Poetic diction as a psychological, metaphysical – and extremely problematic – subject.  More: The poet may go from thinking that the fact that words change from age to age and even from context to context is interesting because it is a nuisance to thinking more critically about what this means.  This may become “the question of primary perception, of imagination itself, of how thought ever emerged (if it did) out of a world of things” (3).

For a poet who thinks about these things “their want of formal [philosophical] training may be not altogether a disadvantage” (“irony of Socrates”: he could only afford the one-drachma course about the correctness of names) (3,4)

My summary: -
My critique/comments:  Not much to object to here.  How could I, not being much of a poet?  Perhaps I would note that although it “may become ‘the question of primary perception, of imagination itself, of how thought ever emerged (if it did) out of a world of things’” (3), it may not as well, depending on what one believes about God – or on what one believes men ought to believe about God, given the evidence… Also, will be thinking about the “finney prey” thing for a long while I think…

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