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

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Barfield, Owen ; Poetic diction: a study in meaning, preface to the first edition [1927]

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

Preface, 1st ed.

Barfield notes that the form of the book is in one sense autobiographical, and that it progresses from his own aesthetic and psychological experiences to general principles, which are applied to the various problems of literature (esp. “poetic diction” in its narrower sense).  The “general principles”, however, take on the form of pictures and metaphors instead of propositions, for reasons that will become clear in the book. (11)

The author recalls his early perception that “poetry reacts on the meanings of the words it employs” which was “followed by a dim, yet apodeictically [me: evident beyond contradiction] certain, conviction that there are 'two sorts of poetry'; and a series of unsuccessful events to rationalize these and other aesthetic experiences in terms of the various theories of language, literature and life, with which the author happened to come in touch, resulted in the present volume.” (12)  

He also thanks a man named Rudolf Steiner, for inspiring his thinking, while being careful not to “father upon him many of the views on poetry which I have expressed”.  Barfield says his work would be valuable to anyone “engaged on either the theory or practice of any art.” (12, 13).  He also mentions with approval Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West (“a profound and alarmingly learned study of the historical – as opposed to the literary – relation between prosaic and poetic”—italics his).

Finally, countering those who say his theory of poetry “takes no account of feeling”, he says the kind of “inspired thinking which I have attempted to depict, assumes the utmost intensity of feeling as a necessary pre-requisite.  There could be no other way of reaching it.  It can only begin when feeling has become too powerful to remain only personal, so that the individual is compelled by his human nature, either to THINK in reality, or to find, more of less instinctively, some suitable device for dimming his consciousness.” (13)

My summary: -

My critique/comments:  This is all very interesting.  I look forward to hearing more about his journey of discovery.  I do need to find out more about exactly what poets mean when they talk about theories though.  : ) Finally, regarding his comments about feeling, I must say they resonate with me, and I look forward to seeing what kinds of insights are inspired by, this conviction, and how those insights serve to reinforce the conviction.  I do believe that life, at bottom, is fundamentally personal – and this cannot but inspire strong feeling…

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