Chapter Seven – Poetic Experience and Poetic Sense
Magic and Poetic Knowledge
1.I referred, in a previous chapter, to Rimbaud's statement: "Je est un autre," "I is another." Curiously enough, it occurred that Lautréamont said just the contrary: "Si j'existe, je ne suis pas un autre," "if I exist, I am not another." In the interval between these two statements, proffered by two poets who are both the recognized prophets of contemporary French poetry, an entire philosophy is contained.
I know that in actual existence, with respect to the concrete meaning they had for Rimbaud and Lautréamont themselves, the statements in question are not as contradictory as it seems. For in saying "Je est un autre," Rimbaud laid himself open to a kind of transmutation of his own being invaded and inhabited by all things, by the mysterious powers wandering in the world, by the anima mundi. And in saying "Si j'existe, je ne suis pas un autre," Lautréamont locked himself up within himself, against the invasion of this Another—God, who was his enemy.1 Yearning for magical transmutation and refusal of transcendence are not incompatible positions.
But I should like to consider, for a moment, these two statements in themselves. "If I exist, I am not another." Take this at the level of Being, or of ontologic reality: you have the principle of identity, the primary law of being.
"I is another." Take this at the level of Knowing, or in relation to the universe of knowledge, especially as objectivizing things in concepts and attaining its perfect state in rational science: you have the primary law of knowledge, for in the act of knowing I am identified—spiritually—with another; I, while keeping my actual identity, become immaterially or "intentionally" the other in so far as it is another, aliud in quantum aliud. Only the object is grasped, miraculously pure of any interference of the subjectivity.
"I is another." Take it at the level of Poetry, and poetic knowledge: you have the primary law of poetic knowledge, which, in so far as it is knowledge, also means immaterial or intentional identification;2 but now this identification comes about through poetic intuition, by means of emotion; and it is with and through the subjectivity, and in order to reveal it, that the thing grasped is grasped.
"I is another." Take it at the level of Being: it is only at this level that such a statement is opposed, and diametrically opposed, to the other statement, "If I exist, I am not another." Then it means that identification with another in actual reality—and that identification of any thing with any thing by means of the signs which represent them—which are characteristic features of magic.
The distinction between these three planes, the plane of abstract knowledge, the plane of poetry, the plane of magic, is fundamental. And we see that the plane of poetry is intermediary between the plane of abstract knowledge and the plane of magic. Poetic knowledge is spiritual and intentional; of itself it bears no trace of magic in the strict sense (referring to magical operation) in which I am using this word, and has nothing to do with any dissolution of the Self into things, or any adulterous confusion with them, or any claim to creative power over them. But poetic knowledge implies that kind of invasion of things into the preconscious night of the spirit, near the center of the soul, through emotion and affective union, by means of which poetic intuition is born; and it knows things as one—intentionally one, but one—with the Self, as resounding in the subjectivity.3 Furthermore, poetic knowledge, considered in its most con-natural, pure, and primary requirements, expresses itself through images —or through concepts which are not carried to the state of rational thought, but are still steeped in images, being used in that nascent state where they are emerging from images as Venus from the sea. And the thought of the poet, in so far as it is centered on poetic knowledge, escapes to a certain extent the sunlit regime of the logos, and participates to a certain extent in the nocturnal regime of imagination, in which the principle of noncontradiction does not come into force and things are at the same time themselves and another, because their presence in a sign —as known through it—is mistaken for a real and physical presence.4 Thus the thought of the poet (at least his subconscious thought) resembles somewhat the mental activity of the primitive man, and the ways of magic in the large sense of this word (referring to magical thought as studied by anthropology).
It is easy to slip from magic in the large sense to magic in the strict sense, and from the intentional or spiritual union to the material or substantial one. I think that poetry escapes the temptation of magic only if it renounces any will to power, even and first of all in relation to the evoking of inspiration,5 and if there is no fissure in the poet's fidelity to the essential disinterestedness of poetic creation.
2. Poetry, in our time, is all the more exposed to the attraction exercised by magic, as the rational knowledge with which our culture provides the intellect of the poet is an abstract knowledge which has got clear of wisdom for the sake of the mathematical analysis of phenomena and, by the same token, has estranged the human mind from itself.
Such an abstract knowledge offers the poet, instead of an articulate universe answering in some way the yearning of reason for intelligible being, a dislocated picture of conflicting appearances in which all the laws of reason are seemingly made questionable, but through which science succeeds in performing on matter wondrous achievements. Thus abstract knowledge, engulfed as it is today by physicomathematical science, can only, if no superior wisdom is at play, give an appearance of sanction, afforded by the pseudophilosophical Weltanschauung it seems to favor, to that Irrational Marvelous which poetry dreams of; it can only jeopardize a little more the universe of thought of the modern poet, and make the temptation of magic grow stronger for him.6
I submit, therefore, that poetry become self-aware can restore its normal state of stability and autonomy in the universe of the spirit only if the allurement of magic is counterbalanced for it by the attraction of a rational knowledge which itself has refound the full scope of its domain and a true reflective understanding of its own degrees of vision—one of which, and an invaluable one, but only one, is physicomathematical science. Only the magnet of what St. Augustine called ratio superior, the "superior reason," which looks at and adheres to things that are eternal, can keep the soul of the poet in some kind of unity and ensure in him the freedom of poetic knowledge at its own proper level. Never has poetry been in greater need of reason, and of genuine human wisdom—I mean in the realm of abstract knowledge, which pertains to the poet not as a poet, but as a man, and on which depends the universe of thought presupposed by his activity as a poet. And beyond genuine human wisdom, he is fortunate if he also feels the attraction of genuine contemplation.
Poetry, Mysticism, Metaphysics
3. In the discussions on the true nature of poetry which occupied Frenchmen before the second World War, particular interest was shown in the relations between poetic experience and mystical experience. Henri Bremond offered some half-truths, Claudel some excessive truths on the matter. Finally a sensible conclusion arose from the controversy. Poetic experience and mystical experience are distinct in nature: poetic experience is concerned with the created world and the enigmatic and innumerable relations of beings with each other; mystical experience with the principle of things in its own incomprehensible and supramundane unity. The obscure knowledge through connaturality which is peculiar to poetic experience comes about by means of emotion stirring the human recesses of the subjectivity; but the more obscure yet more final and more stable knowledge through connaturality which is peculiar to mystical experience comes about either, in natural mystical experience, by means of merely intellectual concentration producing a void through which the Self is ineffably touched or, in grace-given mystical experience, by means of charity, which connatures the soul with God, and which transcends both emotion and the human recesses of the subjectivity. Poetic experience is from the very start oriented toward expression, and terminates in a word uttered, or a work produced; while mystical experience tends-toward silence, and terminates in an immanent fruition of the absolute.7
But different in nature as they may be, poetic experience and mystical experience are born near one another, and near the center of the soul, in the living springs of the preconceptual or supraconceptual vitality of the spirit. It is not surprising that they intercross and communicate with one another in an infinity of ways; that poetic experience naturally predisposes the poet both to contemplation and to confusing all manner of other things with it; and that mystical experience naturally prepares the contemplative to make the silence of love sometimes superabound in poetic utterance, responsible for some of the most admirable poems ever written, and for some of the worst.
Poetry is spiritual nourishment. But it does not satiate, it only makes man more hungry, and that is its grandeur.
Poetry is the heaven of the working reason. Poetry is a divination of the spiritual in the things of sense—which expresses itself in the things of sense, and in a delight of sense. Metaphysics also pursues a spiritual prey, but metaphysics is engaged in abstract knowledge, while poetry quickens art. Metaphysics snatches at the spiritual in an idea, by the most abstract intellection; poetry reaches it in the flesh, by the very point of the sense sharpened through intelligence. Metaphysics enjoys its possession only in the retreats of the eternal regions, while poetry finds its own at every crossroad in the wanderings of the contingent and the singular. The more real than reality, the superreal (I would not give up this word to the Surrealists), the superreal which both seek, metaphysics must attain in the nature of things, while it suffices to poetry to touch it in any sign whatsoever. Metaphysics gives chase to essences and definitions, poetry to any flash of existence glittering by the way, and any reflection of an invisible order.
Poetry Transcends Art
4. I have insisted, throughout this book, that Poetry is naturally attached to Art, and is by essence oriented in the direction of art. I have also insisted that in the very order of creativity poetry transcends art. If it is permissible to lay stress once again on this transcendence of poetry, I would say that it is the consequence of two facts: first, poetry is essentially a release and actuation of the free creativity of the spirit, and, as I suggested in a preceding chapter, it has as such, of itself, no object; for beauty, for it, is neither an object to be made nor an object to be known, but only a transcendental correlative, and an end beyond any end. In art, on the contrary, the creativity of the spirit is not free, but bound to the making of the work, which is an object enclosed in a particular genus and category. As soon as the poetic intuition enters the sphere of operation, it enters the sphere of art and of the bound activity of the spirit, yet it still remains free, because it always commands, and is the primary rule of art; it does not obey the rules, the rules obey it.
Secondly, poetry is knowledge, knowledge essentially oriented toward expression and operation, but not practical knowledge in the strict sense of the word. It is only in a remote manner, from afar, that poetic knowledge pertains to the practical realm. Truth, in it, is not, as in art or in prudence, conformity with the straight or undeviating appetite, but conformity with Being (with Being grasped through emotion ).8 Poetic knowledge analogically participates in the contemplative character of philosophy, for it is knowledge of the very interiority of things—though experiential knowledge totally different from the theoretical knowledge proper to science and philosophy. And thus, because it is, in its own way, spiritual communion with being, poetry transcends art, which is entirely encompassed in and committed to practical knowledge in the strict sense of this word, knowledge only to make.
It is because of this transcendence that poetry, like Platonic mousikè, enjoys a universal dominion over all the arts which have to do with beauty —over all arts to the extent to which a concern for beauty dwells in or creeps into them.
5. At this point it can be observed that (since the energies of the soul, however distinct from one another in their essence, involve dynamically one another, and are commingled as to their exercise in concrete existence) poetry, though essentially linked with art and oriented toward artistic activity, extends in a certain manner—accidentally—beyond the realm of art. Then poetry lives in regions and climates which are no longer natural to it, it lives in foreign parts, and it is no longer free, but kept in subjection. What I mean is that a kind of poetic intuition can come into play everywhere—in science, philosophy, big business, revolution, religion, sanctity, or imposture—when the mind of man attains to a certain depth or mastery in the power of discovering new horizons and taking great risks.
There is poetry involved in the work of all great mathematicians. Secret poetic intuition was at work in the primary philosophical insights of Heraclitus and Plato, Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, Plotinus, Spinoza, or Hegel; without the help of poetry Aristotle could not have extracted from experience the diamond of his fundamental definitions; in the background of all the ideological violence of Thomas Hobbes there was something which poetry had taught him, his awareness that he was the twin brother of Fear. Poetry helped Francis of Assisi, and Columbus, and Napoleon, and Cagliostro.
I am aware of all that, but I say that, in all that, poetic intuition, caught up and entangled in the workings of some activity of the soul, is subdued to the specific purposes and the specific laws of this foreign activity. It secretly labors, in the underground of imposture, sanctity, politics, or philosophy, for the specific object of the one or the other. As soon as in the margin left available by the iron discipline of master qualities which are not the virtue of art, the free creativity of the spirit has stirred and quickened imagination, it is captured and mastered for ends which are not its own; that is why poetry—restrained, though hiddenly at play in the specific work of great scientists—finds sometimes a way out, and captures them in its turn in its own nets. For all that, the fact remains that by essence poetry, in the preconceptual life of the intellect, is the firmament of the virtue of art; and teat the essential universality of poetry is only the universal dominion it enjoys over the arts.
Exit the Platonic Muse, Enter Real Inspiration
6. I have spoken in preceding chapters of poetic knowledge and poetic intuition. The expression "poetic experience," which I used in the first part of the present discussion, has, it seems to me, a somewhat different, more complex, and more comprehensively psychological significance. It refers to a certain state of the soul in which self-communion makes the ordinary traffic of our thinking stop for a while, and which is linked with particularly intense poetic intuition.
At this point the best that a philosopher can do is to try to follow the testimony of the poets. The first thing, I think, which we have to mention in this connection is the essential requirement of totality or integrity to which I have already alluded. Poetic experience brings the poet back to the hidden place, at the single root of the powers of the soul, where the entire subjectivity is, as it were, gathered in a state of expectation and virtual creativity. Into this place he enters, not by any effort of voluntary concentration, but by a recollection, fleeting as it may be, of all the senses, and a kind of unifying repose which is like a natural grace, a primordial gift, but to which he has to consent, and which he can cultivate, first of all by removing obstacles and silencing concepts. Thus poetic experience is, emerging on the verge of the spiritual preconscious, a state of obscure, unexpressed and sapid knowing—the expression of which, when later on it will come about in a work, will also be sapid. Do we not read, in an old Sanskrit text, that "Poetry is a word whose essence is Savor"?9 In such a spiritual contact of the soul with itself, all the sources are touched together, and the first obligation of the poet is to respect the integrity of this original experience. Any systematic denial of any of the faculties involved would be a sort of self-mutilation. Poetry cannot be reduced to a mere gushing forth of images separated from intelligence, any more than to a discursus of logical reason, as Raissa Maritain put it in an essay which I am largely using here.10
There is no poetic experience without a secret germ, tiny as it may be, of a poem. But there is no genuine poem which is not a fruit growing with inner necessity out of poetic experience. According to a text from the above-mentioned essay to which I attach particular importance,11 “The brooding repose provided by such an experience acts like a refreshing, rejuvenating, and purifying flood in which the mind is bathed. . . . The depth of the quiet which all the faculties then enjoy cannot be overvalued. It is a concentration of all the energies of the soul, but peaceful and tranquil concentration, with no tension; the soul enters its repose, in this place of refreshment and peace superior to any feeling. It dies as Angels die—but to live again, in exaltation and enthusiasm, in that state which is wrongly called inspiration—wrongly, for inspiration was nothing else indeed than this very repose, in which it escaped from sight. Now the mind invigorated and vivified enters a happy activity, so easy that everything seems to be given it at once, and, as it were, from the outside. In reality everything was there, kept in the shade, hidden in the spirit and in the blood; all that which will be manifested in operation was already there, but we knew it not. We knew neither how to discover nor how to use it, before having gained new forces in those tranquil depths."
Carlyle also spoke of those "quiet mysterious depths."12 In the same way Hölderlin, according to an essay by Heidegger,13 thought that "in poetry man concentrates or retires into the inmost death of human reality.
There he penetrates through quietude: not indeed through the illusory quietude of idleness and the void of thought, but through that infinite quietude in which all energies and relations are at play."
Another, yet concordant aspect of the inner experience with which we are concerned is disclosed to us by T. S. Eliot. Speaking of "this disturbance of our quotidian character which results in an incantation, an outburst of words which we hardly recognize as our own (because of the effortlessness )"—"to me," he says,"it seems that at these moments, which are characterized by the sudden lifting of the burden of anxiety and fear which presses upon our daily life so steadily that we are unaware of it, what happens is something negative: that is to say, not 'inspiration' as we commonly think of it, but the breaking down of strong habitual barriers—which tend to re-form very quickly. Some obstruction is momentarily whisked away. The accompanying feeling is less like what we know as positive pleasure, than a sudden relief from an intolerable burden."14 This description gives us, in a tone which is typically Eliot's, significant testimony on the negative aspect of poetic experience. Yet the question remains how the sudden breaking down of strong habitual barriers is produced and what is the invisible force, blowing from the unconscious, which whisks them away.
7. Shall we try to discuss at this point the notion of inspiration, already alluded to more or less explicitly in all the previous remarks? Poetic experience implies, it seems to me, two phases, a first phase of systole and a second phase of diastole: and in the second phase as was observed above, everything seems to be given at once and, as it were, from the outside,15 though in reality everything was already there, hidden. Such a fact is probably what misled Plato, and caused him to believe that poetic inspiration came from above the soul. There is no Muse outside the soul; there is poetic experience and poetic intuition within the soul, coming to the poet from above conceptual reason.
As to the first phase, it depends on the one hand, I think, on a presupposed psychological condition in which, by some lucky conjunction of circumstances, the external world and external perception lose their grip on the soul, but at the same time the sours inner balance and the interconnections between the intellect and the internal senses remain intact (a dreamlike condition, as it were, but integrated, with intelligence neither bound nor disconnected); it depends, on the other hand, on a determining cause, which is the attracting and absorbing action exercised—in the manner of a shining particle that puts you to sleep if you keep staring at it—by a preconscious poetic intuition present in the mind. For poetic intuition first causes poetic experience and is, in its turn, fortified by it, and so they grow together.
In the first phase, then, in the phase of systole and unifying repose, all the forces of the soul, gathered together in quietude, were in a state of virtuality and dormant energy. And poetic intuition, still preconscious, was the only act formed within the preconscious life of the intellect, and was the secret reason for this silent concentration. It is not surprising that at a given moment this same poetic intuition, acting no longer in the manner of an hypnotic but rather of a catalytic agent, should make the virtual energies concentrated around it pass also to the act. Then, from the single actuation of all the forces of the soul withdrawn into their root vitality, a single transient motion will result, which manifests itself either negatively, by a breaking of barriers, or positively, by the entrance of poetic intuition into the field of consciousness.
Thus it is that after the silent gathering a breath arises, coming not from the outside, but from the center of the soul—sometimes a breath which is almost imperceptible, but compelling and powerful, through which everything is given in easiness and happy expansion; sometimes a gale bursting all of a sudden, through which everything is given in violence and rapture; sometimes the gift of the beginning of a song; some-times an outburst of unstoppable words.
That is the phase of diastole, arid of "inspiration" as it manifests itself in its most apparent and usually recognized forms.16
Bad Romanticism17 made of "inspiration" an excuse for facility, or simple release of brute emotions and passions, or uncontrolled flux of shallow words and sentimentalism. It is unfortunate that both the reaction (sometimes one-sided) of a sound and strict criticism against such a fraud and the blind prejudices of our "scientific" psychology have resulted in the strong and strongly unintelligent contemporary loathing for the very word and notion of inspiration. Nothing is more real, and more necessary to poetry, and to any great work, than inspiration. And nothing is more natural, and more internal.18
Inspiration is natural, but neither continuous nor frequent as a rule. Furthermore, it takes on all sorts of forms and disguises. It may come in happiness and exaltation, it may come in distress and misery; it may force itself on the poet only as a pang of conscience, obliging him to struggle again and again with the deficiencies of expression. Sometimes inspiration remains unperceived when it is especially deep and steady. Sometimes it must be paid for by hard labor and thankless digging in an arid soil. If the above remarks on poetic experience are true, it appears that poetic intuition is the most essential and spiritual, the primary element and catalytic agent of inspiration, and that all the other features which characterize inspiration develop by a happy chance (what Aristotle called good fortune), dependent on an unforeseen moment of psychological suspense but intact dynamic integrity, and also on the temperament of each individual, his natural inclinations, and his capacity for and fidelity to spiritual repose. I would say, consequently, that inspiration is always necessary as poetic intuition, or in its primary seed, and always supremely desirable as fully unfolded, or as all-pervading motion (that is, moving all the powers of the mind to superior freedom and action, but neither expelling and replacing nor binding and blinding them). Transports, rapture, delirium, and frenzy are none of its essentials; they are only a token of the weakness of nature and can proceed moreover from spurious sources. The real blessing is poetic intuition, and not any kind of thrill.
The distinction just indicated between inspiration in its primary seed or as poetic intuition and inspiration as all-pervading motion, may perhaps help us to reconcile two seemingly conflicting truths: on the one hand no poem, as a rule (especially if it is a long piece of poetry) can proceed in its entirety from inspiration—that is, inspiration in the second sense, or as all-pervading motion which gives wings to the intellect and imagination; on the other hand, every part of the poem must cling to inspiration—that is, inspiration in the first sense of the word, or as poetic intuition.19
We are similarly enabled correctly to understand the distinction made by John Keble, on the basis of Aristotle,20 between the two classes of poets (if there is any sense in looking for categories in poetry) whom he designated as ecstatic and euplastic poets.21 In the "ecstatic," or those endowed with a strain of madness, we would have mainly inspiration fully unfolded or as all-pervading motion. In the "euplastic," or those endowed with a happy gift of nature, we would have mainly inspiration in its primary seed or as poetic intuition. Of course a "euplastic" poet may be a greater poet, and truer to inspiration, than an "ecstatic" one. But those who lack both kinds of inspiration are no poets at all.
8. In one sense--as to the Meaning of the work, and the degree to which it exists—inspiration gives all, and is even too rich. In another sense —as to the ways of execution—it is disarmed and in search of tools. Precisely because it is transcendent in nature and intangible, arising from the spiritual night of subjectivity, and because it is only a breath, inspiration cannot give form without that operative reason which it transcends and uses as an instrument. Inspiration's power is the power of a source--not only a source which is at the beginning, as the source of a river is, but also a source which is, or should be, as far as the human condition permits, simultaneous with the entire process, from beginning to end, as is the eternal source on which all the moments of time depend. No instant in the making of the work should escape it, at least, as we have seen, inasmuch as inspiration is made identical with poetic intuition. Thus inspiration requires of necessity the steady attentiveness of a purified mind. But having only the power of a source, inspiration also requires of necessity—as a means—the rational toil of the virtue of art and all the logic and shrewdness, self-restraint and self-possession of working intelligence.
To claim to have inspiration expel intelligence and take charge of the work alone is an illusion similar to that of the illuminati in the order of mystics. It was but normal that such an attempt—both to give up everything, including reason and freedom, for total passivity under inspiration, and to obtain this very passivity at will, from the power of man and magical recipes—should wind up in illusory transports and in the Surrealist hopes in automatic writing: of itself it leads to the renunciation of the work. To the extent to which Surrealist poets and painters produce poems and pictures that exist, sometimes in a superior manner, the alertness and elective power of intelligence are at play in them. To the extent to which André Breton is a poet, and singularly gifted, his works give the lie to his system. "The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets,"22 St. Paul said. And commenting on this sentence, John of St. Thomas warns us not to "err in thinking that those born of the Spirit are carried along by a frantic impulse, like those possessed by an evil spirit. . . . Birth from the Spirit does not take away, it brings and strengthens freedom of election." The Spirit does not work in man "by violence" but "by breathing and by quickening his inclination," "contrary to what occurs with delirious ravings."23
Thus it is that poets are the first to lay stress on the essential need for lucidity and choice, and for that freedom which depends on conscious intelligence,24 in the making of the work. "There is a great deal, in the writing of poetry, which must be conscious and deliberate."25 Did not Novalis write: "It is impossible for the poet to be too cool, too collected"?26 And Arnim: "There has never been a poet without passion. But it is not passion which makes the poet. No poet has ever done lasting work in the instant when he was dominated by passion."27 Baudelaire similarly observed: "The construction, the armature, so to speak, is the most important guarantee of the mysterious life of the works of the mind."28 And, after Edgar Poe, he repeatedly insisted, as all teachers of literary criticism know, that "everything that is beautiful and noble is the result of reason and calculation."29
Let us not be misled, however, by such statements. When Baudelaire spoke in this way, or when Paul Valéry declared, "Enthusiasm is not the cast of mind of a writer," they were offering us only one facet of the truth, and in one sense they were deceiving us--and themselves--through that kind of self-detached and self-chastising knowledge, ironical in nature, which is linked with feigning, repressed suffering, and anger against a superior gift too dearly paid for or too rarely enjoyed.30 For reason and calculation in the poet are there only to handle fire, and if "enthusiasm" means fire, there is no writer without enthusiasm ( touched with reason-gloved hands). So much the better if in the handwriting the pen is controlled and diligent: the words will burn all the more. It is not, furthermore, with regard to inspiration and poetic intuition, it is with regard to passion, "brute" passion, associated with them but not spiritualized (made "intentional') in the creative fire,31 that Novalis and Arnim demand coolheadedness. "The role of consciousness, in the poet, consists in the act of constantly, doggedly seeing to it that only the gift penetrates into the poem, and nothing else but this gift and only into the poem."32 Essential as the part played by intelligence may be, did not Pushkin, the most intelligent of Russian poets, write: "I think, God forgive me, that the poet must be a little stupid"?33 And Baudelaire, the most intelligent of French poets: "Great poetry is essentially stupid, it believes, and that's what makes its glory and force. Do not ever confuse the phantoms of reason with the phantoms of imagination: the former are equations, the latter are beings and memories.”34
Just, then, as the most dangerous criminals are lucid maniacs, so the most perfect poets are madmen using unfailing reason. But poets are not really mad. Consequently, they are aware in themselves of a torturing division, a rending of their own human substance, which they are condemned to bring to unity—enigmatic, unstable, never satisfying unity—not in themselves, but in their work. Hence their connatural torment. They are obliged to be at the same time at two different levels of the soul, out of their senses and rational,35 passively moved by inspiration and actively conscious, intent on an unknown more powerful than they are which a sagacious operative knowledge must serve and manifest in fear and trembling. No wonder that they live in inner solitude and insecurity.
To feel me in the solitude of kings,
Without the power that makes them bear a crown,
as Byron put it.35a And today, a French poet: "Magicien de l'insecurite, le poète n'a que des satisfactions adoptives. Cendre toujours inachevee."36
The Experience of the Composer and the Painter
9. Poetic experience can be—is in general, I believe--a transient and fleeting experience (fleeting, because emotive). The poets, at least in modern times, have given us invaluable information about it. Must we suppose that it takes on its full dimensions only in them? What about the composers? Particularly, what about the painters and the other artists more concerned with the external senses and with matter? In one way or another they also experience the creative repose, the sudden breaking down of barriers, and the sudden gratuitous gifts of the poetic state, and know how deeply art is in need of it. Yet composers and painters, because they do not deal with language and the natural instruments of thought, are less interested than poets in reflectively scrutinizing and putting into words their inner experience. This experience remains for them, to a large extent, hidden in the preconscious.
Poetic experience is still freer, still more immersed in -the internal recesses of subjectivity, still closer to the need and longing of the spirit for utterance, in the composer than in the poet—"where the word stops, there starts the song, exultation of the mind bursting forth into the voice," as St. Thomas puts it.37 But it is not as attainable and expressible through introspection, it is as enveloped in the musicality of creative imagination and the birth of melody that such experience emerges into the consciousness of the composer. And as concerns the painter, I would submit that poetic experience in him is snatched away from the heart and absorbed by the eyes, and made captive both of his intentness on working and of that universe of visible matter which is his primary object.
Thus when we look for some verbal expression bearing witness to the inner experience of composers and painters, we are more often than not obliged to satisfy ourselves with external, indirect, and so to speak oblique indications,38 whose complete meaning it is up to us to infer.
10. "What I produce is due to my understanding of music and to my sorrows," Schubert said.39
In Schumann's correspondence, there is this passage: "Anything that happens in the world affects me; politics, for example, literature, people; and I reflect about all these things in my own way—and these reflections then seek to find an outlet in music. This is also the reason for which so many of my compositions are hard to understand. . . . For this reason, too, so many other recent composers do not satisfy me, because--in addition to all their lack of professional skill—they enlarge on lyrical commonplaces. The highest level reached in this type of music does not come up to the point from which my kind of music starts. The former may be a flower. The latter is a poem; that is, belongs to the world of the spirit. The former comes from an impulse of crude nature; the latter stems from the consciousness of the poetic mind."40
Are not the presence and power of poetic experience implied in such "reflection" which transforms into music "anything that happens in the world," in such a way that music, then, "stems from the consciousness of the poetic mind"? They are also implied in the "inspiration" of which Chopin spoke to Delphine Potocka: "Every creator has moments when his inspiration weakens and when only brainwork is done. When one picks up musical notes, one can point out such parts with the finger. The main thing is that there should be the greatest amount of inspiration and the least possible amount of work. Liszt does plenty of work, but has little inspiration. In Mozart you seldom find any amount of work. In Bach there is contrapuntal work but of such a perfection and so closely knit with inspiration that you cannot separate them. Don't talk to me of composition; creation is not a thing one can learn. Every man sleeps, eats, and moves differently, and you wish that all would create the same way. I am tormenting myself devilishly over every piece."41
Yet it is in the following text, where Arthur Lourié defends against contemporary constructivism the genuine value of melody and, by the same stroke, of inspiration, that I find the most significant testimony of the way in which poetic experience manifests itself in the composer: "Every melody," Lourié puts it, "has the property of revealing some intimate truth, and of discovering the original reality, both psychological and spiritual, of the one who creates the melody. Melody discloses the nature of the subject, and not that of the object. To be sure, it can espouse the object, and become the expression of it, but its essential predestination lies in the revelation of the very nature of the subject from whom it proceeds. . . . The quality of the melody depends on categories of moral‑aesthetic unity. . . . Melody is inaccessible to the logic of our consciousness (contrary to harmony and rhythm); in the face of it our reason remains powerless, for melody is essentially irrational. There can be an angelic melody, but not an angelic rhythm, because in eternity there is no longer time, but there is and there "will ever be praise. . . ."
As against the motif, which is, so to speak, "an abortive melody, stopped at a certain moment of its growth," and the theme, which is, on the contrary, "a melody at a secondary stage of its development," and embodied in the musical action, "melody itself is linked to no action, and leads to no action. It is a kind of thing in itself. The motif serves to justify the action. The theme is a means of developing a thought. But melody is of no use at all. Melody gives liberation. At any moment whatever of a logically complex musical situation, the advent of melody immediately brings liberation, to the very extent of the importance of the melody which arises. Melody is one thing, and all the 'music' is, in the last analysis, quite another thing. For with melody 'one can do nothing.'
"Melody is, as it were, an instant where the conditions of time and space are brought to naught, and the musical being is perceived as free from them. Melody gives the illusion of being a stopped instant, and so gives the impression of belonging to the category of the eternal. . . . It is a good through itself, being an expression of the truth of the one who produces it. It appears as a purification by confession, from the fact that it reveals the nondisfigured essence of that which is, and not any lie imagined by its author."42 What is told us here is indeed that melody is the pure and direct expression of poetic experience in the composer.43
11. On the side of painters, nowhere do we find richer insights about their own poetic experience than in Chinese tradition.44 If we are looking for evidence from our modern Western artists, we may remember this statement of Robert Henri: "The object, which is back of every true work of art, is the attainment of a state of being, a state of high functioning, a more than ordinary moment of existence. In such moments activity is inevitable, and whether this activity is with brush, pen, chisel, or tongue, its result is but a by-product of the state, a trace, the footprint of the state."45 We may (if we are not afraid of the Romantics) take into consideration the aphorisms of Caspar-David Friedrich: "Close your physical eye, in order first to see your picture with the eye of the spirit. Then make what you have seen in your night rise to daylight, in order for your action to be exercised in turn on other beings, from the outside toward the inside."46 "The painter must not paint only what he sees before himself, but also what he sees within himself. If he sees nothing within himself, let him give up painting what he sees without."47 We may hear Rouault speaking of the painter's "interior promptings," or Picasso asserting that "a. painter paints to unload himself of feelings and visions."48 Yet I think that, if we are interested in the unexpressed bearing of the simplest expressions, when they are used in the unsophisticated style proper to painters, we shall especially enjoy Cézanne's exclamation to Ambroise Vollard: "I damn well have to be let alone when I meditate."49 A deep "meditation," to be sure, since the only possible revenge for having been troubled in it by some pest was to destroy the nearest of his paintings at hand.
I would conclude this attempt at an analysis by saying that poetic experience, though the motion it involves terminates "in an arrangement of words on paper,"50 or of notes on a score, or of colors on a canvas, is of itself a sort of natural contemplation, obscure and affective, and implies a moment of silence and alert receptivity. Without this moment of contemplation there is no poetic activity.
Self-awareness and the Search for Self‑purification in Modern Poetry
12. There has been in modem poetry a remarkable search for self-purification. I do not mean to say a search for intellectual or moral purification. Modern poets have treated intelligence with no less disrespect than have modern philosophers, and they have proved to be very well prepared for all kinds of diseases of the intellect.
In speaking of a search for self-purification, I think of a search for the purification of poetry itself of 'all extraneous or adventitious elements, or of a search after the pure essence of poetry. This search, I think, is one with the search for self-awareness; both have developed together.
At this point I would submit that the French language being naturally an exceptionally remarkable instrument for prose, not for poetry—and the most obtrusive tradition of the French mind being Cartesian and rationalist—and French classical poetry having been too often (I don't speak of Villon, or Sceve, or Racine) a rhymed discursus of reason—the outburst of poetic self-awareness which has come about since Baudelaire has produced in France a most extraordinary crisis and most extraordinary results: a kind of heroic struggle with the language, rendered by force a surprisingly powerful poetic instrument, whose very intellectuality swarms with burning signs; and a kind of heroic effort of poetic intelligence to discover at any price and lay bare its own hidden substance.
I realize that it would be presumptuous of me to air opinions about English poetry. May I say, nevertheless, that, to my mind, because the English language (which makes philosophy miserable) lends itself to poetry in the most connatural manner, and offers it such admirable facilities that they absolve it from worrying about its own nocturnal depths —perhaps also because English poetry has, it seems to me, a speech of its own born in high places above prose, whereas French poetry steals its speech from prose, either inconspicuously diverting the ways of prose or milling into its rock—English poetry has developed in a more continuous way, and has not been driven in modern times to such a need for metamorphosis, nor led by self-awareness to so revealing a convulsion.
As a result, I would say that, although between English or American and French modern poetry there is an external similarity—a similar approach to images, words, the means of expression, and a similar behavior of the sensibility—nevertheless the primary experience, the sort of collective revolutionary experience on which all has depended for modern French poetry has not been felt elsewhere, it seems to me, with the same cogent necessity, nor has it played the same central part, both in the sense of center of disturbance and of center of gravity. I think that Mr. Blackmur's profound analysis of Hart Crane's tragic lack of integration, and of the perfect but too perfect perhaps and too clever ambiguity of Wallace Stevens remarkably illustrates this situation with respect to two significant instances.51 In short, English poetry continued its song—with modem inflections. It did not go mad on the subject of knowing what poetry is.
13. All previous observations I submit to the verdict of more competent judges. Taking up now the thread of my remarks, I note that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries art advanced in an invaluable way its consciousness of itself in so far as it is art, thanks to grammarians and masters in rhetoric and prosody.
As to the prise de conscience of poetry as poetry, it was only in the course of the nineteenth century that the phenomenon came about. Then, for some decades, one was able to contemplate a series of discoveries, failures, catastrophes, and revelations which were extraordinarily illuminating. I believe that what occurred after Baudelaire52 with respect to poetry had in the domain of art as much historic significance as, in the domain of science, the greatest crises of renewal and revolution in physics and astronomy.
As has been observed in other parts of this book, self-awareness has brought to poetry both unheard-of possibilities for precious disclosures and, when reflective introspection disregards or distorts the essence of poetic knowledge, serious risks of perversion. In itself self-awareness is an incomparable spiritual gain. We may believe that the conquest and discovery of the immense fields contained in poetic knowledge, and revealed by its becoming self-aware, will make the fortune of poetry if the poets are thus quickened in their work of creation, that is, if their spiritual experience is deep enough, and their operative reason strong enough, to turn self-awareness into a superior 'sort of simplicity, through an esprit d'enfance, of disinterestedness, and of voluntary poverty. For the virtues required of the modern artist—I mean, in the very sphere of art, as aesthetic, not moral virtues—are, as Max Jacob put it, evangelic in nature. "One must be a very great poet to be a modem poet," he said.53 And he went on to say: "Voluntary poverty is an aesthetic virtue. Soberness is an aesthetic virtue. Chastity is an aesthetic virtue. Respect is an aesthetic virtue." "Fortitude, renouncement, obedience, order, humility" are aesthetic virtues in the realm of art, as they are Christian virtues in the realm of moral life.
The Poetic Sense
14. The poetic sense, in the work, corresponds to the poetic experience, in the poet.
That is enough to make us realize the essential difference which separates the poetic sense from the logical sense.
We have already observed54 that the poetic sense is to the poem what the soul is to man—it is the poetic intuition itself communicated to the work in its native, pure, and immediate efficacy. 'What it means, through the complex fabric of all the elements and qualities of the work, is subjectivity obscurely grasped in its very night together with some transapparent reality resounding in it. Such a primordial sense or meaning gives to the poem its inner consistency, its necessary configuration, and first of all its very being and existence. "The poetic sense" of a poem "cannot be separated from the verbal form it animates from within,"55 from the whole fabric of words it causes to exist. And the words, there, are not only signs of concepts or ideas, but objects also, objects which are endowed with their proper sonorous quality. Their function as signs, in their mutual interrelation, depends at the same time on this physical sonorous quality itself—and on the images they convey—and on the fog or aura of unexpressed associations they carry with them—and on their intelligible or logical meaning (only a part of the whole).
So the poetic sense is a meaning which is immanent in that object which is the poem or consubstantial with it, and which the reader intuitively perceives, perhaps after a dine of careful rereading, and either of intellectual concentration (especially when the poem is "difficult") or (especially when the poem is obscure in nature) of passive attention opening his mind and feelings to significant emotion. It might be said that the poetic sense is the inner melody—perceptible to the mind, not to the ear—of the poem, for in music also the melody is the native, pure, and immediate life force--this time perceptible to the ear—of poetic intuition, the poetic sense of the musical work.56
As to the logical or intelligible sense, it is only one of the elements or components of the poetic sense. With respect to the poetic sense it is but a kind of fluid and variegated matter. So that the poetic sense is an immanent meaning made up of meanings: the intelligible meanings of the words (carried either by concepts or by images)—and the imaginal meanings of the words—and the more mysterious meanings of the musical relations between the words, and between the meaningful contents with which the words are laden. Thus the intelligible sense, through which the poem utters ideas, is entirely subordinate to the poetic sense, through which the poem exists.
It is with respect to the intelligible sense that a poem is clear or obscure. A poem may be obscure or it may be clear, what matters is only the poetic sense. The law of intelligible clarity imposed by the classical tradition has not only been an occasion for innumerable mediocre poems, where the logical sense was prevalent over the poetic sense, but it has often concealed, obscured for theoretical reflection, the necessary primacy of the poetic sense, which was, of course, enforced in practice by all great poets. In modem poetry a swarming of obscure poems, good and bad, has been the price paid for the full recognition of this necessary primacy.
15. Now I hasten to say that no poem can be completely obscure, for no poem can completely get rid of the intelligible or logical sense. Poetry does not refer "to a material object closed in itself, but to the universality of being and beauty, perceived each time in a singular existence. It is not in order to 'communicate ideas,' it is in order to keep contact with the universe of intuitivity"57 that the poem must always, in one way or another, be it in the dark, convey some intelligible meaning. No poem can be completely mute, in spite of the beautiful poem by MacLeish,57a which itself is far from mute:
A poem should he palpable and mute
As a globed fruit
As old medallions to the thumb
Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown—
A poem should be wordless As the flight of birds
A poem should be motionless in time As the moon climbs
A poem should not mean
A poem must only be, yes, but it cannot be except through the poetic sense; and some intelligible meaning, subordinate or evanescent as it may be, at least some atmosphere of clarity, is part of the poetic sense. It has been observed that when a poet reads aloud a poem which is on the verge of nonsense, and which he loves, he attunes himself so perfectly to the feeling which has generated it, and to its poetic consonance, that he gives to it, willy-nilly, an appearance of logical sense.58 A similar remark can be made with regard to the records of Joyce's readings. However darkly, however instinctively, intelligence is at play when the poet writes. Even his nonsense he writes, despite all and despite himself, "with a certain secret measure, a certain music, a rhythm of the phrase which, if they are kept to by the reader, will provide the poem with an intelligible resonance."59 To one degree or another, even in the most obscure poems, even when the poet turns his back completely on intelligence, the intelligible sense is always there. No poem can be absolutely obscure.
Conversely, no poem can be absolutely clear, since no poem can receive its being from the intelligible or logical sense uniquely. "The poetic sense is not the logical sense, and the poem born in the obscurity of self-communion is necessarily obscure to some degree, be it only by reason of ‘quelque meprise; of 'some' instinctive 'slip' in the choice of words."60 When we speak of clear or obscure poems, we always mean to a certain extent. A clear poem is comparatively clear; an obscure poem, comparatively obscure.
As regards obscure poems, a distinction, moreover, must be made. Mallarmé's, Valery's, Hopkins', Pound's, Eliot's, Tate's, poems are not "obscure" in essence, but rather in appearance. Let us call such poems "difficult" or "hermetic.”61 Their obscurity comes in reality either from the heavy concentrated intelligibility and the complexity of logical connotations with which they are burdened, or from so tense a concern for the power of significance of the logos that one would want to make of the whole fabric of the poem one single intelligible word.62 With St. John Perse it is different: the intellectuality of the word is treasured only as a richer and more pungent vehicle of the subconscious rush of poetic knowledge.
Other poems are obscure in essence—though the reflective analysis of the critic still can bring out, more or less painfully, the trace at least of intelligible sense which, as we have seen, is necessarily there. They are obscure in essence--I would say "nocturnal”—because they are obscure with the obscurity of feeling. Here the poet is not concerned with the intellectual mystery of the significative and constructive power of the Word, but with the mysterious screen or obstacle that thwarts in every sign the function of signification. He wants to get free from this inherent screen by humbling and dislocating the words, so as to make them more flexible and more transparent (though in darkness) instruments of intuitive emotion. It is this second category of obscure poems that I have in view in the present analysis, precisely because they are obscure in essence, and because they oblige us to enter more deeply into the secret workings of poetry.
16. Baudelaire's poems are clear. He did not change any of the ways and laws of expression of the poetic language. He seems to speak like the others. Yet a revolution has taken place, invisibly.63 What seems to me the token of his exceptional greatness s the fact that with him, through an incomparable power of intellectualization and spiritualization of sensuality, and the implacable strength of his introverted vision, the poem has been transformed into a single missile conveying a single irresistible intuition—with an immensely increased power of penetration. Its external structure remains the same, but its inner concentration is not the same; all its parts, in reality, are only joined together by the fire of the poetic intuition, because the logical sense has been burned from within, and is now only a channel for this fire.
Many modern poems are also clear poems. May I quote two, chosen. to my liking? First, the beginning of "Sailing to Byzantium":64
That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees, —
Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.
An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.
The second poem is by Apollinaire (I remember his head bandaged in white; he had been wounded on duty during the first war, and his death was indeed arriving—as a whistling hurricane):
Je n'ai plus meme pitie de moi
Et ne puis exprimer mon tourment de silence
Tous les mots que j'avais a dire se sont changes en etoiles
Un Icare tente de s'elever jusqu'a chacun de mes yeux
Et porteur de soleil je brule au centre de deux nebuleuses
Qu'ai-je fait aux betes theologales de l'intelligence
Jadis les morts sont revenus pour m'adorer
Et j'esperais la fin du monde
Mais la mienne arrive en siffiant comme un ouragan.65
Such poems are condensed, the expression is purely restricted to the essentials, any discursive or oratorical development and liaison has been replaced by allusive streaks. But they are clear poems:66 the intelligible sense is explicit, either expressed by conceptual Utterances clearly circumscribing it—or carried by images, without the intermediary of any expressed concept (though a great many virtual concepts are involved), in which case the intelligible sense, although still explicit, is, as it were, not circumscribed, I would say, open.
17. Let us consider now more or less obscure poems (obscure inessence).67 In certain of them—sometimes the most obscure—the concepts and conceptual utterances may take up a great deal of room,68 but, because they are then submitted to the mental regime of imagination, not of logical connections, and to the nocturnal law which presides over the stirring of images, they hardly convey any explicit intelligible sense.
It was sweet to drown in the readymade handy water
With my cherry capped dangler green as seaweed
Summoning a child's voice from a webfoot stone,
Never never oh never to regret the bugle I wore
On my cleaving arm as I blasted in a wave.
Now shown and mostly bare I would lie down,
Lie down, lie down and live
As quiet as a bone.69
A l'expiration de mon enfance, je m'enlisai dans un marais. Des aboiements eclataient partout. "Tu ne les entendrais pas si bien si tu n'etais toi-meme pret a aboyer. Aboie donc." Mais je ne pus.
Des annees passerent apres lesquelles j'aboutis a une Terre plus ferme. Des craquements s'y firent entendre, partout des craquements, et j'eusse voulu craquer moi aussi, mais ce n'est pas le bruit de la chair.
Je ne puis quand meme pas sangloter, pensais-je, moi qui suis devenu presque un homme.70
In other more or less obscure poems, the conceptual utterances have either disappeared or they are reduced to a minimum or are merely allusive. Here again, there is no longer any explicit intelligible sense, even carried by the images. The intelligible sense dawning in the images is only implicit.
Sometimes71 this implicit intelligible sense is still determined, I mean pointing to an object (though in a merely implicit manner):
High in the noon of May
On cornices of daffodils
The slender violets stray.
Crap-shooting gangs in Bleecker reign,
Peonies with pony manes—
Forget-me-nots at windowpanes.72
Only images. Is it, however, a mere visual description of the flowering spring? No, all this carries an implicit intelligible sense, and this implicit sense points to the mysterious big city by which the poet's emotive intuition was stirred.
Sometimes73 the implicit intelligible sense is undetermined, I mean pointing to no object, and only pushing our intellect in a certain direction; nothing in the poem makes this direction clear, we are only prompted toward it in actual fact. We see nothing, yet we feel there is something to be looked at.
Nevertheless I dislike
The way the ants crawl
In and out of my shadow.74
Sur une mer en Fair de maisons et de vide
Rappelez-vous le bal: un bateau fait en fil.75
There is an intelligible meaning, but we don't know what this meaning is; only through reflective afterthought shall we be able to surmise something about it. But reflective afterthought has nothing to do with the direct perception of the poem.
I see a distance of black yews
Long as the history of the Jews
I see a road sunned with white sand
Wide plains surrounding silence. And
Far-off, a broken colonnade
That overthrows the sun with shade.76
The intelligible meaning is not only implicit, but undetermined. Our intelligence is aware of the existence of a signification, but the signified remains unknown. And it is enough for the poem to have radiance, as a black diamond has, and for the intellect to receive a delight, still more insidious perhaps as the signified is unknown: since the fact that what is signified by a sign is unknown is almost the fact that the sign signifies the unknown.
In the same way it can happen that in ritual dances and folklore solemnities or in the rites of those fancy-dress brotherhoods which have such appeal even for businessmen, in royal coronations, in judicial ceremonies, or in carnival processions, all of which are a kind of collective poetry of the people, the significance of the sign is forgotten in the course of time, or remains obscure and indistinct.77 The essential thing is that there should be a sign and signification. If I do not know exactly what a given sign signifies, well, it is then free to signify everything for me. In a sense, poetical joy and affective exaltation will then only become vaster in becoming more indeterminate.78
Finally, the following excerpts from Ash Wednesday79 offer to us, it seems to me, an instance in which clarity and obscurity, explicit abstract meanings and implicit undetermined significations intertwine to compose a complex radiance of an admirable quality.
Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.
Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,
Under a tree in the cool of the day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert.
This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.
18. In all the observations I just proposed, we were already beginning to consider the poem, no longer from the point of view of the one who produces it, but from the point of view of the one who reads it or listens to it. A new issue is thus raised, which I shall try to discuss in the next chapter.
In another connection, we might ask ourselves whether it is possible to find in modern painting trends similar to those which modern poetry discloses. Such comparisons are always risky. It could be said, however, it seems to me, that to the triad concept-image-word, with which the poet has to do, what corresponds in painting is the triad natural appearances—sensation—line and color.
Now, on the one hand, whereas the image and the concept belong to two different realms, the realm of the senses and that of the intellect, sensation and natural appearances, on the contrary, pertain to the same general order—both relate to the senses. As a result modern painting—while turning from natural appearances to sensation, and definitely realizing that the sensations of the eye at the spectacle of nature, seized in their immediate freshness and intuitivity, and used for a new creation in which they become the very object offered on the canvas, are the chosen instrument or vehicle for conveying more freely the painter's vision (the poetic sense)—nevertheless modern painting could not liberate sensation from natural appearances as completely as modern poetry has liberated the image from the concept. Even impressionists could not produce in painting an equivalent for imagist poetry. Cézanne is, in my opinion, the greatest representative of painting living on sensation and speaking through sensation (“Les sensations faisant le fond de mon affaire, fe crois etre impenetrable”80).This sensation-speaking painting, which, from the point of view of the language used, characterizes most of the nineteenth-century schools, recasts and transfigures natural appearances, but it is far from getting rid of them. If painting wants totally to get rid of natural appearances, it must go beyond this point, and become abstract painting, which no longer speaks.
On the other hand, whereas the elementary unit, the word—any word whatever, even disconnected, even "les mots en liberte"—is by nature a sign as well as an object, and always makes present something other than itself, lines and colors, on the contrary, are not signs by themselves, they are made into signs only when they are arranged so as to suggest some sort of thing in nature. As a result, when modern painting, prodded perhaps by a desire to follow in the footsteps of modern poetry,81 set out to free itself absolutely from natural appearances, it was possible for it to wind up in the stage of abstract or nonrepresentative painting. But the same is not possible for poetry, because poetry uses words. There can be in poetry no equivalent for abstract painting.
These remarks are directly concerned with the means and technical vocabulary of painting and poetry, that is, with something subordinate, and, after all, secondary, however indispensable. We are more interested in the poetic sense. What makes modem painting (I am not speaking of abstract art) singularly dear to us, is the fact that its means are incomparably appropriate for the liberation of the poetic sense. Thus it is that the least bit of modern painting, when it is simply good, awakens in us deeper emotion and resonance, and delight, and love, than many masterpieces of the past. To liberate the poetic sense in their work, the old masters, given the obstacle created by their respect—feigned as it may have been, and yielding to freedom—for natural appearances, were obliged to resort to a science of means, an inventive labor of operative reason, a cleverness and perfection of the virtue of art to which modern painting hardly attains. When they succeeded, the result remains unequalled. Look at the best paintings of Poussin. It was by dint of intelligence and self-restraint, and by avoiding anything which might "debauch"82 the eye or the mind, that he made the poetic sense prevalent and sovereign in the work, so as to captivate us forever.
1. Je n'ai pas mérité ce supplice frame, toi, le hideux espion de ma causalité! Si j'existe je ne suis pas un autre. Je n'admets pas en moi cette équivoque pluralité. Je veux resider seul en mon intime raisonne‑ment. L'autonomie . . . ou bier qu'on me change en hippopotame. . . . Ma subjectivite et le Créateur, c'est trop pour un cerveau." Lautréamont, Chants de Maldoror, V (Oeuvres completes, Paris: G. L. M., 1938).
2. Poi chi pinge figura,
Se non pub esse lei, non la puo porre.
(Who paints a figure, if he cannot be it, cannot give form to it.) Convivio, IV, Canz. 52-53. I do not claim that Dante spoke in the same sense as Rimbaud, yet both remarks stress in a striking way the fact of the identification between the poet and the other. Dante, moreover, was versed in Aristotle enough to be aware of the intentional character of this identification: "Onde nullo dipintore potrebbe porre alcuna figura, se intenzionalmente non si facesse prima tale, quale la figura essere dee." Ibid., IV, x, 11-13. (Italics mine.)
3. See Henri Michaux's poem "Magie," in Texts without Comment for this Chapter, No. 4.
4. See my essay "Sign and Symbol," in Ransoming the Time (New York: Scribner, 1941), Chapter IX:
“... In our logical state, sensations, images, ideas, are bathed in sunlight, bound up with the luminous and regular life of the intelligence and of its laws of gravitation.
"In the magical state, all these things were of the night, bound up with the fluid and twilight life of the imagination, and with an experience which was of an amazingly powerful impact, but entirely lived and—to the extent that it was an object of reflection—dreamed.
"The same is true of the sign and of the relationship between the sign and the signified. "Truth being a relationship of the cognitive faculty to the thing, and being pos sessed only by the judgment of the intelligence which seizes upon it as such, it must be said that among primitive men this relationship is lived, but is not winnowed out for its own sake. Doubtless it is known, since the intelligence is there present, but known in a nocturnal fashion, since the intelligence is there immersed in the powers of the imagination.
"Reflecting upon primitive man, we can say that in him the relationship of the mind to the thing is ambivalent. The same relationship is 'false' (in the eyes of our evolved consciousness) to the extent that it, for instance, asserts the existence of composite ancestors for the tribe: duck men or kangaroo men. It is 'tame' to the extent that it asserts the living union of man with nature, whereof this myth is the symbol. But for primitive man such a distinction has no meaning. It is because his very consent to, truth is not the same as ours (the idea of truth not having for him been winnowed out for itself).
"He adheres en bloc, at the same time and indistinctly, to the symbol and the symbolized: here is for him, in indivisible fashion, an image or a likeness of truth, an equivalent, an als ob of truth, without his having winnowed out the idea of truth for its own sake. In similar fashion a child believes in a story, in the adventures of Alice in Wonderland; awaken the child, withdraw him from the world of the imagination, and he knows very well that a little girl cannot enter a rabbit hole. But primitive man does not wake up, he is not yet withdrawn from the motherly bosom of the imagination, which for him makes all nature familiar and without which he could not face the dangers, whereby he feels he is surrounded on all sides, and (if we are dealing with true primitive man, with man of prehistoric times: today's homonym thereof is doubtless merely a distorted reflection of the original) the pitiless hardship of his existence as a dweller in caves, struggling among the wild beasts. He inhabits the land of seeming truth. . . .
"Since we are by hypothesis dealing with the nocturnal regime of the imagination, and since for the imagination as such (as dreams bear witness) the principle of identity does not exist; and then again, since the intelligence is still present, bound up with and clothed in the imagination, it is easy to understand that for primitive man the identity of things is constantly unmade and made again. It is altogether too hasty for us to say that with him there is simply an identity between the sign and the signified. No, there 4s an oscillation, there is a going and coming from distinction to identification. When children play by building sand castles, these castles are truly castles for them. If you trample them, the children will cry with rage and indignation. But once their play is at an end, what were castles are only sand. Primitive man believes to be identical (through the living power of the imagination) that which he obscurely knows to be different (through his intelligence, bound up in the imagination). It is impossible to understand anything about his thought if it be conceived from the point of view of the logical or daylight state of the intelligence, taken as the rule and measure of all thought. It is the thought of an awakened dreamer, wherein the role of play (and the allowance of play) is tremendously great."
5. Baudelaire did not renounce such will to power. "Il faut vouloir rêver et savoir rêver. Evocation de l'inspiration. Art ma gique." Mon Coeur mis a nu, CXVI; in Journaux intimes, ed. van Bever (Paris Crés, 1919. Italics mine). "L'inspiration vient toujours quand l'homme le veut, mai elle ne s'en va pas toujours quand it le veut.' Fusées, XVII, ibid.
6. See the observations made on this score by Allen Tate in his remarkable essay on "Poe and the Power of Words" (Kenyon Review, summer, 1952 ) especially with re gard to "The Colloquy of Monos and Una.” — "Poe understood the spiritual disunity that had resulted from the rise of the demi-religion of scientism, but by merely opposing its excesses with equally excessive claims for the 'poetic intellect,' he subtly perpetuated the disunity from another direction."
As concerns the search for magic, I think that there is only a seeming disagreement between Allen Tate and Raissa Maritain. The latter holds (Situation de la Poésie, Paris: Desclée De Brouwer, 1938, p. 58) that Poe never intended to make, in his own work, an instrument of magical power out of poetry. The former holds that he dreamed of, and longed for, the possibility of a magical power of words ascribed to the angels of his dialogues.
7. Cf. Albert Béguin, "Poésie et Mystique," an appendix to Gerard de Nerval (Paris: Stock, Delamain et Boutelleau, 1936); Roland de Renville, L'Expérience poétique (Paris: Gallimard, 1938); Raissa Maritain, "Magie, Poésie et Mystique," in Situation de la Poésie; "La Poésie comme Experience spirituelle," Fontaine, March-April, 1942.
8. In this connection, and despite all essential differences involved, there is a certain analogy between the relationship of poetry with art and the relationship of moral philosophy with prudence. Both moral philosophy and poetry are practical from afar. They are concerned with knowledge of being—yet with knowledge of being as preparatory to action or to operation, and as engaged in a dynamism the final truth and verification of which depend, either in prudence or in art, on the rectitude of the appetite. So the general law of practical truth—adequation with the straight appetite—on which I previously insisted ( Chapter II, p. 47), verifies in them in so far as the final result to which they tend and in which they come to completion is the direction of human acts or of creative work through prudence or art. Cf. my book Les Degrés du Savair (Paris: Desclée De Brouwer, 1932), Annexe VII, “‘Spéculatif et Pratique.’”
9. Quoted by René Daumal, "Les Pouvoirs de la Parole dans la Poétique hindoue," in Mesures, April 15, 1938. (From Sdhityadarpana [Mirror of Composition], by Viç-vanâtha Kavirâja.)
10. Cf. Raissa Maritain, "Sens et Non-Sens en Poésie," in Situation de la Poésie, pp. 22-24. (New edition, 1947, pp. 23-25.)
11. Original text in Texts without Comment for this chapter, heading I.
12. "Of our thinking, we might say, it is but the mere upper surface that we shape into articulate thoughts; underneath the region of argument and conscious discourse, lies the region of meditation; here, in its quiet mysterious depths, dwells what vital force is in us; here, if aught is to be created, and not merely manufactured and communicated, must the work go on." "Characteristics," in Essays (Boston: Brown and Taggard, 1860), Vol. III, p. g.
At this point we may understand, I think, the true meaning of the tranquillity of which Wordsworth spoke ("emotion recollected in tranquillity")—though T. S. Eliot is right, on other scores, in his criticism of this celebrated formula: "Tradition and the Individual Talent," The Sacred Wood (London: Methuen, 1920), p. 52. One might perhaps try to rescue Wordsworth's formula by saying that in it "recollection" has more to do with recueillement than with memory, and "emotion" means the intuitive emotion inseparable from concentration; but this interpretation does not square with the context of the formula in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads.
13. "Hölderlin and das Wesen der Dichtung," French translation in Mesures, July 15, 1937. — Mallarmé called the state of poetic experience "ecstasy." "Ce spirituellement et magnifiquement illuminé fond d'extase, c'est, c'est Bien le pur de nous-mêmes par nous porté, toujours pret a jaillir l'occasion laquelle dans l'existence ou hors fart fait toujours défaut." ("Seconde Divagation.") "L'art suprême, ici, consiste a laisser voir, par une possession impeccable de toutes les facultés, qu'on est en extase, sans avoir montré comment on s'élevait vers ces cimes." Letter to H. Cazalis, April 25, 1864; in Mondor, Propos sur la Poésie (Paris: éd. du Rocher, 1946), p. 39.
14. T. S. Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1933), pp. 137-38. Cf. René Char, Seuls demeurent (Paris: Gallimard, 1945), p. 81: "Etre poète, c'est avoir de l'appétit pour un malaise dont la consommation, parmi les tourbillons de la totalité des choses existances et pressenties, provoque, au moment de se Clore, la féllcité."
In another essay ("Tradition and the Individual Talent," in The Sacred Wood, p. 52), Eliot writes also, in relation to the state peculiar to the poet: "It is a concentration, and a new thing resulting from the concentration, of a very great number of experiences which to the practical and active person would not seem to be experiences at all; it is a concentration which does not happen consciously or of deliberation."
15. Cf. Paul Claudel, Positions et Propositions (Paris: Gallimard, 1928), p. 95: "C'est comme si du dehors tout a coup une haleine souffiait sur des dons latents pour en tirer lumiere et efficacité, amorçait en quelque sorte notre capacité verbale." — "As the artist," Schelling said, "is drawn involuntarily and in spite of himself to his production . . . so the materials for his work are furnished him without his concurrence, provided as it were from without." Werke (Leipzig: Fritz Eckardt, 1907), Vol. II, p. 291.
16. "A subliminal uprush," as Myers puts it.—F. W. H. Myers, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death (New York: Longmans, 1907), p. 62.
17. There was, I think, as much good as bad in Romanticism, or even more. As T. S. Eliot puts it, "Romanticism, moreover, is a term which is constantly changing in different contexts, and which is now limited to what appear to be purely literary and purely local problems, now expanding to cover almost the whole of the life of a time and of nearly the whole world. It has perhaps not been observed that in its more comprehensive significance Romanticism comes to include nearly anything that distinguishes the last two hundred and fifty years or so from their predecessors, and includes so much that it ceases to bring with it any praise or blame." The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism, p. 121.
18. Some texts dealing with inspiration have been grouped in Texts without Comment, heading III, Nos. 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. I have intentionally separated these citations from those given in pp. 239-41 and under heading I, which relate to poetic experience. On the one hand, I think that the notion of poetic experience is more fundamental, from a philosophical point of view, than that of inspiration. On the other hand, poets, when they speak of inspiration, are interested as a rule in the forms of inspiration which are the most striking or exceptional, have the most conspicuous psychological impact I and are the most particularized to the peculiar temperament of each one)—that is, which offer the most extreme and accidental features with regard to basic poetic experience, and might therefore possibly be an occasion for disregarding the essential.
19. Cf. Shelley, in A Defence of Poetry: "The toil and the delay recommended. by critics can be justly interpreted to mean no more than a careful observation of the inspired moments, and an artificial connexion of the spaces between their suggestions by the intertexture of conventional expressions; a necessity only imposed by the limitedness of the poetical faculty itself: for Milton conceived the Paradise Lost as a whole before he executed it in portions." It is clear that without the command of inspiration in the sense of poetic intuition the intertexture of conventional expressions" would simply mar the poem and break its living unity. Shelley goes on to say: "A great statue or picture grows under the power of the artist as a child in the mother's womb; and the very mind which directs the hands in formation is incapable of accounting to itself for the origin, the gradations, or the media of the process."
20. "Poetry demands a man with either a strain of madness or a happy gift of nature." Poetics, ch. 17, 1455a 33-34.
21. John Keble said also poets of primary and poets of secondary inspiration. Shelley was for him a poet of primary inspiration, Dryden, on the other hand, "had in perfection the ενΦνία, the versatility and power of transforming himself into the resemblance of real sentiment, which the great philosopher has set down as one of the natural qualifications for poetry, but he wanted the other and more genuine spring of the art—τό μανικόν--—theenthusiasm, the passionate devotion to some one class of objects or train of thought." The British Critic, Vol. XXIV (1838), p. 438.
22. I Cor. 14:32.
23. John of St. Thomas, Les Dons du Saint-Esprit, French translation by Raissa Maritain (2nd ed., Paris: Téqui, 1950), p. 3.
24. See Claudel's excerpts in Texts without Comment for this chapter, Nos. 8 and 9. — All the same we must take into account the remarks of Francis Thompson about "excessive care in word selection." Speaking of "the defect by which (we think) contemporary poetry in general, as com-pared with the poetry of the early nineteenth century, is mildewed," that defect, he said, "is the predominance of art over inspiration, of body over soul. We do not say the defect of inspiration. The warrior is there, but he is hampered by his armor. . . . Theoretically, of course, one ought always to try for the best word. But practically, the habit of excessive care in word selection frequently results in loss of spontaneity; and, still worse, the habit of always taking the best word too easily becomes the habit of always taking the most ornate word, the word most removed from ordinary speech. In consequence of this, poetic diction has become latterly a kaleidoscope, and one's chief curiosity is as to the precise combinations into which the pieces will be shifted." "Essay on Shelley" (1889), Works (London: Burns and Oates, 193.3), Vol. III, pp. 4-5.
25. T. S. Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent," The Sacred Wood, p. 52. "In fact, the bad poet is usually unconscious where he ought to be conscious, and conscious where he ought to be unconscious."
26. Novalis, Schriften, ed. Kluckhohn (Leipzig: Bibliographisches Institut, n.d.), Vol. I, p. 3.85. "Der junge Dichter kann nicht kuhl, nicht besonnen genug sein."
27. Achim von Arnim, Preface to Die Kronenwachter (Berlin: Beit, 1840).
28. "Notes Nouvelles sur Edgar Poe," as a preface to Nouvelles Histoires extraordinaires, in Oeuvres completes (Paris: Calla-lam-Levy, 3.896), Vol. VI, p. 3.7.
29. "Le Peintre de la Vie Moderne: Eloge du Maquillage," L'Art romantique (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1885), p. 100.
30. "Il est clair que l'espece de malaise qu'éprouve le poete devant son poeme et qui le pousse y revenir, maintes et majntes fois, jusqu'a ce qu'il y introduise les sens uniques qu'il porte en lui et que son hameçon attrape si maladroitement, c'est encore de l'Inspiration, resprit critique n'étant que la faculté pure de retrancher et nullement d'ajouter. . . . Mais que ce soit la encore de l'inspiration, quel est l'avantage qu'en retirera Baudelaire? Il a beau être plus grand que tous les poetes de son siecle, le moindre de ceux-la, le dernier, a éprouvé plus de joie que lui au reçu de ce don. Oui, ils ont crée, eux, et joui de leur création, . . . alors que celui dont le résultat nous semble incomparable a reçu ce don comme une aumone, dans la misere d'esprit et un sentiment d'impuissance et de désastre. Paria de l'inspiration, . . . cornbien rare et vainement attenduer Benjamin Fondane, Baudelaire et l'Experience du Gouffre (Paris: Pierre Seghers, 1947), p. 139.
31. "Le principe de la poésie est . . . dans un enthousiasme, une excitation derame,—enthousiasme tout a fait indépendant de la passion . . ." Baudelaire (adapted from Poe), "Notes Nouvelles sur Edgar Poe," op. cit., p. 20.
32. Fondane, op. cit., p. 29. — "En art," Léon-Paul Fargue said, "il faut que la mathématique se mette aux ordres des fantomes." Sous la Lampe (Paris: N.R.F., 1929). — John Crowe Ransom's statement may be recalled here: "Science gratifies a rational or practical impulse and exhibits the minimum of perception. Art gratifies a perceptual impulse and exhibits the minimum of reason." The Worlds Body (New York: Scribner, 1938), p. 130.
33. "Je pense, Dieu me pardonne, que le poete doit être un peu bête." Quoted by Benjamin Fondane, op. cit., p. 39. — "A poet must to some extent be a chameleon, and feed on air," Francis Thompson wrote ("Essay on Shelley").
34. "La grande poésie est essentiellement bete, elle croit et c'est ce qui fait sa gloire et sa force . . ." Baudelaire, Oeuvres posthumes (Compte-rendu du "Prométhée délivré" de M. de Senneville) (Paris: Mercure de France, 1908), p. 167.
Baudelaire played a dangerous game in masking himself with feigned cynicism, and calling betise what is innocence. Ironical disparagement in the form of understatement may be misleading. Valéry did not want to be bete, and was afraid to seem so. This had perhaps a part in the show he made of being ashamed of inspiration.
In a more general way, a certain self-consciousness or modesty may prevent a poet from daring enough. I wonder whether some excellent poets, like Miss Marianne Moore, do not restrict themselves to an almost purely visual or perceptual poetry for fear of avowing the subjectivity of their poetic experience, from which they fly at the very moment when they receive from it the fortunate spark of creative incitement and perception. In an interesting article ("The Symbol and the Rose," New York Times Book Review, January 20, 1952) Miss Kathleen Raine rightly emphasizes the remarkable achievements of the "poetry of pure perception" which she considers (in quite an oversimplified manner, to my mind) characteristic of contemporary American poetry. She quotes in this connection Marianne Moore's fine description of a camellia:
. . . Gloria mundi
with a leaf two inches, nine lines
broad, they have; and the smaller,
with amanita-white petals; there are
several of her
pale pinwheels, and pale
stripe that looks as if on a mushroom the
sliver from a beet-root carved into a
rose were laid . . .
And she observes that "this elaboration refines the sensible image by association with other sharp and precise sensible images, to produce a highly sophisticated and delicate way of looking at the visible world." Yet she also observes that "perceptual images, however intense or refined, lack a dimension without which we soon begin to feel an intolerable claustrophobia," and she wishes for "a synthesis of the symbolic and the contemporary." I would say that the kind of modesty to which I have alluded—which causes a poet to fly from the inwardness of poetic experience toward the world of sensory perception, and to conceal the vastness of his soul in the colors of a lizard or a tulip—should some day yield to the pressure of what exists in him.
35. The poet may seem mad, Charles Lamb said, but there is a "hidden sanity which still guides" him "in his widest seeming-aberrations." "Sanity of True Genius," Last Essays of Elia (Works of Charles and Mary Lamb, ed. E. V. Lucas, New York: Putnam, 19-63, Vol. II), p. 189.
35a. The Prophecy of Dante, Canto the first, lines 3.66-67.
36. René Char, Seuls demeurent, p. 70. — Cf. Maurice de Guérin: "Le poete est chassé d'exil en exil et n'aura jamais de demeure assurée." Cahier Vert, January 26, 1835.
37. Thomas Aquinas, Comment. in Psalm., Prolog.
38. See also supra, Chapter IV, pp. 131-33.
39. Diary of 1824, in The Schubert Reader, ed. Otto Eric Deutsch (New York: Norton, 1947), p. 450.
40. Letter to Clara, April 13, 1838, in Schumann, On Music and Musicians, ed. Konrad Wolf (New York: Pantheon Books, 1946), p. 260.
41. Frederic Chopin, ed. Stephen P. Mizwa (New York: Macmillan, 1949), p. 51. (Accepting the authenticity of the Potocka correspondence.) — Mozart's famous letter to Baron V. (Edward Holmes, The Life of Mozart, Everyman's Library, pp. 254-58) has too little authenticity to be used as a document here.
42. Arthur Lourié, "De la Mélodic," La Vie intellectuelle, December 25, 1936, pp. 491-99.
43. "Toute ame est une mélodie, s'agit de renouer; et pour cela, sont la flute ou la viole de chacun." Mallarmé, "Divagation premiere' in Vers et Prose (Paris: Perrin, 1935), p. 183 ("Crise de Vers" in Divagations, Paris: Fasquelle, 1949, p. 247).
44. See Texts without Comment for Chapter I, Nos. 9, 10, 11. (What is designated in texts 9 and 10 by the word idea coincides, I think, with what we mean by "poetic intuition.")
45. Artists on Art (New York: Pantheon Books, 1945), p. 401.
46. Bekenntnisse, 1924., p. 121. (Béguin, L'Ame romantique et le Reve, Marseille: Cahiers du Sud, 1937, Vol. I, p. 233.)
47. Ibid., p. 193. (Béguin, ibid.) — Chirico was right when he wrote: "A work of art must narrate something that does not appear within its outline. The objects and figures represented in it must likewise poetically tell you of something that is far away from them and also of what their shapes materially hide from us. A certain dog painted by Corot is like the story of apoetic and romantic hunt." Artists on Art, p. 440.
48. Artists on Art, p. 421.
49. "Excusez un peu, Monsieur Vollard," he said to the famous picture dealer before one of his paintings which he had slashed in a fit of anger because someone had interrupted him in his work, "mais quand je médite, j'ai besoin qu'on me foute la paix." Ambroise Vollard, Paul Cezanne (Paris: Cres, 1924), p. 143.
50. T. S. Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism, p. 138.
51. Cf. R. P. Blackmur, The Double Agent (New York: Arrow Eds., 1935), Chapters III and V.
52. "Baudelaire is indeed the greatest exemplar in modern poetry in any language, for his verse and language is the nearest thing to a complete renovation that we have experienced." T. S. Eliot, "Baudelaire" in Selected Essays (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1932), p. 341.
53. "L'Art chrétien," in Art poetique (Paris: Emile-Paul, 1922), pp. 63, 69, 56.
54. See supra, Chapter III, p. 75.
55. Ralssa Maritain, "Sens et Non-sens en poésie," Situation de la Poésie, p. 14.
56. The "melody" of a picture is also its poetic sense. Cf. Baudelaire: "La bonne maniere de savoir si un tableau est mélodieux est de le regarder d'assez loin pour n'en comprendre ni le sujet ni les lignes. S'il est mélodieux, il a déja un sens, et il a pris sa place dans le répertoire des souvenirs. "De la couleur," Curiosites esthetiques, Salon de 1846, III: in Oeuvres completes (Paris: Calmann-Lévy), Vol. II, p. 92. - "The music of poetry is not something which exists apart from the meaning," T. S. Eliot said (The Music of Poetry, Ker Memorial Lecture, Glasgow: Jackson, 1942, p. 13). This sentence can be explained in two ways. If the word "meaning" signifies the poetic sense, then the "music of poetry" or its inner melody is the very meaning or poetic sense. If the word "meaning" signifies the intelligible sense, then there is always some meaning or intelligible sense inseparable from the "music of poetry," understood this time as the audible music of words.
57. Raissa Maritain, op. cit., p. 16 (new ed., p. 17).
57a. "Ars poetica," in Collected Poems 1917-1952 (Boston:Houghton Mifflin: 1952 ).
58. Ralssa Maritain, op. cit., pp. 1920 (new ed., pp. 2o-21). "Par l'intonation pleine de sous-entendus, par la gesticulation rythmique, par une certaine démarche ordonnée durant toute cette longue lecture, il donne une signification apparente a des textes affranchis de toute liaison logique. Signification qui dépend ici tout entiere du nombre, du débit, de la sensibilité et de l’intelligence de celui qui lit. En somme, le lecteur a joué ici le role de l'intelligence dans les raves. Bien que liée par le sommeil, et c'est pourquoi le principe de contradiction y parait aboli, elle ne dort pas, elle pénetre, elle entoure d'une mystérieuse atmosphere de clarté les suites d'images les plus incohérentes."
59. Ibid., p. 21 (new ed., pp. 21-22 ).
60. Ibid., p. 25 ( new ed., p. 26 ).
61. See Texts without Comment for this chapter, heading V.
62. "Le vers qui de plusieurs vocables refait un mot total, neuf, étranger A la langue et comme incantatoire, acheve cet isolement de la parole. . . ." Mallarmé, "Divagation premiere," p. 190 ("Crise de Vers," p. 256). Italics mine.
63. After having cited Rimbaud's remark, "Baudelaire est le premier voyant, le roi des poetes, un vrai dieu. Encore a-t-il vécu dans un milieu trop artiste, et la forme si vantée en lui est mesquine," Benjamnin Fondane (op. cit., p. 28) rightly points out that Baudelaire's main achievement, as regards formal expression, was to "fill the old wineskin with new wine, and the most banal of forms with a new matter"—let us say, rather, with a new and incomparable poetic energy.
64. In Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (2nd ed., New York: Macmillan, 1950).
65. In Alcools (Paris: N.R.F., 1920).
66. Other "clear" poems have been collected in Texts without Comment, heading VI.
67. I confess that when trying to illustrate my discussion with appropriate examples, I found the task significantly more difficult with the material offered by American and British. modem poets than with that offered by French modem poets. This fact may be related, I think, to the above-mentioned observations (pp. 255-56) about French and British poetry.
68. See Texts without Comment, heading VII.
69. From Dylan Thomas, "Poem," in Selected Writings (New York: New Directions, 1946).
70. Henri Michaux, "Les Craquernents," Epreuves, Exorcismes (Paris: Gallimard,1945).
71. See Texts without Comment, heading VIII. — The distinctions I am making here point only to ideal directions. I have no desire to enclose poems in categories. In placing—sometimes for almost impalpable reasons--certain examples under heading VIII rather than under heading IX, or conversely, I thought that even the fact that the reader might question this particular choice would indicate the validity of the ideal distinction.
72. From Hart Crane, The Bridge, V (Three Songs: "Virginia"). (In Collected Poems, New York: Liveright, 1933.)
73. See Texts, heading IX.
74. From Wallace Stevens, "Six Significant Landscapes."
75. From -jean Cocteau ("Dimanche Soir," in Opera).
76. From John Peale Bishop, "Perspectives Are Precipices" (in Collected Poems, New York: Scribner, 1948).
77. There is something similar in the experience alluded to by Wordsworth:
. . . the soul
Remembering how she felt, but what she felt
Remembering not, retains an obscure sense
Of possible sublimity.
(Prelude, Book II.)
78. In another connection, it would be of particular interest to examine the cases where the symbol exists before the meanings with which man's poetic instinct will fill it. This is what came about, as a rule, with old myths whose primitive meaning had been forgotten and which received new meanings in the course of subsequent centuries. But the instance in which the students of poetry could find the most striking and richest implications is, I think, the Arthurian legend. In his remarkable book La Legende Arthurienne et le Graal (Paris: Presses Universitaires, 1952), Jean Marx has demonstrated, by dint of clear-sighted erudition, the Celtic origin of this legend, and elucidated the complex—and natural, irrepressible--process of its further Christianization. He has made clear, by the same token, the extraordinary polyvalence and plasticity of the forms that the primitive themes, characters, and marvelous objects of the romance progressively took, all the while penetrating into the collective unconscious of the Western world.
We are also confronted here with a typical process of poetic internalization. Pre-existing symbols—primitively characterized by the sheer exteriority either of the properties and enchantments of a fairy world, or of the various obligations and trials incurred by the characters, or of their adventures—were to become signs of abiding dreams and realities of the human soul. It is enough to think for instance of the charge of poetic meaning, henceforth invested in our cultural heritage, with which the Geis was to be laden as regards woman's mysterious initiative in the fatalite of love--or the character of the Fisher-King as regards the inherent melancholy of wounded greatness—or the character of Perceval as regards the miraculous power of simplicity of heart and intrepid candor.
79. In T. S. Eliot, Collected Poems 1909-1935 (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1936).
80. Letter to his son, Aix, October 3.5, 1906. (Apropos of an "unfortunate" who tried to imitate him.) In Ambroise Vollard, Paul Cézanne.
The word sensation had an ambiguous sense in Cézanne's rather poor vocabulary. Either it meant, in the manner of an understatement, what we call creative intuition (See supra, Chapter IV, p. 131, note 25) or it meant sensation strictly so-called, as in the passage quoted here.
81. "It is highly probable that the Symbolist movement in French poetry was a considerable factor in the instigation first, of Impressionism, and later, of Cubism. Both arts have had parallel and somewhat analogous tendencies toward abstract statement and metaphysical representation. . . A great deal of modem painting in as independent of any representational motive as a mathematical equation; while some of the most intense and eloquent current verse derives sheerly from acute psychological analysis, quite independent of any dramatic motivation." Hart Crane, "Modern Poetry' (1929), in Collected Poems (New York: Liveright, 1933).
82. Lecturing on January 7,1668, at the Royal Academy of Painting, on Poussin's Eliezer and Rebecca, Philippe de Champaigne expressed regret that the Master had not seen fit to depict "the camels mentioned in Holy Writ." Lebrun thereupon replied that "Mr. Poussin, in a constant endeavor to purify and disencumber the subject of his paintings and to portray attractively the main action he was dealing with, had rejected any bizarre object likely to debauch the eye of the beholder and amuse it with trifles (les objets bizarres qui pouvaient dé-baucher l'oeil du spectateur et l'amuser des minuties)." In Henry Jouin, Conferences de l’Academie royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (Paris: A. Quantin, 1883), pp. 93-94.Contents
Texts without Comment for Chapter Seven
Chapter VI. Beauty and Modern Painting
Chapter VIII. The Internalization of Music
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