Sunday, May 25, 2014

The least feigning

In the current Australian Book Review Chris Wallace-Crabbe has a poem whose title 'The least feigning' of course  plays on Touchstone's famous lines from As You Like It:

No, truly; for the truest poetry is the most
Feigning; and lovers are given to poetry, and what
They swear in poetry may be said as lovers they do feign.

Stephen Gosson's The Schoole of Abuse indeed holds poets up to the charge of being 'amorous' and dwelling "longest in those pointes, that profit least". Gosson's book was dedicated to Sir Philip Sidney, whose Defence of Poesie was possibly written by way of reply.

Wallace-Crabbe writes of a directness possible in poetry:

What you say
about poetry
could very well
be stone-
cold factual
because this art
can serve you up
truth without even
so bloody much as
actors or make-up

Sidney himself made bold and innovative claims for the position of poetry, creating a truth and a nature of its own devising:
"Only the Poet disdeining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted up with the vigor of his own invention, doth grow in effect into another nature: in making things either better then nature bringeth foorth, or quite a new, formes such as never were in nature: as the Heroes, Demigods, Cyclops, Chymeras, Furies, and such like; so as he goeth hand in hand with nature, not enclosed within the narrow warrant of her gifts, but freely raunging within the Zodiack of his owne wit."
Jacob Bronowski, who in his 1939 book The Poet's Defence, was an early advocate for the link between Gosson and Sidney's Defence of Poesie, writes elsewhere of the truth that poetry offers:
"There is a common pattern to all knowledge: what we meet is always particular, yet what we learn is always general. In science we reason from particular instances to the general laws that we suppose to lie behind them, and though we do not know how we guess at these laws, we know very well how to test them. But in a poem the specific story and the detailed imagery that carries it create in us an immediate sense of the general. The experience is made large and significant precisely by the small and insignificant touches. Here the particular seems to become general of itself: the detail is its own universal."
Sidney held poetry up as something distinct from other disciplines, including what we today would call science, in that only poetry was not "enclosed within the narrow warrant" of nature, whereas Bronowski sees that poetry - like science - expresses the general by means of "particular instances".

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