Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Mental Ears

"The discourses of modernism in Western poetics make steeper descents into sub-intelligibility; and in my own case I am frequently accused of having more or less altogether taken leave of discernible sense. In fact I believe this accusation to be more or less true, and not to me alarmingly so, because what for so long has seemed the arduous royal road into the domain of poetry ("what does it mean?") seems less and less and unavoidably necessary precondition for successful reading. The task, however, is not to subside into distracted ingenious playfulness with the lexicon and cross-inflectional idiomatics, but to write and read with maximum focused intelligence and passion, each of these two aspects bearing so strongly into the other as to fuse them into the enhanced state once in an old-fashioned way termed the province of the imagination. "Mental ears" do not relegate us to the domain of performative sonority, nor do they elevate us into the paramount abstraction of inferred ideas and beliefs: they are an intense hybrid and I treat them as the essential equipment for reading poetry in today's post-traditional world space"


"I should not wish to claim that this selection was in any sense deliberate or conscious; if the underlying textual features exist it is because poets are tuned into their language structures to an unusual degree of linguistic susceptibility. Such features are neither invented nor discovered, they are disclosed."

- J.H. Prynne 'Mental Ears and Poetic Work', Chicago Review 55:1 2010

And because Prynne's essay references them, and because it made me go back and rediscover these exquisite lines:

"That day I oft remember, when from sleep
I first awaked, and found myself reposed,
Under a shade, on flowers, much wondering where
And what I was, whence thither brought, and how.
Not distant far from thence a murmuring sound
Of waters issued from a cave, and spread,
Into a liquid plain; then stood unmoved,
Pure as the expanse of Heaven. I thither went
With unexperienced thought, and laid me down
On the green bank, to look into the clear
Smooth lake, that to me seemed another sky.
As I bent down to look, just opposite
A Shape within the watery gleam appeared,
Bending to look on me. I started back,
It started back; but pleased as I soon returned,
Pleased it returned as soon with answering looks
Of sympathy and love."

- Milton, Paradise Lost, Book IV


Monica said...

Prynne's article sounds like quite something. I should get to it!

Falstaff said...

Monica: It is, and you should. Though I have to say I found it heavy going, and I can't help wishing he hadn't picked Wordsworth as his central example.

The 57 footnotes were, however, right after my heart.