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Let There be Light and the Emanation of Light
The Act of Creation in Ibn Gabirol and Milton
Thou art wise; and wisdom, the source of life, flows from Thee, / and every man is too brutish to know Thy wisdom.
Thou art wise, and pre-existent to all pre-existence, / and wisdom was with Thee as nurseling.
Thou art wise, and Thou didst not learn from any other than Thyself, / nor acquire wisdom from another.
Thou art wise, and from Thy wisdom Thou didst send forth a predestined Will, / and made it as an artisan and a craftsman,
To draw the stream of being from the void / as the light is drawn that comes from the eye,
To take from the source of light without a vessel, / and to make all without a tool,
Cut and hew / and cleanse and purify;
That will called to the void and it was cleft asunder, / to existence and it was set up, / to the universe and it was spread out.
It measured heavens with a span, / and its hand coupled the pavilion of the spheres / and linked the curtains of all creatures with loops of potency; / and its edge of the curtain in the coupling.
(Solomon Ibn Gabirol, The Kingly Crown, IX. translated by Bernard Lewis)1
Furthermore, these two poetic treatments of Creation occur in very different poetic genres. Milton's poem is an epic, recounting the story of "Man's first disobedience" and, within that story, the act of Creation. Ibn Gabirol's poem is lyrical, and it combines a philosophical contemplation of God's attributes and of the created universe with a confession, probably composed for ritual performance in an actual service.
The question that arises is, how can one compare the poetic structures of works so disparate? Such a comparison requires critical categories general enough to be applicable over so wide a cultural and conventional gap, and still not too general to make meaningful distinctions within and between particular works. In the following, an attempt to provide and test such categories will be made. I will propose the categories "convergent and divergent style", and "split and integrated focus". The two pairs of terms refer to general impressions, "regional qualities" of poems. This has a special advantage for our study. There is no single element whose presence is a necessary condition for any of these qualities; and not all the elements present necessarily contribute to the same quality. Nor can the absence of any element refute the general impression. Only one property is indispensable for each one of these qualities: a minimum degree of unity. In the next section I will give some examples of the divergent style with its guiding principles in Milton's poetry. The convergent~divergent distinction in Ibn Gabirol's poetry will be discussed in the section "convergent vs. divergent Style in The Kingly Crown".
Divergent Style in Milton
Poems can be compared from the point of view of convergence/divergence. "Convergent" style is marked by clear-cut shapes, both in contents and structure; it is inclined towards definite directions, clear contrasts (prosodic or semantic) -- towards an atmosphere of certainty, a quality of intellectual control. "Divergent" style is marked by blurred shapes, both in contents and structure; it exhibits general tendencies (rather than definite directions), blurred contrasts, an atmosphere of uncertainty, an emotional quality. Convergence appeals to the actively organising mind, divergence to a more receptive attitude. The two are not solid categories, the differences are of degree, shadings are gradual, along a spectrum. In one style the various linguistic aspects tend to act in convergence, in the other in divergence This may be reinforced by aspects of the imagery: whether the things mentioned have solid characteristic shapes, or the nouns refer rather to "thing-free" abstractions, shapeless masses; or by syntactic structure; convergent poems tend to have a larger number of finite verbs, divergent ones a larger number of nouns and adjectives. The difference of perceptual quality in the two styles is striking. Thus, for instance, in convergent style, sound repetitions tend to be salient; sometimes playful or witty. In divergent style, repeated sounds tend to fuse with the dispersed elements, to heighten the emotional quality of the passage, to be perceived as musicality. Let me illustrate this distinction.
What generations of poetry readers and critics perceived in Milton's poetry and characterised by the epithet "Milton's miraculous organ voice" can be described in structural terms as divergent poetry rich in sound patterns. Our main concern in Milton will be, of course, Book VII of Paradise Lost. Here occasionally we find some convergent passages, such as
The repetition of "thus" and the pair of verbs "besought" -- "answered" present the two lines as symmetrical. This strong shape is reinforced by the convergence of line and clause; all the lexically stressed syllables but one converge with a strong position (the exception being the first Thús), and all the strong positions but one converge with a lexically stressed syllable (the exception being his in a strong position). Line 110 is one of the very rare lines in Paradise Lost in which stressed syllables occur in all strong positions and only in strong positions (in the first 165 lines there are only two such lines). The repeated sound cluster st converges with strong positions and stressed syllables, sharpening the contrast between prominent and non-prominent syllables (illústrious guést besóught). But even here, convergence is slightly mitigated by the syntactic inversion in line 109; and by the occurrence of the stressed syllable thus twice, first in a weak and then in a strong position. This entails a fairly complex sound pattern: in the words Thús ... illústrious ... thús the repeated sound cluster occurs twice in a strong position reinforcing the overall convergence of the passage, but once in a weak position, still mitigating it.
Not as in the nearby passages, the business of these two lines is to report quite factually "who told whom". But when the description mounts in intenseness and sublimity, its style becomes increasingly divergent. More precisely, emotion (underlying sublimity) is a perceptual corollary of divergence. The increasingly divergent passage is usually sealed, as it were, with a forceful, solid ending (cf. Tsur, 1977: 175-189; 1992: 148-153, 455-470; 1998a: 243-250, 256-264). The following passage is fairly typical:
I said "fairly typical", because the typical Miltonic passage has more compelling schemes of phonetic repetition and a greater number of rhythmic deviations. Notwithstanding, here too there are such alliterations -- though rather diffuse -- as "They viewed the vast immeasurable abyss"; two consonants of "vast" are anticipated in "stood" and repeated in the next line in "wasteful" (and again, two lines later, in "assault") -- diverging from its conspicuous alliteration with "wild". "Wild" forms a "consonant-rhyme" with "winds" at the end of the next line. "From" in an unstressed syllable alliterates with "furious" in a stressed syllable in a strong position. The nt and nd clusters recur, rather diffusely, in "turned", "winds", "mountains", "center", "end", and so forth. Notice also how the contrast between prominent and non-prominent syllables in lines 212 and 215 is blurred by stress deviation. The passage has a strong onset; it starts at the beginning of a line; there are two finite verbs in the first two lines (though none of them verb of action). The next finite verb, however, does not occur before the last word of the quotation. From the middle of line 210, one single clause runs to the end of line 215. Longer phrases are articulated only by line-endings, breaking them up into segments, whereas lines are sometimes segmented by short phrases. The first point where line-ending converges with the end of the clause is line 215. The softening effect of a run-on sentence, even in a rather tame case, enhanced by a mild syntactic inversion can be noticed if one observes how more straightforward and purposeful is the impact of quote 3:
The relatively conclusive tone of the isolated line in quote 3 becomes somewhat suspensive, hesitant, indecisive in quote 4. Here a complex set of forward and backward directed attention is generated. The prepositional phrase from the shore necessarily anticipates a subject and a predicate. At the same time, the reader must split his attention in two directions: he must follow the string of words, but bear in mind, at the same time, that a "loose end" has been left at the beginning of the clause, the preposition "from", predicting the verb in the next line. The isolated line in quote 3 converges with what appears to be a clause; its word order is the most natural one possible: subject + predicate + object phrase, with no inversion of word order, or interpolated delaying phrase, or prediction of additional syntactic elements. Hence its conclusive tone and decisive effect of being closed. The post-nominal adjective phrase in the next line reopens, so to speak, the conclusively closed unit. The bi-directional attention and the violated stop at the end of the middle line generates a less "single-minded", more "complex" feeling. A more strained instance of split attention we find in Paradise Lost Book I: 1-6; the poem begins with the preposition "Of", predicting the verb "Sing" in line 6 (I discussed this instance at great length in Tsur, 1978, reprinted in Tsur, 1992: 100-103).
An intense feeling of violent quality is generated by the fact that violent events are not expressed by finite verbs but by adjectives as "outrageous ... wasteful, wild", past participle as "up.... turned by", present participle as "surging" and, finally, the infinitive "To assault" and, governed by the same particle, "mix". Thus, the fluid structure is gradually solidifying only towards line 215. The Divine Decree in the next two lines forms a powerful closure. The command itself has an "atmosphere of patent purpose"; the chiastic structure of line 216 imposes upon it a balanced, closed quality; the end of each of the two lines converges with the end of a syntactic unit. Notice, however, that even this forceful, convergent utterance is softened by divergence on the phonetic and syntactic level, adding to it, in 0ras' phrase "the dimension of depth". Line 216 is broken up into no less than four "purposeful" segments, whereas line 217 -- into only two, alternating direct and reporting speech.
Furthermore, notice the sequence
blurring the contrast between prominent and non-prominent syllables. The chiastic repetition of -eep pea- emphasises two consecutive stressed syllables, in a weak and a strong position. It also creates a "jam" between the last two syntactic units, compelling the reader to slow down. Some critics feel that this bestows some forceful weight upon the sublime creative decree. At any rate, Neo-classical critics with a strong convergent (rational) bias "amended" the phrase into "and peace, thou deep", creating unusually strong contrast between prominence and non prominence. From the syntactic point of view, the first two commands ("Silence.... peace") are, still, expressed by nouns (it should be granted, however, that such "elliptic clauses" are double-edged; they can equally corroborate convergence and divergence; in the present case -- convergence). Only the third command ("end") is a proper imperative verb. "Your discord end" constitutes a salient inversion of word order. In line 217 there is an internal "rhyme": word -- discord, muted by the fact that one member occurs in a stressed syllable in a strong position at the end of a clause, the other in an unstressed syllable in a weak position, in the middle of an inverted clause. In addition, there are no less the seven ds irregularly scattered in lines 216-217.
But, in fact, the shapeless quality is most conspicuous in the contents of the passage. The only solid (though shapeless) entities mentioned in the passage occur in 210, "ground" and "shore" ("mountains" in 214 is of liquid substance, and functions to indicate impetuous motion). "Centre" and "pole" (215) which may connote definite directions, symmetry, balance, order, are only introduced to serve as direct objects of "mix". Being abstract nouns, they are particularly suitable to take part in the process of "shape-destruction".
Concerning the command in line 216, Douglas Bush refers the reader to Mark 4.39: "And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace, Be still". This miracle performed by the Son in his human incarnation, can be conceived as of the type of his Creation decree. But, besides the illuminating similitude, the difference between the two is even more noteworthy. First, such a comparison emphasises that the forces involved in the act of creation are far more sublime even than those which Christ rebuked in the Sea of Galilee. Secondly, the waves beating into the boat are, indeed, of shapeless fluid substance; whereas the waves concerned in this passage on Creation are of "immaterial substance". The Hebrew word for "abyss" (Thehom) can mean also ocean, immense water, while the English word primarily refers to immense void (derived from the Greek word for "bottomless"), which is only "outrageous as a sea". Thus, on the one hand, there is a much higher tension between abstract and concrete; on the other hand, one may experience an intense feeling of a supersensuous presence oscillating between existence and non-existence, if one remembers that it is the "troubled waves" and "furious winds" of nothingness that have to end their discord. This is enhanced by what I would call a "transferred attribute" or "nominalised predicate". Instead of "to assault / High Heavens" we have here "Heav'ns height" an adjective turned into an abstract noun manipulated into the referring position. So the object of the assault is an abstraction from an abstraction. (This shapeless quality is reinforced by the strained enjambment and metric deviation).
Metaphysical Poetry and Split Focus
Herbert Grierson mentions a small group of rare poems which he calls "Metaphysical Poetry, in the full sense of the term". It
is a poetry which, like that of the Divina Commedia, the De Natura Rerum, perhaps Goethe's Faust, has been inspired by a philosophical conception of the universe and the rôle assigned to the human spirit in the great drama of existence. These poems were written because a definite interpretation of the riddle, the atoms of Epicurus rushing through infinite empty space, the theology of the schoolmen as elaborated in the catechetical disquisitions of St. Thomas, Spinoza's vision of life sub speciae aetermnitatis, beyond good and evil, laid hold on the mind and the imagination of a great poet unified and illumined his comprehension of life, intensified and heightened his personal consciousness of joy and sorrow, of hope and fear, by broadening their significance, revealing to him in the history of his own soul a brief abstract of the drama of human destiny (Grierson, 1921: XIII).
Although Grierson is uncertain whether the term in its full sense can be applied to Paradise Lost, he has no doubt that Milton too "was, or believed himself to be, a philosophical or theological poet of the same order as Dante" (ibid., XV). Without going into this distinction between Dante and Milton, I have no doubts that Ibn Gabirol's The Kingly Crown too belongs to this category of "Metaphysical Poetry, in the full sense of the term". Notwithstanding, in Ibn Gabirol, just as in Milton, the "definite interpretation of the riddle" has not been founded on sufficiently solid foundations. The solutions offered by these two poets contain systems of conflicting nature. Their philosophical poetry is characterised by religious, philosophical and astronomical systems that are sometimes incongruous with one another. We are confronted with "the most heterogeneous ideas yoked together by violence" -- not as a mere literary device, but as the solution to a scientific-philosophical problem. The seventeenth century is the one in which the great geographical and astronomical discoveries of the preceding centuries gradually destroy the coherent world picture of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance; likewise, the religious disputes and wars undermine the unified scale of values. Ibn Gabirol, on his part, lived in Spain, where the three big monotheistic religions (Moslem, Christian and Jewish) met.
Incompatible elements or ideas may occur together in one of two different ways. They may blur each other, generate ambiguity, uncertainty, or they may conflict, trying to "preserve their warring identity", in James Smith's famous formulation. An illuminating example would be the violent yoking together of the geocentric and heliocentric conceptions of the world in one poem. In Book VIII of Paradise Lost, Adam asks Raphael about the movement of the stars; Raphael gives a long lecture presenting the Ptolemaic world picture, as described by Ibn Gabirol as well, existence within existence, orb within orb:
(6) Cycle and epicycle, orb in orb: (84)However, in line 122, Raphael switches to the rival possibility:
(7) What if the sunRaphael does not prefer anyone of the theories: it seems to him that none of them can explain the true nature of Creation, which "From Man or Angel the great Architect / Did wisely to conceal [...] / [...] who ought / Rather admire". All these models seem to him ridiculous; and from this point of view there is little difference between them (lines 70-79). There is no reliable evidence as for which one of them is right; moreover, the very existence of opposite theories proves that it is impossible to understand the wonders of Creation. In this example, the conflicting models do not generate a witty quality; they arouse wonder and admiration in front of what is beyond understanding. Milton's contemporary, John Donne, by contrast, presented in his Holy Sonnet "I am a little world" the two world pictures side by side, sharpening their conflict as much as possible, so as to achieve metaphysical wit.
Be center to the world; and other stars,
By his attractive virtue and their own
Incited, dance about him various rounds? (122-125)
This example shows how poems can be compared along the axis split and integrated focus. Dr. Johnson said of metaphysical wit that in it the most heterogeneous elements are violently yoked together. I argue that every image yokes heterogeneous elements together. The difference between split and integrated focus lies not in the disparity of the elements, but in their different rhetorical manipulation. The same elements can occur in different hierarchical orders, or they may strive for dominance, failing to achieve a hierarchic order. One of the techniques for yoking together the most heterogeneous ideas by violence is relevant here. Sometimes a metaphysical poet ("metaphysical" both in the wider and the more restricted sense) may wish to solve a paradoxical problem of philosophy, or "yoke together" two incompatible philosophical ideas in a more or less arbitrary manner. Then, sometimes, the poet resolves the paradox by relying on the resemblance of words and not the resemblance of ideas. That is what the neo-Classical critics called "false wit". Let us take the following verse from Section I of "the Kingly Crown" (I have elsewhere discussed this verse from a slightly different angle; cf. Tsur, 1998b):
(8) Yours is the reality whose light's shadow generated all existent things / of whom we said: under his shadow we shall live.The philosophical-theological problem which both Ibn Gabirol and Milton must face is how to fuse the Neo-Platonic conception of Creation by light emanation with the Biblical conception of a personal God. Ibn Gabirol was preoccupied with this problem not only as a poet, but also as a philosopher (cf. Guttmann, 1973: 114). One of the solutions in The Kingly Crown (but not the only one) is to be found in the verse under consideration. The word shadow occurs in it in two different senses: the phrase "light's shadow" refers, according to commentators like Schirmann and Yarden, to light emanation. Light and shadow are usually perceived as opposites; but here they are conceived of as of successive stages in one continuous process: the shadow is a relatively less spiritual, more physical stage in the process of emanation. In the next image there is a drastic shift: "his shadow" suggests something like Divine Providence or protection, implying a personal God. The phrase "under his shadow" is idiomatic, a dead metaphor; but its juxtaposition with "light's shadow" revives it. "Of whom we said: under his shadow we shall live" is a verbatim quotation from Lamentations IV: 20, where "he" refers to flesh-and-blood, "the Lord's annointed" who "was taken in the pits" of "our pursuers"; "live" suggests here "dwelling among the nations", whereas in Ibn Gabirol's text it suggests "being one of all living things". Thus, Ibn Gabirol's "under his shadow we shall live" involves a drastic shift of meaning both from his own earlier image and from the Biblical verse. The conflicting conceptions of the godhead are reconciled here in a verbal pun, in one verbal signifier that signifies two incongruous notions.
"Shadow" has, then, two meanings in Ibn Gabirol's poem, incongruous not only in their referents, but also in their emotional tendencies: in its first meaning, it refers to some state of being that is less pure than the one referred to by "light"; in its other meaning, it serves as protection against (eccessive) light. Accordingly, "light" too has a pure and a harmful meaning in this verse. Metaphysical conceits exploit one after the other various, usually incongruous, potentials of the underlying image. In the next verse, Ibn Gabirol resorts to a talmudic common place; but as an additional meaning potential of the foregoing image, it is unforeseen:
(9) Thou hast the reward which thou hast hoarded and concealed for the righteous, / and saw it was good and hast hidden it.Among other sources for this verse, Dov Yarden quotes the following from Hagiga 12: "The Light which The-Holy-One-blessed-be-He created on the first day [...] he concealed. [...] And for whom did He conceal it? For the future righteous men, for it has been said (Genesis 1.4) And God saw that the light was good, and there is nothing as good as a righteous man, for it has been said (Isaiah 3.10) Tell the righteous that it shall be well2 with them." This is, then, one of the efficient ways prevalent in Metaphysical poetry to yoke together heterogeneous ideas in an arbitrary if not violent manner, resolving them on the verbal level only. This is one of the ways to generate split focus (in our discussion of Section 9 of The Kingly Crown we will see another, less arbitrary way of combining the two conceptions of the Creator).
Divergent style may integrate the perception of discordant elements, generating what some art critics and historians call "soft focus". On the other hand, when the various aspects of language converge along two lines, the focus is split (some art critics and historians call its perceptual quality "sharp focus"), usually generating wit or irony.
The focus of incongruous elements can be integrated, e.g., by subsuming them in a descriptive scheme, such as chronographia or topographia, in a landscape, a coherent situation, a sustained mythical image, a continuous epic or dramatic action. This perceptual phenomenon may be explained by one of two perceptual mechanisms which I have elsewhere expounded at great length, or both. Michael Polányi (1967) discerned the cognitive mechanism that generates tacit knowledge. Such knowldge may be generated when attending away from the proximal term of the tacit knowledge to its distal term, which bestows a meaning upon the whole. In the present instance, the verbal pun is the proximal term, the descriptive scheme -- the distal term. The other cognitive mechanism concerns space perception: the schemata of chronographia or topographia activate cognitive mechanisms that are similar to the orientation mechanism, which organise semantic information as diffusely as possible (cf., e.g., Tsur, 1992: 347-366). On the other hand, focus can be split, to mention only a few possibilities, by a sudden leap from one universe of discourse to another, by "domesticating" a sublime theme, or by the unexpected introduction of a characteristic stable shape into a context of fluid diffuse impressions, of vague, shapeless masses, thing-free qualities.
One important device to split focus, to achieve a quality usually associated with metaphysical wit, is the "domestication" of great themes. According to Alexander Pope, "True wit is Nature to Advantage dress'd". Metaphysical poets normally prefer to treat the sublime themes of poetry in terms of something less sublime, everyday activities, niceties and precision being the antithesis of the sublime -- dress it "to disadvantage". Man-made instruments -- instruments of precision, in particular -- may have such "domesticating" effect, especially when unexpectedly introduced in an elevated or spiritual context. I wish to illustrate split and integrated focus by considering the way Donne and Milton handle the same image, of a compass. Donne, in his "Valediction forbidding Mourning" deals with a problem that "resembles ontological problems", to use James Smith's phrasing: "Our two souls, therefore, which are one". I shall point out only two of his devices that make the poem witty rather than sublime: (l) Donne treats the spiritual reality in terms of an instrument of precision, dwelling on exact details; (2) in order to appreciate all the spiritual implications of the image, the reader must carefully visualise the details of the image.
(10) lf they be two, they are two soMilton uses the compass image very differently (VII. 224-231). He too introduces his instrument in a context of shapeless and sublime masses and abstractions. But unlike Donne (1) he does not "domesticate" the spiritual and the sublime and (2) makes the transition from visual shapes to shapeless entities as smooth as possible (and, certainly, not vice versa). The theme of Donne's poem is the lovers' souls and the compass is a simile, constituting a transfer from the spiritual to the "domestic"; whereas in Milton, the theme is the Supreme Architect with his compasses.
As stiffe twin compasses are two,
Thy soule, the fixt foot, makes no show
To move, but doth if th'other doe.
And though it in the centre sit,
Yet when the other far doth rome,
It leans and hearkens after it,
And growes erect as that comes home.
The compasses occupy a higher place in the hierarchy of Milton's poem than in Donne's. They are no "mere" figure of speech, the vehicle of a domesticating transfer; they are conceived as part of a sustained mythical image, really existent in the context of creation. The shapeless masses are not presented in "warring" opposition to it, but subsumed into it. The shapelessness of Chaos is an extension of the Architect image, who gives shape to everything. Secondly, the description proceeds from the instrument to the sublime and shapeless, and not, as in Donne, from the spiritual and shapeless to the exact and domestic instrument. Thirdly, Milton's instrument is anything but "domesticated". He adapts it, well in advance, to its sublime task, so that the transition should not be too abrupt.
(11) Then stayed the fervid wheels, and in his handIn line 228 attention is focussed on the exact use of a compass (threatening with the domestication of the Sublime Act): "One foot he centered, and the other turned..." But, the design drawn by the golden compasses is not allowed to solidify into a definite circle (as in Donne). The second foot is lost in the vague and infinite and shapeless, or even matterless, so to speak:
He took the golden compasses, prepared
In God's eternal store, to circumscribe
The universe and all created things (VII. 224-227, my italics).
(12) One foot he centered, and the other turned(Notice the diffuse perception of the sound cluster n-t-r-d in centered, turned, round, profundity and f-t in foot and profundity). Unlike the Deep which may denote "sea, Ocean", especially in the Miltonic vocabulary, its synonym, profundity, is a purely abstract noun. Its two epithets, vast and obscure indicate vagueness, indistinctness, lack of understanding, immaterial qualities -- as opposed to the exactitude of compasses and circumscription, which are related with the rational shapes of geometry. From line 232 on, Milton elaborates on the shapeless as the background for Creation. Notice my italics in the following passage, concentrating on shapeless matter and abstract nouns. Most illuminating is the transferred epithet "wat'ry calm"; it substitutes an abstract for a concrete noun "calm waters" -- itself denoting a shapeless substance:
Round through the vast profundity obscure... (VII. 228-229).
(13) Thus God the heav'n created, thus the earth,
Matter unformed and void. Darkness profound
Cover'd th'abyss; but on the wat'ry calm
His brooding wings the Spirit of God outspread,
And vital virtue infused, and vital warmth
Throughout the fluid mass... (VII. 232-237).
As I suggested earlier, both sets of terms, convergent/divergent and split/ integrated refer to overall impressions, to "regional qualities" of poems. This has a particular advantage for our inquiry. No particular element is required to be present for any of these qualities; and not all elements present make towards the same quality (hence the complexity of poems). The absence of no element can refute the over-all impression. There is only one single property that is required for all these qualities, a minimum degree of unity (which is not to be taken for granted in Mediaeval Hebrew poems) in creating a divergent style. On the other hand, every element that occurs will count towards either convergence, or divergence, either split, or integrated focus. Thus, for instance, we have seen that in Milton's epic the iambic line frequently plays a decisive part in its divergence from syntactic units and lexical stress pattern. The Kingly Crown, on the other hand, is written in rhymed prose; so, metre can have no influence on the quality of the poem. This is not necessarily so in all of Ibn Gabirol's poems. The main bulk of his poetry is rhymed and measured (in strict quantitative measure), sometimes with a strongly divergent tendency. But, whereas in Milton's blank verse formal rhyme can have no decisive function, in Ibn Gabirol's rhymed prose it is the main prosodic feature. Here, the end of a prosodic unit cannot be predicted; it is wholly arbitrary where the rhyme will fall, with two restrictions: that the successive members of one rhyme may not be interrupted by members of another rhyme; and that the rhyme word must occur at the end of what may be considered a syntactic unit, whether a clause (in which case balance is tilted in the direction of convergence), or a more or less independent nominal phrase (in which case balance is tilted in the direction of divergence). Another consideration may concern the structure of the syntactic unit. We have seen that in Milton clauses frequently have a strongly divergent impact by heightening their "predictive load". In Section IX of The Kingly Crown clauses are usually short, and their predictive load minimal. Nevertheless, we will observe in this section some very significant syntactic variation, where a nominal style is substituted for a verbal style -- at points that are by no means accidental. As we shall see, these syntactic variations may considerably affect the divergent or convergent character of the passage.
"Existence out of Nothingness" or "Existence
out of Existence"
Both Ibn Gabirol in Section IX of The Kingly Crown and Milton in Book VIl of Paradise Lost give an account of Creation. Both use two not easily compatible sources. Like Milton, Ibn Gabirol sets himself to the poetic task of reconciling the traditional Biblical view with a Neo-Platonic conception. But the solution he offers is rather unlike Milton's. I propose to examine two aspects of this problem, as these two poets handled them. I shall argue that both poets were consistent in their treatment of both aspects: Milton accommodated his sources in divergent, integrated focus; Ibn Gabirol -- by splitting the focus.
One aspect is the question "What was the world created of?" According to the Book of Genesis, God created the world out of Chaos. Abraham Ibn Ezra, the 12th century poet and Bible commentator explains: "Creation means to derive Existence out of Nothingness". The Neo-Platonic view of Creation through the emanation of light is not strictly compatible with this view; it postulates the pre-existence of a purer substance out of which the physical world was derived. In this respect, the relevant passage in Milton is
(14) Boundless the deep, because I am who fillDouglas Bush comments on this passage: "In brief, Milton rejects the orthodox view that God created the universe out of nothing and argues that he created it out of himself: God fills all space, although he has not yet exerted his creative power ("goodness") upon the disordered elements of Chaos (cf. Timaeus 53) and this he now, through the Son, proceeds to do. The Creation is a voluntary act, not necessitated..." This seems to imply that Milton takes the easier way. By rejecting one of the two incompatibles (the Biblical view of Creation), Milton's account becomes consistent.
Infinitude, nor vacuous the space.
Though I uncircumscribed myself retire,
And put not forth my goodness, which is free
To act or not, necessity and chance
Approach not me, and what I will is fate.
(Paradise Lost VII: 168-173)
Nevertheless, the first two lines of the above quotation do sound paradoxical to the poetically sensitive ear. The reason of this can be explained by the difference between logical and poetic discourse. In logical discourse, the negation of a negative is the perfect equivalent of an affirmative. In poetic discourse, conversely, both the negative concept and its negation are perceptual parts of the utterance, Thus, "nor vacuous" is not a perfect equivalent of "I am who fill". It asserts both the possibility of vacuity and its negation (that is, both vacuity and fullness); so, the idea of "fullness" (in "I am who fill") is less complex than the negation of the negative concept. It is characteristic of Milton that he does not leave such ambiguities dubious and casual. He reinforces, as here, both his opposite implications -- usually by some way of repetition. In the present case, the positive implication of "nor vacuous" is reinforced by "I am who fill"; the negative aspects -- by other negative notions, as "lnfinitude" and "boundless the deep". So, while on the logical surface these lines assert an unambiguous positive idea, their poetic deep structure suggests an oxymoron, equating nothingness with allness; or, to put it otherwise, God and vacuous space are presented as one and two at the same time. As it happens, this oxymoron is widespread in Mysticism, as Gershom Scholem assures us:
I shall not go into the difficulties with which the orthodox theologians found themselves whenever they tried to preserve the full meaning of this idea of creation out of nothing. Viewed in its simplest sense, it affirms the creation of the world by God out of something which is neither God Himself nor any kind of existence, but simply the non-existent. The mystics, too, speak of creation out of nothing; in fact, it is one of their favourite formulae. But in their case the orthodoxy of the term conceals a meaning which differs considerably from the original one. This Nothing from which everything has sprung is by no means a mere negation; only to us does it present no attributes because it is beyond reach of intellectual knowledge. [...] In a word, it signifies the Divine itself, in its most impenetrable guise. And, in fact, creation out of nothing means to many mystics just creation out of God. Creation out of nothing thus becomes the symbol of emanation, that is to say, of an idea which in the history of philosophy and theology, stands farthest removed from it (Scholem, 1955: 25).We should approach the language of Milton and Ibn Gabirol as poetic use of language. "'Literature' is well defined as 'discourse with important implicit meaning'" (Beardsley, 1958: 127). The reader has to realise the interplay of the explicit and implicit meanings. Milton achieves a smooth, even surface by what seems to be a "rejection of the orthodox view". In truth, it is integrated soft focus: one extreme of a mystic oxymoron is explicitly stated, but the account receives a more accurate meaning if the reader realises the incongruous implications (as suggested by Scholem). Ibn Gabirol's strategy is diametrically opposed to Milton's. His basic device is the oxymoron. And not only as a last resort where no better solution can be found. As I hope to show below, he stresses the incompatibility of elements even where he could easily avoid it. Thus, the over-all perceptual quality of the passage is a deliberate split focus.
Unlike Milton, Ibn Gabirol makes the surface of his poem, deliberately, rough and illogical. He uses the oxymoron: "And it called upon the void (Nothingness) -- and it was cleft asunder". The verb "cleft asunder" requires some material substance for subject. In other words, the predicate "cleft asunder" is attributed to a subject (Nothingness) which by definition cannot be cleft. This logical inconsistency is sharpened by the fact that the Hebrew verb nibhqa>= can be interpreted as active intransitive as in Numbers 16, 31-32: "The ground under them split asunder; and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up". So the void is implicitly turned into an active agent. This logical contradiction can be settled by referring to the mystic equation of nothingness with infinite matter and the Divine itself (or, in Scholem's words, "Creation out of nothing thus becomes the symbol of emanation"). That is, in both poems the reader has to realise some aspect of the mystic oxymoron, either to create it (in Milton), or to settle it (in Ibn Gabirol). In Ibn Gabirol's work, this conception is reinforced by some verbal associations. Schirmann, who is noted for his "one word -- one meaning" explications, comments on nibhqa>= (cleft asunder): "It seems to refer to the emanation of light", according to Isaiah 58:8, where the same verb is used in "Then shall your light break forth like the dawn". Bernard Lewis, by contrast, obviously opted for the allusion to Numbers. In my conception of the work, two Biblical "allusions" are condensed in one word; the allusion to Numbers generates an oxymoron by splitting Nothingness; the allusion to Isaiah enhances the emanation aspect of a more complex metaphor of Creation. The next clause restates the oxymoron by implicitly equating being with becoming. According to this clause, creation consists in (existing) substance being pitched, thrust or fastened (into its proper place). This wording implies two incompatible conceptions at one and the same time. On the one hand, creation suggests the derivation of existence (the is) from non-existence (the isn't); or, possibly, that fluid substance is being solidified.
It might be pointed out that Ibn Gabirol's philosophical conception of the physical world created by emanation is fundamentally paradoxical.
Sensual reality is, at one and the same time, the last link in a uniform series of emanations, and, the absolute opposite of the suprasensuous world. There is a manifest clash here between the monism of the metaphysical view of the world, and the dualism of its theory of values (Guttmann, 1973: 106).Guttmann thinks that this poses a fundamental problem to Ibn Gabirol's philosophical system; then he adds:
Even apart from this difficulty, the attempt to bridge the gap between material and spiritual existence, and to convert this essential difference into one of degree, never gets further than vague and metaphorical language. In the last resort, Gabirol, too, could not solve this fundamental problem (ibid.).This is precisely what Metaphysical poetry is about. Sypher (1955: 122) speaks of "Donne's false and verbal (perhaps false? perhaps verbal?) resolutions -- his incapacity to commit himself wholly to any one world or view" (122). "The resolution is gained, if at all, only rhetorically, not [through] reason" (123). As I have elsewhere suggested, both seventeenth century English Metaphysical poetry and eleventh century Hebrew Metaphysical poetry apply paradoxical phrasing to a paradoxical mode of existence (Tsur, 1992: 294).
A few verses earlier the oxymoron is most explicitly stated: "To draw out the stream [or continuity, or substance] of existence from nothing". It occurs in a passage preoccupied with the emanation of light. Here, again, the logical contradiction is most obvious. It can be settled in a similar way to the one discussed above. And here, too, the handling of the verbal material adds to the complexity of the expression. Hebrew limshokh means "to draw" in the sense of "to cause to change place in a particular direction, usually in the causing agency's direction"; it may also mean "to pull or pull out or attract or take from". The meaning of the verb includes the idea of continuity. If the change and cause constituents of the verb's meaning are emphasised, the expression may be conceived of as of an orthodox theological statement. At the same time, if the ingredients of continuity and stretching are emphasized too, it can be conceived as of a sensuous representation of emanation. The expression is further complicated by the obscurity of the noun meshekh. Even-Shoshan's Dictionary explains the word as a gerund of limshokh and quotes the present verse from The Kingly Crown. Schirmann draws upon the obscure verse Job 28.18, where this noun occurs, and suggests that it might mean here "matter". If this sense is to be accepted, it cannot cancel the usual meaning of the root, three times repeated here in close succession. Yet it can corroborate the matter-aspect of this process which is presented as a sudden miraculous act and, at the same time, as gradual emanation, from infinitely attenuated matter unfolding as physical reality (very much like Milton's "spun out the air"(Paradise Lost VIl: 241).
The next verse presents a remarkable simile: "As the light being drawn out from the eye". This simile enhances the continuation aspect of the previous image, on a small scale. Schirmann (1961: 262) explains it: "The Greek philosopher Empedocles explained the power of vision on the assumption that the stream of light comes out from man's eye and it is united with the stream that comes towards him from the object, at which it looks". But, he also adds: "The poet attempts to describe the wonder of creation of existence out of nothing". In other words, the simile reinforces the traditional "wonder" of Creation, and also the implications of continuity. It anticipates, as well, the paradox of equating existence with nothing; the "object" which emits these "invisible rays" is the void. From the philosophical point of view, the creation of existence out of nothing requires, then, an all too big essential leap implying, as indicated by Gershom Scholem, great logical difficulties. From the poetic point of view, by contrast, the transition from nothingness to light emanation is more gradual. The most salient property of "nothing" is that it is a thing-free and gestalt-free quality. As such, the transition to the stream of light -- wich, at its source, is infinitesimally thin -- is quite natural; it involves no big leaps, and there is no clear point at which nothingness becomes something. In this respect, the continuous change of place serves as a metaphor for continuous change of essence. This aspect of the simile is emphasised by what I said above about the verb m-ß-kh: contrary to the verb push, for instance, the verb draw (m-ß-kh) focusses attention on the point at which the moving cause is placed, toward which the spatial movement is directed; its starting point may remain vague or indefinite. This vagueness is actualised by the starting point "nothingness". In this way, the reader may experience the intuition (or, a verbal imitation of the intuition) of existence emerging from nothingness.
Personal Creator or Neo-Platonism: Split and Integrated Focus
The other aspect of the "reconciliation" of incompatible sources by the two poets is connected with the conception of God, the Creator. The Bible presents us with a personal God who created man in his own image. The anthropomorphic conception is further emphasized in the New Testament by the idea of incarnation. The Neo-Platonic account of creation by emanation or through the Logos suggests a completely different conception of God. This is not only a theological or philosophical problem. The Neo-Platonic and the Biblical images have contrasting stylistical potentials. The stylistic problem that arises concerns the effective combination of the two. An anthropomorphic God with a personal awareness is not easily converted into a shapeless quality, into a fluid, emanating mass. Such a conversion runs the risk of sudden leaps in transition; or else, it requires deliberate stylistic manipulation to make it more acceptable. According to the kind of manipulation, the work may be seen in integrated soft focus, or in split sharp focus. In the present works, I argue, there is a difference of hierarchical organisation. In Paradise Lost, as we have seen, there is a sustained even surface of definite shapes, into which the fluid masses are subsumed. In The Kingly Crown, as in Donne's poem, the primary objects of description are shapeless qualities; definite shapes are introduced as subsidiary discordant elements.
James C. Smith's (1932) definition of metaphysical poetry has become classical: Metaphysical poetry presents problems which resemble such ontological problems as the One and the Many, or time, space, eternity, while the discordant elements preserve their warring identity. In his edition of Milton, Douglas Bush comments on Paradise Lost, VII 224-550: "Also, unlike many thinkers and poets, [Milton] feels no conflict between the Many and the One; the Many manifests the One". It would not seem far-fetched to suggest that it is the reader who feels no conflict between the Many and the One. It is a matter of stylistic manipulation whether "the Many manifests the One", or they "preserve their warring identity". The ontological paradox of the one and the many, of identifying the Logos with God on the one hand and with life and light on the other is already suggested in the New Testament:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1.1-5).The question is what the poets do with this ontological paradox. Milton violently yokes together some of the most heterogeneous ideas. But he conceals his violence under silken gloves. Take, for instance, the ideas of the Word and the Son. The one is a typically Platonic concept, the other a typically anthropomorphic conception. Theologically, it may be completely legitimate to identify them. Poetically, however, there may arise the problem of so to join them that they do not split the focus. I shall briefly consider three instances where Milton identifies the Word with the Son. He never explicitly states that they are identical. In VII 163 Milton implies their identity by juxtaposing them as two vocative phrases which, at first sight, may or may not address the same addressee:
(15) And thou, my Word, begotten Son...I should make two additional comments on this expression. First, "begotten" is a recurring epithet of "Son", and each of the two words implies what the other denotes. So, the adjective does not carry much information. Still, it has here the function of emphasising the flesh-and-blood identity of the Son, as distinct from the abstract Word. Secondly, the continuation of the utterance can equally apply to both:
(16) by theeThus the reader, though aware of their separateness, feels no acute contrast between the Many and the One.
This I perform; speak thou, and be it done.
In VII 174-175 the two notions appear again together, this time as apposite subjects of the same verb:
(17) So spake th'Almighty, and to what he spakeHere, though still separate notions, the contrast between abstraction and concrete shape is eliminated. The Son idea is turned into an adjective which qualifies an abstract noun; the two yield a periphrasis of the Son: "The Filial Godhead", removed one step further from the concrete shape.
His Word, the Filial Godhead, gave effect.
The next instance of identification is at the height of the sublime act of Creation:
(18) "Silence, ye troubled waves, and thou deep, peace,"Apparently, only the all-creating Logos is mentioned here; and this may be so from the theological point of view. Rhetorically, however, this may be a transferred epithet, as well (so frequent in Milton's epic style), meaning: "Said the Word of the omnific God (or Son)". In this case, Word would be a metonymy for the entire decree. Thus, in the phrase "omnific Word" the disparate notions of Logos and begotten Son are condensed with no explicit contradiction. Thus, we may see, Milton apparently introduces (both in quote 17 and 18) certain constructions merely for the sake of seventeenth century poetic diction, but exploits them, by the same token, for fusing imperceptibly the Neo-Platonic Logos with the personal Son as creators.
Said then th'Omnific Word, "your discord end".
Ibn Gabirol has the task of fusing the conception of a personal, omniscient, and "self-conscious" God, with the image of light emanation. He resorts to the most obvious solutions, some of which were later to serve also the Kabbala Mystics (cf. Scholem, pp. 217-221). What is remarkable in Ibn Gabirol's solution is the powerfully smooth transition from the personal to a "fluid" Godhead on the one hand, and his persistent violation of his own achievement on the other hand.
The transition from a personal God to a shape-free entity is performed, most smoothly, by means of metonymic transfer. One of the attributes of the personal God is Wisdom. And if God cannot be smoothly dissolved as part of a continuous emanation, His Wisdom is certainly a shapeless abstraction. This transfer is significantly enhanced by certain Biblical allusions, mainly to the Book of Proverbs. In Proverbs 8.22 ff.3 Wisdom is presented as created before anything else, being with God throughout the act of Creation. In the Kabbala, Hokhma (Wisdom) is intimately associated with the creative principle of the Godhead (see Scholem, ibid).
In Proverbs 19.14 we find the crucial expression "the teaching of the wise is a fountain of life". Here fountain has, in the first place, the meaning of "origin, the principle of". In Ibn Gabirol's text the expression has all these meanings but, in addition, the visual implications of the image are continuously stressed, immediately, by the predicate "welling forth" applying to "Thy Wisdom" and a few verses later by the threefold occurrence of the root m-ß-kh (draw), and ß->=-bh (draw water) with the noun deli (bucket). Yet, notice the two opening verses of the passage:
(19) Thou art wise -- and Thy Wisdom, the Fountain of Life, from Thee welleth for,The second of these verses contains a literal quotation from Jeremiah 10.14. But the difference between the two contexts is most significant. In Jeremiah the expression occurs immediately after a short description of God's wisdom as revealed in the created Universe, and as opposed to the impotence of the idols. The actual phrase occurs in a verse preoccupied with man's stupidity in ignoring such obvious signs, and in creating the idols: "Every man is stupid and without knowledge; every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols; etc..." In The Kingly Crown the expression refers to transcendental Wisdom, beyond man's understanding, a mysterious creative principle, the source and initiator of emanation, far removed in space and time but, by the same token, existing outside any relation of space and time.
And Thy Wisdom -- every man is too brutish to comprehend it.
The next two verses press on with the elaboration of the thing-free qualities (by way of drawing upon Proverbs 8. 22-31):
(20) Thou art wise and pre-existent to all pre-existence,The very last word, rather unexpectedly, breaks this movement in the abstract sphere, suddenly leaping to the concrete, by personifying Wisdom as a nurseling). In fact, the surface is not completely smooth. The focus split by the sudden leap, is reinforced by the paradoxical implications of "pre-existent to all pre-existence". This method seems to be persistent throughout the present section. Thus, in the following, the poem achieves a powerful Gestalt-free vision:
And Wisdom was with Thee as a nurseling.
(21) To draw out the stream of being from the voidBut the passage ends, again, on a discordant note:
As the light, being drawn from the eye,
And it draweth from the Fountain of Light...
(22) And it draweth from the Fountain of Light without a bucketDan Pagis devotes an important discussion to the type of construction "to do (metaphoric) action without a (concrete) tooI", and calls it "negative metaphor".
And doth all without a tool.
In the sentence "the inhabitant of this world flies without wings and returns to vain", a part of the image itself appears to be negated. When Ibn Ezra describes the pen which "flies without a wing" or wine which is "tempting without a tongue" he adds to these images a rational characteristic, for he points not only to a quality common to the theme and some implicit "simile" (man or pen fly like a bird etc.), but also to the incongruence of the two universes of discourse. Thus he emphasises that the metaphoric words (fly, tempt...) are really metaphorical, and removes the reader from all animistic identification (Pagis, 1970: 73).One could restate this observation in the terminology of the present paper (indicating the possibility of further distinctions), saying that the "rational characteristic" is one possible corollary of the fact that in a convergent style the negative metaphor is an efficient means to reinforce split focus.
Pagis observes that in the secular poetry of Moshe lbn Ezra (who was more fond of this figure than any of his predecessors), "negative metaphor" has the impact of "feigned wonder", "whereas in his Divine poetry (and the secular poems related to it) the negation is founded upon a philosophical conception; God is 'haqiqa', the absolute reality, and negative metaphors are not meant to describe Him, but the impossibility of describing Him [...]. In the Divine poems the negative metaphor is a suggestion of the real wonder rather than of feigned wonder" (ibid., 78).
From the theological point of view, it is a real commonplace that God always acts without instruments. But from the poetic point of view the recourse to this image is remarkable indeed. The metaphor occurs when the image of light emanation is well on its way, after having solved the problem of transition from the traditionally anthropomorphic God to a powerful, gestalt-free vision. The immediate effect of the introduction of an everyday man-made tool with a characteristic shape is far from that of yet another conventional metaphor. It most effectively splits the focus of vision. The sublime is domesticated; the result is witty. And how easily this could have been avoided, had Ibn Gabirol wanted to avoid it. A poet like Milton would have, simply, not added "without a bucket". (In Bernard Lewis' translation, the "shock" is unduly mitigated by using a more generic term, vessel for bucket). Once introduced, the image is exploited for additional functions. When we use a metaphor, we abstract from the image certain qualities relevant to the context, and eliminate the irrelevant ones. In "It draweth from the Fountain of Light", the metaphor eliminates the physical and human factors of drawing water. Paradoxically enough, by adding "without a bucket", the poem reminds the reader of the anthropomorphic conception of God, where it has been painstakingly eliminated. Thus, explicitly, the image reinforces the shapeless conception of God; but by the same token, it associates God with human type of activities and tools. In fact, it is a sophisticated example of the rhetorical device "preterition", which consists of drawing attention to something while pretending not to (far be it from me to draw attention to the fact that...). The order of statements should be noticed too. Had "And doth all without a tool" preceded the bucket image, the sequence would have been less startling. "Doth all" is a superordinate of "draweth water"; and "tool" is more generic a term than "bucket". Interpolation of the more generic terms would have evened the transition, toned down the sharp, abrupt effect.
Convergent vs. Divergent Style in The Kingly Crown
I have said that in this section of The Kingly Crown rhymes fall at the end of syntactic units, a factor counting towards convergence. But even within such a structure there is room for contrasts, for greater or lesser convergence. The first six rhymes fall at the ends of clauses; what is more, this part of the section is predominantly clausal; in the first six rhymed units there are no less than nine predicates. In the passage where shapeless quality is at its amplest, the poem shifts to phrasal structure, yielding emphatic support to it. The proportion of predicates suddenly drops to two for four rhymed units (condensed in the first of them), as follows:
(23) Thou art wise, and from Thy wisdom Thou didst emanate a predestined Will,When the sudden occurrence of "bucket" splits the focus, clausal structure with its finite verbs returns, reinforcing the "convergent" shape:
As an artisan and a craftsman,
To draw out the stream of being from the void
As the light being drawn out from the eye.
(24) It draws from the Fountain of Light without a bucket / and makes all without a tool / and it cut and hewed / and cleansed and purified...So, syntactic structure most emphatically reinforces the peak of the shapeless qualities contrasted with the preceding part, and then with the next part that splits the focus.
Professor Schirmann (1962 I. i.: 184) ends his preface to Ibn Gabirol's poems with the following remark: "...he succeeds in a verbal description of what we could never make felt with the help of cold logic: the creation of the world -- existence out of nothing -- through emanation:
(25) And it called upon Nothingness -- and it split asunder
And upon existence -- and it thrust in,
And upon the world -- and it spread out".
He gives no indication wherein lies the special force of this passage.
It should not be very surprising that at the dramatic peak of the creating decree, Ibn Gabirol -- like Milton -- strongly increases the convergent impact of the passage. And -- also as in Milton -- a thick tissue of divergent elements underlies the convergent command; hence its more than usual impetus and its more than usually vivid "dimension of depth" (though, not as in Milton, the command is given in third person, reported speech). In the first place, one should notice the steep increase of finite verbs as compared with the earlier passages. Most of the following verbs connote violent force:
(26) And it hewed and cut / and-cleansed and purified,From the beginning of the section (in Hebrew) till here, there are only seven finite verbs as against thirty nouns and adjectives (pronouns not counted). In this passage the proportion is reversed: eight finite verbs as against three nouns, no adjectives (pronouns are implicit). Elliptic phrases and clauses (like word-repetitions) are double-edged: they are powerful means to reinforce either convergence or divergence as the context may be. In the present case, they obviously enhance convergence. The three Hebrew verbs are near-homonyms: nivqa<=, nithqa<= and nirqa<=. At the end of the elliptic sentences, they have a strong unifying, convergent, straightforward impact.
And called upon Nothingness -- and it split asunder / and upon existence / and it thrust in / and upon the World -- and it spread out [was hammered out].
Earlier in the present paper, we have seen the oxymora involved in this sequence. One of the means by which the two oxymora become so compelling is that the verbs seem to belong together both phonetically and semantically The second verb denotes "thrust or drive into" (as, e.g., a peg -- cf. Judges 3.21; 4.21). This seems to be connected with the first image. The thing thrust (e.g. peg) is driven into the cleavage; or alternatively, the cleavage might have been caused by the thrust. By a small metonymic transfer, the verb came to mean "to put up a tent" too (as in Genesis 31.25; hence Bernard Lewis' translation), giving rise to divergent complementary meanings.
The third verb of the triad is used in the Bible in the sense of spreading, stretching out the earth by God (Isaiah 42.5; 44.24; Psalms 136.6), and in the sense of hammering out gold (as in Isaiah 40.19; Exodus 39.3; Numbers 17.4). In the first sense, it is noteworthy that Ibn Gabirol attributes this predicate to an abstract subject, world (instead of earth). The second sense of the verb seems to be here of no less importance (enhancing the connotations of violence in "hammering out" on a cosmic scale). Professor Schirmann explicates the beginning of this passage: "And it hewed and cut are expressions taken from The Book of Creation 2.2, and primarily refer to the production of metals; and purified and refined (Mal'akhi 3.3.) primarily refer to gold".
So, "and upon the World -- and it was hammered out" becomes the fifth item in the earlier string of four verbs in the semantic field of metal works.
Subsequently, the description relaxes somewhat this unified vision, creating again "metaphysical" split focus. As in metaphysical poetry, the various implications of the tent-image are further developed one after the other. There are allusions to two dissimilar Biblical passages: Isaiah 40.22: "Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in". This verse indicates the visual impression the skies make. According to Ibn Gabirol's (and Milton's; remember: "Cycle and epicycle, orb in orb") Ptolemaic world picture, the heavenly spheres are arranged one within the other. This aspect is taken care of by allusion to Exodus 96.17, where the Tabernacle is made curtain within curtain.
Let us quote the next passage from The Kingly Crown:
(27) It [the Will] measured the heavens with a span, / and its hand coupled the pavilion of the spheres, / and linked the curtains of all creatures with loops of potency."Loops of potency" takes up another aspect of the Biblical Tabernacle: "And he (Bezalel) made fifty loops on the edge of the outmost curtain of the one set and fifty loops on the edge of the other connecting curtain" (Exodus 36.17). The last clauses complete the process of emanation which welled forth at the beginning of the section from God's Wisdom and reaches at the end "as far as the lowest ebb of creation". So, the image of the tent, introduced by driving in a peg, followed by being set up, spread out like the sky, indicating the visual form of the sky and its arrangement layer within layer, being held together by loops (of potency), reaching down at the Horizon, now completes its task by indicating the hierarchical Great Chain of Being which also reaches down to the lowest creature (by the same token, the process of emanation, also reaches down to the lowest creature).
The figures of speech are such as to split the focus between abstract and concrete. "Measured the heavens with a span" is an unmistakable allusion to Isaiah 40.12. But in the present context the image undergoes two significant changes. First, from an anthropomorphic God, span is transferred to abstract Will. Secondly, should one be inclined to eliminate the concrete flesh-and-blood aspects of span (as proper in metaphoric constructions), the next phrase reinforces precisely those aspects: "and its [the Will's] hands coupled..." How easily one could put it "and it coupled..."!
Tension between abstract and concrete is carried further by "loops of potency". Dan Pagis calls such constructions "genitive of concretion" (op. cit. pp. 64-70). He observes that such genitives, paradoxically, have rather an abstract, rational impact. It seems to me that this construction is what Christine Brooke-Rose called "pure attribution", which consists in an artificial split of one idea into two. It seems to me, again, that the "rational" impact is a perceptual corollary of the split focus. This tension is extended by an elaborate phrase with two abstract nouns "strength" and "creation", which ends with a literal quotation from the description of the Tabernacle: "the edge of the outmost curtain in the coupling".
Split and Integrated Focus: Milton vs. Milton
I have earlier suggested that the two types of style cannot be accounted for in a satisfactory manner merely with reference to the kinds of the material the poets used. We have found that Donne tended to treat the compass-image in a sharp split focus, as against Milton's soft integrated focus. Furthermore, one could profitably compare the strategies Milton himself uses in treating the same images in, say Paradise Lost and the Nativity Ode. In this way, one may make quite significant distinctions between almost "minimal pairs" of images, to which the phrase "other things being equal" can most specifically be applied. This also shows how quite unforeseen, evasively minute differences can fruitfully be handled by our present model, as will be demonstrated in the following.4
There is a wide range of sometimes incompatible definitions of the Baroque. As may be apparent by now, Paradise Lost complies with those definitions of the Baroque in which "divergent" structure and "integrated soft focus" are among the dominant stylistic principles. "Metaphysical", by contrast, applies to a style most conspicuously marked by "sharp split focus". Herbert Grierson included "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity" in his anthology of Metaphysical poets, making, by the same token, an implicit statement about its style. Helen Gardner, on the other hand, excluded this poem from her anthology, supporting her decision as follows: "I differ from Grierson in not including the 'Nativity Ode', a poem too epic in conception and style" (Gardner, 1972: 316). One should not, therefore, be too much surprised to find, e.g., that Milton treated the same images in slightly different manners, manipulating them in ways that in Paradise Lost typically count in the direction of integrated focus, and in the 'Nativity Ode' toward split focus. I shall confine my discussion to comparing one stanza of the Ode to parallels of its imagery in Paradise Lost. One may on first sight recognise no significant differences. Yet, the small "insignificant" differences gain significance by virtue of their contribution either to split or integrated focus. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that the slight differences between the two poems can be placed alongside a spectrum on which the device in Paradise Lost is nearer to the integrated end, whereas in the 'Nativity Ode' it is nearer to the split end.
(28) Such music (as 'tis said)The hanging of the well-balanced world recurs in Paradise Lost:
Before was never made,
But when of old the sons of morning sung,
While the Creator great
His constellations set,
And the well-balanced world on hinges hung,
And cast the dark foundations deep,
And bid the welt'ring waves their oozy channel keep.
(29) [...] then founded, then conglobedHinges and harmonious sound occur together in
Like things to like, the rest to several place
Disparted and between spun out the air,
And earth self-balanced on her center hung. (VII. 239-242).
(30) [...] Heav'n opened wideFirst, let me make some general observations: syntactically, one hypotactic sentence runs through the stanza in quote 28; the reader is required to follow, at the same time, both this complex sentence and a complex stanza form with lines of changing length. In Paradise Lost, on the other hand, the length of blank-verse lines is unchanged through hundreds of verses. The syntactic structure of the verses in quotes 29-30 from Paradise Lost is basically paratactic. This, in itself, can be insignificant. But these two structures can reinforce split and integrated focus, respectively. Hypotactic sentences running through stanzas with lines of changing length form, indeed, a structure much favoured by metaphysical poets like Donne and Herbert; the reader seems to be "compelled" to split his attention between two consistent ways of proceeding.
Her ever-during gates, harmonious sound
On golden hinges moving. (VII. 205-207).
Second, the parenthesis in line 117 of the Ode ("as 'tis said") seems to be a deliberate device for "domesticating" the sublime. The sublime is experienced directly. The verbal imitation of the sublime may involve no "hearsay".
Third, a comparison of some images of the Ode with those of their Biblical source would show how Milton "distorted" the latter in the direction of the concrete and exact, limiting, as it were, their sublime imagination. "He stretches out the north over the void / and hangs the earth upon nothing. / He binds up the waters in his thick clouds [...]" (Job, 26: 78). This description is exquisite for its delicate manipulation of shape-free and diffuse entities covering and supporting, so to speak, the earth. In the Nativity Ode, Milton presents the same elements with an emphasis on fixed shapes and stable positions. Instead of upon nothing, he hangs the earth on hinges, whereas in Job, paradoxically, the solid earth is firmly kept in its place by "airy nothing". Likewise, he "bid the welt'ring waves their oozy channel keep": in the Nativity Ode, the "welt'ring waves" are contained, nay securely canalized, in their solid channels. The sublime has been brought under control. This domestication of the "welt'ring waves" is apparent, not only as compared to "He binds up the waters", resulting in shapeless "thick clouds", but even when compared to "Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place" (Genesis, 1: 9). "Be gathered together into one place" is vaguer than "their oozy channel keep".
In the present stanza of the Ode the first three lines give an account on a consistent level of discourse, of thing-free aural harmonies (with no reference to visual shapes). The rest of the stanza gives an account, also on a fairly consistent level of discourse, of things that have, primarily, a visual appeal and, usually, stable and characteristic visual shapes. The metaphorical possibilities on such consistent levels of discourse are rather restricted. The main effect of the passage comes, indeed, from the drastic shift from the shape-free aural appeal to the predominantly visual shapes which, inevitably, splits the focus.
In VII. 205-207 of Paradise Lost, the changes of level are more flexible. Also, the focus appears to be integrated, because the shifting levels are subsumed under one dominant, coherent image. The utterance begins on what Wimsatt calls "the substantive level": "Heav'n opened wide / Her ever-during gates". In the following, there is tension between two attributes of the opening gates, the less stable, less concretely defined, the one appealing to the sense of hearing ("harmonious sounds") on the one hand and, on the other, the more concrete (as compared to the "substantive level"), viz., the elaborate visual detail ("golden hinges"). Notice that the description might remain still meaningful -- but the focus split -- if the integrating over-all image were omitted:
(31) [...] Heav'n opened wide,The image could be even further domesticated, if "iron" were substituted for "golden.
Harmonious sound on golden hinges moving.
A word must be said about how the diffuse and shapeless entities are united, brought together in an over-all visual image in lines VII. 239-242 of Paradise Lost. The verbs founded and conglobed refer to the act of taking shape and to stability. An important semantic ingredient of conglobed is "globe", one of the most perfect geometrical shapes. But this shape is not contrasted to diffuse matter as if we were dealing with two incompatible states. The verb's semantic ingredients include also the process of becoming, of transition from one state to another. Its object still suggests a multiplicity of entities upon which oneness is imposed: "conglobed / Like things to like". The rest of the lines 240-241 emphasise precisely the diffuseness of substance, even after having shapes imposed upon it.
I would like, further, to point out the difference between "And the well-balanced world on hinges hung", and "And earth self-balanced on her center hung". The former leaves nothing insecure. The world itself is well-balanced, and is hung on stable, solid hinges. (Here, some domesticating tension is derived from the abstract world being hung on concrete hinges). Self-balanced, on the other hand, implies lack of stable outward support. Here, the earth is kept in a state of rest; a state not due to some solid hinges, but to its placement in the center, that is, to invisible forces that counteract each other. This invisible support is enhanced, so to speak, by the underlying substance, the air "spun out" between the solid bodies. Even the word order corroborates the respective qualities of the two utterances: "And the well-balanced world", with the compound adjective preceding the noun, has the straightforwardness, the sense of security of rational discourse, while in "And earth self-balanced", though syntactically legitimate, the adjective following the noun has a quality of less certainty, of hesitating, of afterthought, so to speak. This hesitant quality, coupled with a caesura (which may or may not be observed) precisely after the fifth position, becomes an "icon;, as it were, of the precarious balance of the earth.
The Effect of Genre: Combination and Selection
It may be remarked that the over-all impact of the literary genre may contribute towards one or other type of style in the two works. The unfolding epic scheme of Paradise Lost, with its coherent situations and actions is likely to integrate the focus even where logical contradictions -- as in metaphor and oxymoron -- are conspicuous.
In The Kingly Crown there is an underlying meditative situation. The speaker addressing God, with the basically paradoxical philosophical and theological argument on the one hand, and passionate devotion on the other, may contribute to what Herbert Grierson described as "the strain of passionate paradoxical reasoning" which is, he says, the essence of metaphysical poetry. Roman Jakobson, in some of his writings insisted upon the two structural principles in a great variety of human activities (including linguistic), namely, combination and selection. Construction along the combination axis yields a continuous whole; the selection axis consists in the juxtaposition of parallel (similar or contrasting) entities (see Jakobson, 1956; 1960). The difference between the two works may be profitably expressed in terms of this distinction. Milton's complex structures are subsumed under a continuous mythical image, as well as a continuous epic action. Being continuous, they tend to integrate the focus of the poem in spite of the discordant elements which constitute it. In Polányi's terms, we tend to "attend away" from the incongruous figures to the continuous epic action. The over-all organising principle of The Kingly Crown is that of selecting parallel entities. Each of sections I -- IX consists of a series of passages which begin with the same word or group of words, according to the theme of the section. The first four passages of section IX are analogous in that they begin with the words "Thou art wise", and then elaborate some aspect of His Wisdom. On one level, analogy heightens the sense of unity of a text; on another level, however, it is marked for its discontinuity. Thus, the principle of analogy that organises the section, both heightens its intensity and enhances its split focus.
However, one cannot insist too much on the principle
that both the continuous mythical image and the discontinuous
rhetorical address derive their respective poetic forces
from the fact that they are superimposed upon smaller-scale
elements some of which are discordant, and some --
reconciled on various levels.
1. I have inserted oblique lines in the text, to indicate the end of rhymed units, and occasionally re-arranged the passages, so as to indicate the groups of "verses" rhyming on the same ending. This I have done in accordance with Professor Schirmann's edition of the Hebrew text in his Hebrew Poetry in Spain and Provence, Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv, 1961, Book I. Part I., p. 262-3. My reservations on details of the translation have been indicated in the course of my discussion of the work. [back]
2. Thus the Revised King James Version; the Hebrew text literally translated says "Tell the righteous that [he is] good".[back]
3. It is interesting to notice that Milton too draws precisely on this chapter, as Douglas Bush comments on VII. 225 (where he gives further reference to Dante). [back]
4. This section is reproduced here from Tsur, 1992: 97-100. [back]
Gardner, Helen (1972) "Introduction", in The Metaphysical Poets. Harmondsworth: Penguin. 15-28.
Grierson, Herbert J. C. (1965 ) "Introduction" to Metaphysical Lyrics & Poems of the Seventeenth Century. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. xiii-lviii.
Guttmann, Julius (1973) Philosophies of Judaism. New York: Schocken.
Jakobson, Roman (1956) "Two Aspects of Language and Two Types of Aphasic Disturbances", in Roman Jakobson & Morris Halle, Fundamentals of Language. The Hague: Mouton. 55-82.
Jakobson, Roman (1960) "Closing Statement: Linguistics and Poetics", in Thomas A. Sebeok (ed.), Style in Language. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT. 350-377.
Pagis, Dan (1970) Secular Poetry and Poetic Theory: Moses Ibn Ezra and his Contemporaries. Jerusalem: Bialik Institute (in Hebrew).
Polányi, Michael (1967) The Tacit Dimension. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor.
Schirmann, Jefim (1961) Hebrew Poetry in Spain and in Provence, 4 vols. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv: The Bialik Institute and Dvir (in Hebrew).
Scholem, Gershom G. (1955) Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. New York: Schocken Books.
Smith, James (1934) "Metaphysical Poetry", Scrutiny 2: 222-239.
Solomon Ibn Gabirol (1961) The Kingly Crown, Bernard Lewis (trans.). London.
Sypher, Wylie (1955) Four Stages of Renaissance Style. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor.
Tsur, Reuven (1977) A Perception-Oriented Theory of Metre. Tel Aviv: The Porter Israeli Institute for Poetics and Semiotics.
Tsur, Reuven (1978) "Emotion, Emotional Qualities, and Poetry". Psychocultural Review 2: 165-180.
Tsur, Reuven (1992) Toward a Theory of Cognitive Poetics. Amsterdam: Elsevier (North Holland) Science Publishers.
Tsur, Reuven (1998a) Poetic Rhythm: Structure and Performance -- An Empirical Study in Cognitive Poetics. Bern: Peter Lang.
Tsur, Reuven (1998b) "Light, Fire, Prison: A Cognitive
Analysis of Religious Imagery in Poetry." PSYART:
A Hyperlink Journal for the Psychological Study of
the Arts, article 980715. Available HTTP:
This research was supported by a grant from the ISRAEL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
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