Spenser's is, undoubtedly, an allegoric night. Nevertheless,
it is not pure allegory, in the sense that--as Legouis
and Cazamian and others have suggested--one may well
enjoy the poem even when missing most of the allegory,
if one feeds the senses of his mind on the rich, sensuous
descriptions. Therefore, when comparing this description
to Baudelaire's poem, the factor of other things being
equal is far more striking than one might expect. Indeed,
some things are almost identical, and the differences--though
unmistakable--are almost hopelessly evasive.
Spenser's stanza is informed by an atmosphere generated
by the co-occurrence of nouns such as Night, darkness
and adjectives as chearlesse , sad. Similarly, in Baudelaire's
sonnet we find Douleur, Soir, Nuit, obscure. Furthermore,
for Spenser's shroud we find linceul in Baudelaire's
sonnet. In one poem people are "dismayd with darkness",
"In silence and in sleepe themselves did shroud";
in the other one darkness brings to some "la paix",
and to some "le souci". Characteristically,
in one poem we find the verb ycovered, in the other
enveloppe, both having an abstract noun for subject.
It is undeniable that Spenser's poem induces some atmosphere,
quite dispensable in an allegory; whereas in Baudelaire's
prevailingly symbolist-impressionist sonnet there is
an allegoric machinery, more elaborate than in Spenser's
present stanza. There is a long series of abstract
nouns capitalized (and all but l'Orient personified):
Douleur, Soir, Plaisir, les défuntes Années,
le Regret souriant, la douce Nuit qui marche; and a
concrete noun capitalized and personified: le Soleil
moribond. In addition, there is in the sonnet a long
series of nouns, most of them abstract, some of them
collective nouns, or denoting some substance that lacks
characteristic visual shape, such as atmosphère,
la ville, la paix, le souci, des mortels la multitudes
vile, des remords, la fête, du ciel, du fond
The issue at stake is that of the whole that determines
the character of its parts. In the passage from The
Fairie Qvene the abstractions tend toward a compact,
conceptual character under which a mood is subsumed,
whereas in "Recueillement" it is the diffuse
mood, the atmosphere, that is dominant, and the allegorical
figures interplay and join forces to induce it. According
to our foregoing assumptions, the reader is supposed
directly to perceive this difference. After the event,
however, he is entitled to get a reasoned account of
the source of this difference. What reasons can be
brought, then, in favour of the respective qualities
perceived in the two poems? No doubt, some of our different
impressions are due to our different expectations:
if we know that we are going to read Spenser, or Baudelaire,
we may be inclined to perceive an allegoric-conceptual
character, or a symbolic-perceptual character in their
But even after making these allowances, some people
feel there is an unmistakable--if evasive--difference between
the two poems. We feel that in Baudelaire some concepts
have been attenuated to their utmost, fused into each
other, generating an extremely dense, thing-free and
concept-free atmosphere inducing a feeling of having
perceived an infinitely subtle sense-perception. Whereas
in Spenser, the concepts as well as the percepts are
This difference may be accounted for in terms of the
distinctions propounded above. First, Baudelaire activates
the mechanisms of spatial orientation in an immediate
situation defined here-and-now, by using a great number
of vigorous deictic devices; this, as we have seen,
may have a decisive effect on processing information
in a more diffuse (that is, more emotional) manner.
The vocative phrases in lines 1, 8 and 14 (ô
ma Douleur, ma Douleur, and ma chère), and the
imperatives in lines 1, 8, 9 and 14 (Sois sage, tiens-toi,
donnes-moi, viens, vois, entends) are effective deictic
devices implicit in words and phrases that carry additional
information, and create an "immediate",
"vivid" situation; their effect is enhanced
by a few explicit deictic devices, such as le voici
(line 2), and viens par ici / Loin d'eux (lines 8-9).
One possible source of the intense feeling perceived
is the tension between the cumulation of abstractions
and the concrete situation defined by deictic devices
Spenser, on the contrary, employs all available devices
to shift the situation to a general rather than a specific
scene. The cloud that covers heaven is an "Universal
cloud"; and the situation is defined with reference
to time not by deixis but a temporal clause (introduced
Second, Spenser uses such all-inclusive "universals
and absolutes" as "universal cloud"
and "every wight", suggesting "a sense
of control, security and authority", and thus
reinforces the conceptual character of his description.
Baudelaire, on the contrary, makes fine distinctions
within his population: "Aux uns portant la paix,
aux autres le souci", reinforcing the psychological
atmosphere of uncertainty in the poem.
Third, Spenser uses his adjectives as epithets, that
is, they represent cheerlessness as a permanent, characteristic
and basic feature of Night, sadness of darkness and
fairness of heaven. Moreover, Night, darkness and heaven
are conceived of as of strikingly representative exemplars
of cheerlessness, sadness and fairness respectively.
The permanent, basic and exemplary nature of the qualities
designated becomes clear from the observation that
"poeticity disappears when the adjective is modified
or qualified or enters into a predicative relationship--in
short, when it ceases to be an epithet" (Riffaterre,
1978: 28), in constructions as "very sad darkness",
or "darkness is sad", "Night is cheerless",
etc. The point is that darkness is sad evidently and
absolutely (that is, in an unqualified manner); sadness
is inherent in, hence need not be attributed to, darkness.
In other words, the adjectives in chearlesse Night
and darkness sad are non-restrictive: they denote an
attribute inherent in the noun, and do not distinguish
between sad darkness and, say, cheerful or comforting
darkness. In the light of the foregoing discussions,
one may suggest that a restrictive adjective particularizes
the noun, whereas a non-restrictive adjective keeps
it on a general level.
These suggestions are corroborated, from a different angle, and in a wider perspective, by C. S. Lewis' classical study (1936: 313):
Like the writers of the New Testament [...] he is endlessly preoccupied with such ultimate antitheses as Light and Darkness of Life and Death. It has not often been noticed [...] that night is hardly even mentioned by Spenser without aversion. His story leads him to describe innumerable nightfalls, and his feeling about them is always the same.
Baudelaire's darkness differs from Spenser's not only
in the poet's gentle feeling towards it: it is an accidental--local
rather than universal--"atmosphère obscure"
that envelops the city; and obscure is a restrictive
adjective of atmosphère. In other words, obscurity
is not an inherent, permanent quality of the atmosphere
that envelops the city; indeed, lighting is typically
changing from moment to moment.
Now it is illuminating to see, what happens to the adjectives
faire and obscure, which in one of their main senses
are exact antonyms, and as such ought to behave in
a similar manner. Both adjectives have several meanings
relevant to their contexts, but whereas the meanings
of Spenser's epithet yield a complex of compact, conceptual
entities perceived in sharp focus, the meanings of
Baudelaire's restrictive adjective yield a diffuse,
perceptual entity, perceived in a soft focus. The plurisignation
of Fair seems to be essential here for Spenser's allegorical
method. It denotes (a) free from bias, dishonesty or
injustice; (b) bright; (c) beautiful. Its first meaning
corroborates the allegoric contrast between the moral
qualities intimated by the canto. The second meaning
enables to state the sharp contrast between brightness
and darkness. Whereas the third meaning reinforces
in an allegoric manner the first two. Both words that
constitute the phrase atmosphère obscure are
ambiguous. Atmosphère may either mean "air"
which, we all know, envelops the city; or, a quality
that produces a mood or impression. Similarly, in connection
with the first sense of atmosphère, obscure
means "dusk, evening twilight" (contributing
to the specific, immediate situation); in connection
with the second sense it may mean something like mysterious,
giving the mood or impression its peculiar emotional
"colouring". In accordance with the central
claim of the present paper, une atmosphère obscure
denotes a visible but intangible substance--a perceptible
feeling, so to speak, particularizing and informing
the scenery of the sonnet. This difference may be regarded
as a consequence of the restrictive ~ non-restrictive
opposition of these adjectives.
C. S. Lewis' passage is relevant in an additional respect:
Spenser "is endlessly preoccupied with such ultimate
antitheses as Light and Darkness of Life and Death".
I have suggested above that clear-cut contrasts will
tend to assume some logical organization, with a psychological
atmosphere of certainty and patent purpose, whereas
finer distinctions, by amassing overwhelming information,
may produce a threat of chaos. Such chaos is more readily
controlled when processed in relation to the "integration
of diffuse input, such as orienting oneself is space",
resulting in some vague, elusive, emotionally loaded
atmosphere perceived in a concrete landscape.
In excerpt (12) we have the indication of such "ultimate antitheses" in the sensory domains, in the opposition between "faire heaven" and "universal cloud", and between "silence and sleepe" and "she heard a shrilling Trompet sound aloud". In the emotional domain, chearlesse and sad are synonymous; however, in the former adjective (but not in the latter) the emotional colour is obtained by negating its opposite (chear); so it implies a sharp opposition. How different are Baudelaire's nuances! He does not contrast light with darkness, but Soir (line 2) with Nuit (line 14). The contrast between silence and sound is strikingly subtle. Only the last line of this sonnet appeals to the auditory sense. The perception of the marching Night's paths suggests either some infinitely subtle, supersensuous sound, or, by way of hyperbola, an all-pervasive silence, in which one may hear even the marching of the night. If in Spenser's poem silence and sleep are to be distinguished from
the first line of "Recueillement" implies
a distinction between "tranquille" and "plus
We have seen is Spenser the epithets chearlesse and
sad attributed, almost a priori, to Night and darknesse.
They have emphasized, unambiguously, some conventional,
spiritual aspects of the nouns. Chearlesse and sad
denote some unambiguously undesirable qualities. But
what about Douleur in 13? Although the word itself
denotes some undesirable quality; while nowhere does
the sonnet state that it is desirable, the speaker
invokes it in a tone of intimacy and affection. Consider
"O ma Douleur" and "Ma Douleur, donnes-moi
la main". The passionate tone indicated by the
interjection O becomes affectionate, by virtue of "give
me your hand"--a gesture intended to bestow a feeling
of assurance upon a child (cf. "sois sage"
in line 1, implying a tone of comforting a child).
Now, is darkness in 13 as undesirable as in The Fairie
Qvene, or, on the contrary, does it bring relief as,
say, in Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner"? Darkness
has been explicitly desired by "Douleur";
but is douleur itself desirable? This ambiguous character
has not been resolved, but rather reinforced, by the
fact that Night falls "Aux uns portant la paix,
aux autres le souci".
Or, consider the subtleness of a phrase like "le
Regret souriant". In an allegory we might expect
Regret to assume almost any expression but smiling;
its face would express sorrow, or gravity, but not
a smile. The present sonnet has acquired some mood
that avoids any extremities. Of Regret one may conceive
as more moderate than sorrow, of "souriant"
as more moderate than "laughing". The paradoxical
combination need not be perceived as paradoxical at
all, but as a subtle (or even gentle) feeling, in which
there is an emphasis on the common bearing of both
of its elements on some process of spiritual cleansing
and refreshing. Or again, if at the beginning of the
sonnet we have found some affinity between Douleur
and the dusk of evening, the arrival of night should
suggest some extreme grief or distress. This is reinforced
by death-imagery, such as défuntes, moribond,
linceul. In this sense, the last line is a culmination
of a death-process, as I have elsewhere argued at length
(Tsur, 1973). On the other hand, Night is called here
la douce Nuit, and qui marche echoes in its consonants
ma chère. This last line is, then, really ambivalent,
accomplishing the process of death and bringing relief,
suggesting the beginning of a process of "rebirth".
In the passage from The Fairie Qvene the relationship
between Night and chearlesse, darkness and sad is
made unambiguous, by means of their grammatical connection.
In "Recueillement", on the other hand, Sorrow
is not attributed to Evening. It has been personified,
and had called for the evening. The reader is left
in uncertainty whether Sorrow and Evening are disconnected
entities, or are to be treated as metonymically related.
If they explain and qualify each other, one may assume
that "ma Douleur" has called precisely for
the evening, because "she" resembles it in
some sense; it is a "twilight" mood, a nuance,
in between identifiable extremes; ma Douleur stresses
the emotional quality of the evening atmosphere, whereas
the dusk presents Sorrow as gloomy, dusky, unlike dark
Il descend, as attributed to Soir, may mean one of two things. In an allegoric context, it might refer to some personification of the evening, descending from Heaven (like some angel). In an impressionist poem like this, the evening descending from nowhere is diffuse, spread all over the visible space and beyond, and enhances the thing-free quality presented by une atmosphère obscure. This all-pervasive quality, substantial and insubstantial at once, is reinforced by "Et, comme un long linceul traînant à l'Orient". There seems to be some dark substance spreading toward the East; it is evenly spread like some solid stuff, yet intangible. It seems to be "long": its end seems to be lost beyond the horizon.
The syntactic structures of the two passages, too, contribute to the perceived difference between one clear, over-all opposition in excerpt 12, and a multidirectional set of oppositions based on minute distinctions in excerpt 13. Spenser's stanza, the first in its canto, begins with a connective heralding a hypotaxis: "Tho when as ..." indicates that the following description is to be conceived as opposed to something else. This expectation is amply fulfilled in "She heard ..." etc. A similar construction we have in 13, "Pendant que ...". But whereas Spenser's complex sentence presents two opposites, Silence and shrill of Trompets, against each other, in Baudelaire's sonnet the syntactic structure has been exploited to an even more complex effect. "Pendant que" introducing the hypotactic sentence appears at the beginning of quatrain 2. "While the vile multitude of mortals is doing one thing, let's separate us from them, and do something that opposes their action". But one of the main effects of this hypotactic sentence is a contrast with the parataxis in the former quatrain. One of the effects of the parataxis in the firs quatrain and parts of the sestet is to carry and articulate the parallel events that constitute the process (emphasizing this leisure by contrast to the second quatrain), whereas when reading Spenser's stanza, one must look forward to the clear, unambiguous opposite.
To Sum Up
The last section of the present paper focuses the foregoing discussions on an inquiry into the relationship between an "extreme" kind of symbol and "good old allegory of our fathers". We have found some evidence that traditional critical terminology such as "personification", "extended comparison", "the first and second term (or tenor and vehicle) of the metaphor" may, at best, point at the similarity of the two figures, but can do little justice to the intuitively felt immense difference between e.g. Spenser and Baudelaire. The theoretical frame of reference and critical apparatus expounded in the present paper seem to be appropriate to handle this difference. It has been assumed here that the critic must rely on the aesthetic qualities of the poems directly perceived and reported by a variety of readers. In case of disagreement, one may attempt to account for conflicting intuitions in terms of differences in the relative weight assigned to the various variables that determine the effect of the whole. In some extreme cases one may find evidence in the critic's arguments of an intolerance of the aesthetic qualities typically perceived in the poem and detect cognitive strategies to eliminate them from awareness. Further, one may assume that in such cases as excerpts 12 and 13 the same kind of information is processed in two different ways, and categorized in a way that is nearer to the conceptual or to the perceptual pole, respectively. In the case of allegory, information is perceived as typically conceptual and compact; in the case of 19th Century Symbolism--as perceptual and diffuse. We have also identified a few variables in the text that influence the intuitive decision of the readers, whether to categorize information as compact or diffuse entities. This influence of linguistic and thematic devices on the organization of the perceived effects can be explained only via the putative cognitive mechanisms activated by them. Most notable among them is the correlation between emphatic deictic devices and specific landscape descriptions on the one hand, and the diffuse, undifferentiated vision induced by abstract nouns. Because there appears to be little structural resemblance between these devices and that kind of vision, here we must go outside the domain of literary criticism or linguistic description, or even cognitive theory proper, to the different modes of functioning of the two hemispheres of the human brain. Only an understanding of the linear nature of the activities of the language-hemisphere, and the global and diffuse nature of the activities usually associated with the other hemisphere can account for the relationship between spatial orientation and the undifferentiated vision aroused by abstract nouns. But this should be noted: this conception is a far-cry from what Fodor (1979: 18) has called "Psychological Reductionism", that is, "the doctrine that every psychological natural kind is, or is coextensive with, a neurological natural kind". The doctrine expounded here, on the contrary, attempts to account for the correlation between certain linguistic and thematic devices and certain perceived aesthetic qualities consistently reported by various readers, by focussing on the point of intersection of two apparently unrelated kinds of brain-processes (i.e., emotions and spatial orientation). As a result, the perceived qualities of poetic passages like excerpts 12 and 13 became susceptible to meaningful public debate. The theory expounded here offers distinctions the applicability of which in specific instances can be publicly verified on the one hand, and which, on the other hand, help to identify elements that typically count toward one or the other aesthetic quality. The reasons brought to support the conceptual allegoric nature of the abstractions in Spenser's poem and the perceptual-symbolic nature of Baudelaire's sonnet have been found to be in perfect harmony with the reasons brought to support judgments that Time (or one of its hyponyms) is perceived as a compact concept or a diffuse percept.
Abstract nouns, then--like so many elements of style--are of a "double-edged" nature. In various contexts they give rise to different--sometimes contradictory--qualities. "While high abstractions may be a primitive process when accomplished in the absence of differentiation, they may be an advanced process after differentiation" (Brown, 1968: 286). Accordingly, abstract nouns may denote highly differentiated concepts, or contribute to some undifferentiated poetic atmosphere or "mystic" insight. This, of course, does not imply that a poem like Baudelaire's "Recueillement" or Wordsworth's "It is a beauteous evening" reflect "primitive processes"; only that the processes of differentiation have been accomplished on various, and usually other than conceptual, levels. If concrete means various qualities "grown together" in a perceptual object, one should not be very surprised that poetic atmosphere, or poetic insight--the sudden grasping of some undifferentiated quality--presupposes a certain amount of thing-free qualities, some loosening, so to speak, of the qualities which are grown together in a concrete object.
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