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This article is taken from PN Review 26, Volume 8 Number 6, July - August 1982.

Towards a Byzantine Poetic H. L. Weatherby
Since Wordsworth said 'we murder to dissect', poets and critics have been struggling with the conflict between science and the imagination. So far the struggle has availed little. 'Cold philosophy' goes on clipping angels' wings, unweaving the rainbow, conquering 'all mysteries by rule and line'. Nature, in I. A. Richards's well-known phrase, remains 'neutralized'. Nor is the problem purely epistemological. To Wordsworth and Keats the meddling intellect seemed to be the principal enemy of poetry, but one may well regard their view as premature and partial. At least the diagnoses of Victorian and modern theorists place the blame not just on reason but upon the secularization of Western thought after the Renaissance, of which the positivist or de-mythologizing role of reason is only one symptom. In fact many modern writers regard the Romantics' counter-appeal to imagination as an equally dismaying indication of the same phenomenon of secularization.

In any event, the Romantic solution did not work; it did not succeed in reweaving Keats's rainbow, because nobody ever quite believed that the imagination was as reliable an epistemological faculty as the reason. Say what one pleases about the 'higher truth' of imaginative perceptions, when it comes down to a dispute between that truth and what science presents as fact it is very hard to embrace the former at the expense of the latter. Perhaps the temporary rapture is poetically possible, but like Keats we always end 'forlorn'-'fled is that music'. Perhaps we can persuade ourselves for the duration ...

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