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This article is taken from PN Review 208, Volume 39 Number 2, November - December 2012.

Story and Fable: Reflections on Edwin Muir Clive Wilmer
Edwin Muir was one of those writers for whom there are two worlds. The original title of his autobiography, The Story and the Fable (1940), was an attempt to characterise them. The 'story' is the life we are conscious of living from day to day, the rectilinear narrative of our journey from birth to death. As my language suggests, story is subject to the rule of time. The 'fable', by contrast, is outside time, though time in a limited sense is a feature of it. For Muir, as for Traherne and Wordsworth, we live the fable as small children and 'fall' into the story as we become conscious of our distinct identities. But the fable remains part of us. It is present to us as memory, which liberates story from its enslavement to time. It haunts us in dreams, in those waking moments that Joyce called 'epiphanies' and Wordsworth 'spots of time', in the most intense of our emotions and in the illuminations of reading. When events from our story are replicated in words, they may begin to acquire meaning, and meaning, like memory, turns story into fable. In the 1950s, right at the end of his life, Muir began a poem he never finished, which stands as the final entry in his posthumous Collected Poems. These are the last lines of it:

And now that time grows shorter, I perceive
That Plato's is the truest poetry,
And that these shadows
Are cast by the ...


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