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John Livingston Lowes – Oh, the Professor still lurks in so many of us…

March 18, 2015

“[T]he imagination never operates in a vacuum. It stuff is always fact of some order, somehow experienced; its product is that fact transmuted. I am not forgetting that facts may swamp imagination, and remain unassimilated and untransformed. And I know, too, that this sometimes happens even with the masters. For some of the greatest poets, partly by virtue of their very greatness, have had, like Faust, two natures struggling within them. They have possessed at once the instincts of the scholar and the instincts of the artist, and it is precisely with regard to facts that these instincts perilously clash. Even Dante and Milton and Goethe sometimes clog their powerful streams with the accumulations of the scholar who shared bed and board with the poet in their mortal frames. ‘The Professor still lurks in your anatomy’ – ‘Dir steckt der Doktor noch im Leib’ – says Mephistopheles to Faust. But when, as in The Ancient Mariner, the stuff that Professors and Doctors are made on has been distilled into quintessential poetry, then the passing miracle of creation has been performed. …

[T]here are those of us who cherish the invincible belief that the glory of poetry will gain, not lose, through a recognition of the fact that the imagination works its wonders through the exercise, in the main, of normal and intelligible powers. To establish that, without blinking the ultimate mystery of genius, is to bring the workings of the shaping spirit in the sphere of art within the circle of the great moulding forces through which, in science and affairs and poetry alike, there emerges from chaotic multiplicity a unified and ordered world.”

(from The Road to Xanadu [1927])

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