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POETIC WAVE AND POETIC PARTICLE WILLIAM BLISSETT L ITERARY criticism has long borrowed its terms from other fields of inquiry: however sure its practitioners have been of their particular judgments, they have in more general matters usually been more sure of something else-of the truths of theology or of the sciences and social sciences. This is now most apparent when political and psychological vocabulary and values are applied in literary judgment , when works of literature are approached, explained, and alI too often dismissed in terms of psychoanalysis of their author or a calculation of their probable impact on society. But even when an attempt is made to see the object as in itself it really is, the critics of poetry have employed as if unnoticed terms, concepts, images belonging to a most unlikely science, physics. Unlikely-until we reflect on the prestige of the physical sciences in the modern world. For a poem is in some sense a "thing," and it is only to be expected that anyone trying to say what a poem is should be influenced by his assumptions about what "things" are. And in our age of analysis such a question entails saying what they are made of. Even a class of students fresh from reading Huckleberry Finn, in which the Father of Waters is one of the chief characters, if asked what water really is, will chorus "H20." If such a fate can befall so tangible, so symbolically rich a substance as water, the neutral word "thing" will be reduced to atoms even sooner. Reduced to atoms. But is it quite as simple as that? The crisis 6f physics, in so far as it can be conveyed in non-technical language and grasped by the layman, arose out of a widening dichotomy between Newtonian corpuscular physics on the one hand, in which everything from the universe as a whole down to the single atom of matter or corpuscle of light was conceived as body in space, and the wave mechanics associated with Huygens and Clerk Maxwell, whereby body in space dissolved into energy in continuum, particle into wave. The two theories are not rivals in the sense that one is true, the other false, or in the sense that one can be reduced to the other. Rather, if we wish to speak of position, we must use the language of particles, if of velocity, that of waves. Fortunately, the analogy we are to uncover requires on its physical side only statement, not explanation. If the ultimate units of matter and energy are the atom and the wave, what is the unit of that other "thing," poetry? The individual ink-mark on paper will not do, and neither will the single sound in 1 Vol. XXIV, no. 1, Oct., 1954 2 UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY the throat: nor, I think we must agree, will it solve anything to say that the whole poem makes a totality which is indivisible: that is simply paralysingly true, like saying that the universe is one. To get an answer analogous to "atoms" and "waves," we must find poems to be bodies made up of smaller unitary bodies; we must find them to be centres of force, wave-processes. These very answers present themselves now as they have in the past: "images," "lines." An image involves two or more things in a sort of "space": the two things compared and the fact of their not being identical. Thus a metaphor (to take the standard, typical image) may be said to have position. Some metaphors are complex and in a sense "dynamic"; these are like a solar system or a complex molecule but are still corpuscular. Many, perhaps most words are metaphorical in origin and nature, but in spite of Mallarme's dictum that poems are not written in ideas but in words, the metaphor is the better unit than the word, just as the atom is still in spite of fission the better unit of matter than any of its component parts because it can still be talked about as having position, being tangible. A line is on its way somewhere at a certain rate: the eye or tongue must travel...


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