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COMUS: THE INGLORIOUS LIKENESS B. RAJAN Comus is a work that seems to invite sophisticated attention, and many erudite gestures have been discerned in what Charles Williams once termed a "philosophical ballet.'" Objections to this tendency have not been lacking. Marjorie Nicholson tells us that after many years of teaching and the overBow of much scholarship Comus remains to her "what it was in my youth-the loveliest of English masks written by a poetphilosopher , whose philosophy was still very youthful and smacked of the schools."2 Robert Adams in a more substantial counter-attack has trenchantly cautioned us against "over-reading" Comus.' This is a warning that raises interesting issues. It would be comforting to know that there is attached to, or ascertainable from each poem, a clear declaration of its density that would enable us to know when it is being over- or underread . Some extremes are obviously to be avoided-a limerick does not demand the same attention as an epic, and the objection that Comus is too "heavy" for a masque is not nonsensical even if it is not valid. The fringe areas of the unacceptable are, however, comparatively small and in between there can be more than One view of that blessed source of confusion that is reverentially called the words on the page. vVanton ingenuity is to be spurned but perhaps the most we can do to define the wanton is to say that those interpretations are to be preferred in which the resources of the form and the details of deployment contribute to a whole, or at least do not detract from it and in which local life is most often interpreted so as to open into a larger totality. Artistic coherence seems to be our safest criterion and the deeper, wider and more inclusive the coherence, the more justified is the reading of which it is the result. A reading that leads to maximum coherence should not be objected to as "too clever" unless something in the poem prohibits such cleverness. The suggestion that only the poem itself can advise us how to read it will always be received with trepidation. It would be much more reassuring to argue that the poem should be read as the author directs, that is, when he is considerate enough to give us directions. Unfortunately the author, once he has put the poem into print, does not own it any more than the reader. He may have known most of what he was doing when Vol1,me XXXVIT, Number 2, Jam,ary. 1968 114 B. RAJAN he WIote the poem but there are some things he will have done unknowingly altbough he wanted to do them. He may have discovered what he wanted to do or modified it in the act of writing; and he may even have discovered what he did not want and none tbe less could not refrain from dOing. The last possibility is familiar to readers of Milton criticism and all tbese sometimes threatening possibilities require to be entertained . The intention of an autbor is of importance but to accept it unconditionally is to confuse the intention and the achievement. When this has been said it is safe to point out that Milton left at least two indications of how we might read Camus. The well-known lines from 11 Penserosa Of Forests, and inchanunents drear, Where more is meant than meets the ear,4 are usually glossed as referring to Spenser and Ariosto' but look forward even more strongly to the dark wood of Camus and the spell that binds the lady. To make the anticipation even clearer tbere is the line "List mortals if your ears be tru,:," in the Epilogue of Camus, the importance of which is emphasised by its insertion in the Trinity manuscript.' Both passages suggest a way of reading Camus which is not quite the way recommended by Professor Adams. Perhaps what tbey tell us is illuminated by an appeal made in not dissimilar language, by a very different poet, W. B. Yeats: Nor may I less be counted one With Davis7 Mangan, Ferguson, Because, to him who ponders well My rhymes more than their rhyming...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 113-135
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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