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Rogers, R. (1973). On the Metapsychology of Poetic Language: Modal Ambiguity. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 54:61-74.

(1973). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 54:61-74

On the Metapsychology of Poetic Language: Modal Ambiguity

Robert Rogers

Farewell, sweet phrases, lovely metaphors.

But will ye leave me thus? When ye before

Of stews and brothels only knew the doors,

Then did I wash you with my tears, and more,

Brought you to church well-drest and clad:

My God must have my best, ev'n all I had.


The psychological insights of literary men are rarely phrased in conceptual terms precise enough to warrant calling them scientific hypotheses, though they may possess as much heuristic value. One such insight about the nature of imagination centres on the idea of a mysterious dualism in poetic language. Shakespeare tells us in A Midsummer Night's Dream that the poet has 'seething brains' and 'shaping fantasies' which apprehend 'more than cool reason ever comprehends'—a fantasy-reason dualism. Coleridge calls attention to certain complementary forms of mental activity when he mentions 'the streamy nature of association, which thinking curbs and rudders'. And in a recent address Robert Penn Warren (1971) touches on a similar dichotomy of fantasy and ratiocination. He speaks of the writer's endeavour to create a new language 'that unites the primitive density of meaning and depth of feeling with the civilized man's power of abstraction'. He speaks in the same vein of a 'naked language'—a 'primary language of imagery … a preverbal "language" that reaches back to infancy and the primitive dark'.

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