Daily Archives: March 16, 2010

Denham Library Update


I would like to let our readers know about the work going on behind the  scenes to improve and expand the Denham Library.

As some of you already know, the initial attempt to publish the text documents in the  library was plagued by formatting problems.  We are very fortunate that Jonathan Cox has offered us his time and considerable energy, and has been working hard,  along with me, to fix the formatting problems in the existing files and to ensure that new documents are in good condition before they are published. Bob Denham himself has gone through most of the existing files and enumerated the formatting issues making our task much easier.  Many of the problems have been fixed, but there is still much to do.

As Michael has reported, we recently published many images of Frye, and in the pipes are not only more documents, but books, Frye newsletters, and audio and video recordings.

Jonathan and I have been talking about the best way to ensure that this  material, along with all the content of the blog, is preserved for the ages.  I am in discussions with McMaster Library about the possibility of their hosting a file and web server that will have a three-fold purpose:

  1. To make file sharing easier among blog administrators,
  2. To make publishing files to the web easier,
  3. And to act as a permanent archive.

We are extremely fortunate to have access to all of this Frye-related material,  thanks largely to the extraordinary efforts of Bob Denham, and so we are taking seriously the pleasant and satisfying responsibility of ensuring that  it survives and remains publicly available long into the future.

Emily Dickinson and the Furnace Archetype


Frye liked to say that he intended his work to be treated as a source of isolated insights that might help others, even if one felt reluctant to swallow the rest whole. He was thinking of something as simple as assisting a reader or scholar in the business of practical criticism.

I just had the experience of that usefulness as I was working today on a reading of a poem by Emily Dickinson for today’s class. The poem is the famous “Dare you see a Soul at the White Heat?”

Dare you see a Soul at the White Heat?
Then crouch within the door—
Red—is the Fire’s common tint—
But when the vivid Ore
Has vanquished Flame’s conditions,
It quivers from the Forge
Without a color, but the light
Of unanointed Blaze.
Least Village has its Blacksmith
Whose Anvil’s even ring
Stands symbol for the finer Forge
That soundless tugs—within—
Refining these impatient Ores
With Hammer, and with Blaze
Until the Designated Light
Repudiate the Forge—

And here is the illuminating passage from Frye’s Words with Power:

The smith often represents a destructive force, as apparently in Zechariah 1:20. In this verse the AV reads “carpenters”: in Biblical Hebrew it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the worker in wood from the worker in metal except by the context. But just as there can be benevolent carpenters, like the New Testament Joseph and traditionally Jesus himself, so there can be creative smiths, like the forger of the new Jerusalem in Isaiah 54:16. This smith, who creates a new city glowing with gems and gold, represents perhaps the closest Biblical parallel to the symbolism of alchemy, and is the Biblical basis for Blake’s conception of his culture-hero, the blacksmith Los working with his furnaces.

The image of the furnace may be used for either the negative or positive aspects of the lower world. The negative or demonic world is the traditional hell which is a furnace of heat without light. The positive one is purgatorial, a crucible from which the redeemed emerge purified like metal in a smelting operation. Thus the Egypt from which Israel has been delivered is spoken of several times as a “furnace of iron,” and the purity of the spiritual body is sometimes symbolized by metal (Revelation 1:15). Images of refinement and purification in a furnace recur in connection with language (Psalm 12:6) as well as in the afflictions of life (Proverbs 17:3; Isaiah 48:10). The best known of these purgatorial furnaces is the one constructed by Nebuchadnezzar for his attempted martyrdom of the three faithful Jews in the Book of Daniel. Their song in the Apocrypha is a highly concentrated praise to God for the beauty and glory of the original creation, which their purification in the furnace has evidently enabled them to see. Obviously, in this extension of furnace symbolism, we have modulated from the technological to the purgatorial, and the furnace has become the human body.

Dickinson was often focused on that moment called the transitus–the transition from this world to immortality or eternity–which she treated with awe. She  came to conceive of her life of passionate longing and loss as a crucible, which is also how she thought of her poetry: as a purgatorial process, a refining of the “impatient ores” of her intense emotional life into artistic form. Hence her persistent emphasis on the moment of transit when “the Designated Light/Repudiate the Forge.” She often thought of this process in Blakean terms: of preparing her ultimate“face” or “form” in the mirror of the human form divine.

Frye’s essay on Dickinson and his seminal essay “Charms and Riddles” are replete with startlingly useful insight about the literary conventions used by Dickinson, but this particular instance illustrates the way in which Frye’s “ear” for archetypes–in this case the biblical furnace archetype that is the focus of last chapter of Words with Power–is enormously helpful in unpacking the richest implications of the  imagery of a poem, implications that might otherwise elude us. Dickinson’s poem takes a simple New England blacksmith’s forge, which even the “least village” has, and makes it the most apposite analogy for the purgatory–as the poet conceived it–of human life and the perfecting of the human soul through poetry and art, awakening, if we have the ear for it, all the echoes and reverberations–in the Bible, in Dante, in Blake and Yeats’s Byzantium–that the conventions of a particular archetype, as Frye puts it in The Secular Scripture, “set up within our literary experience, like a shell that contains the sound of the sea.”

“It’s Algonquin for ‘the good land'”


On this date in 1948, Alice Cooper was born.  Above is his classic meeting with Wayne and Garth in Wayne’s World.

For middle aged men like me who still remember defiantly adopting “I’m Eighteen” as an anthem at the age of 14, there’s a vintage 1971 live performance for you after the jump.

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Religious Knowledge, Lecture 19


Le Hire, Job Restored, 1648

Lecture 19. February 24, 1948


There are concentric spheres in the Book of Job. The inner sphere is a morality play with virtue and vice in argument with friends. From the deadlock of the argument to the end of Elihu’s speech is another sphere. The still-wider concentric sphere is that of a divine comedy—God watching Job and then restores him.  There are ironic overtones to the “tragic” story.

The same concentric pattern is in the life of Jesus.  The active Jesus, the teacher and healer, is the kernel of the story.  His tragedy is another sphere.  Then comes the divine comedy of redemption.  King Lear is a morality play at heart with the good people against the bad.  Outside that is tragedy which is not moral because Cordelia dies.  Around that is the adumbration of the comedy, of a man who attempted to find divinity in kingship but finds it only in suffering humanity.

In the last chapter, verse 8, Job becomes the redeemer of his friends.  “And my servant Job will pray for you.”  But Job has suffered too much for the restoration of his flocks and children to be the answer to his problem.   Job’s is a personal search for wisdom.

What the restoration of his children represent are the symbols of that new wisdom.

In the Old Testament, the histories focus on a king.  In the prophecies, they focus on the watcher as opposed to the doer of the New Testament.  Job is the third division of the Old Testament, the Wisdom books, like Solomon, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.  What takes place is a personal form of wisdom.

Comedy will not come with restoration.  Too much has happened.  God is too responsible.  Job is not hankering after his goods and children but the reality of which they are symbols; this he identifies with wisdom.  He begins the search for wisdom with “why did God do this to me?”  This expands into “what is God?”  The search for God is the search for wisdom.  And God is inside Job.

In Chapter 10, God describes Behemoth and in Chapter 14, Leviathan.  The chief point is this description is the phrase “he is king over all the children of pride.”  Why is this so significant? Why does it enlighten Job so that he says “now my eye sees thee.”  We would expect God to lead him to Satan, but he leads him to Leviathan.  Satan and Leviathan are the same person.  Satan stands for the tyranny of nature and man.  Job sees the form of his tragedy as a monster, that is, now he can see it because he has been coughed out of the belly of Leviathan.

Job is detached from a world of the tyranny of man and nature.  He has found a new centre of balance in a spiritual world where God is, which is inside himself.  He no longer lives in the moral world of the conflict of good and evil.  The world he is in has only heaven and hell, a personal God who is human against a monster which is evil, that is, Satan.

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