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The Consolation of Boethius as Poetic Liturgy$

Stephen Blackwood

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780198718314

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198718314.001.0001

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Conclusion to Part II

Conclusion to Part II

Chapter:
(p.139) Conclusion to Part II
Source:
The Consolation of Boethius as Poetic Liturgy
Author(s):

Stephen Blackwood (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198718314.003.0007

Abstract and Keywords

We have just heard how sound—along with the other senses—awakens the rest of the soul. The metric repetitions, each a recollection of an earlier sound, are themselves like the levels of knowing in the personality: each higher (or subsequent) one includes those that have come before, while the lower (or earlier) ones initiate the possibility of the higher (or later). The lower forms of knowing awaken the higher, just as the earlier rhythms provide the basis for a more complex aural perception. But the later metric occurrences answer, or heal, or more fully ...

Repeated Sounds and the Levels of Soul

We have just heard how sound—along with the other senses—awakens the rest of the soul. The metric repetitions, each a recollection of an earlier sound, are themselves like the levels of knowing in the personality: each higher (or subsequent) one includes those that have come before, while the lower (or earlier) ones initiate the possibility of the higher (or later). The lower forms of knowing awaken the higher, just as the earlier rhythms provide the basis for a more complex aural perception. But the later metric occurrences answer, or heal, or more fully know, what the earlier perceive, so that all are present in the unity that finally resounds. While the body mediates the soul’s awakening, it is not left behind in the higher activities: its presence in the higher is what makes the whole soul a harmony and what makes this harmony present to the whole soul; and so Philosophy continues to speak, or sound, or sing, right through to the end of the text.

For her, the human soul is essentially harmonic, because the levels of knowing are a simultaneous activity. This simultaneity should not be conceived of in merely linear, chronological terms, however, as if the soul had present to it only the current perceptions of each faculty in any given instance. What allows the repetitions of sound to be repetitions at all is that the previous instances of the sound, with all their sensible, imaginative, and rational content, are recalled when the sound actually recurs in the ear. It is therefore not the levels of the soul abstractly considered that are harmonized, but rather their concrete perceptions, the actuality of their respective activities. The metric repetitions are thus precise and particular, like the experiences they recollect, just as it is always a certain wound that needs healing, not pain abstractly conceived. There is more at work here than simple recollection: these repetitions are designed by Philosophy precisely to address the situation of each metre’s earlier occurrences, so that the terms of the later recollections allow for a reconciliation with, and a redemption of, the earlier sound. Philosophy’s repetitions of sound knead the earlier hearing into the later insight, and it is this reworking of sound that accomplishes the penetration of the medicine throughout the whole personality.

In this second part, then, we have seen that while the metric repetitions are highly complex, they do nonetheless reveal a systematic, therapeutic use of (p.140) poetic rhythm.1 This rhythmic system is undetectable in the linear narrative, strictly conceived, and comes alive only when we consider these repetitions in their structural patterns. Throughout this analysis I have represented each metric recurrence in its own visual chart in order to distinguish clearly the repetitions from each other. Each of these sounds has its own character and quality, and must somehow be depicted in this particularity. But if these separate representations are combined into a single image, we have a visual representation of all the repetitions at once (Fig. 9).2 And if we remember that each metre is a different sound, we can begin to imagine how the metric repetitions are interwoven throughout the Consolation’s structure, not unlike the notes and themes and chords of a musical composition.

Notes:

(1) We have also seen that the poet often channels the historic ethos of a metric form into his masterful use of it. We have noted in particular with elegiac couplets, choliambs, and sapphic hendecasyllables that the poet employs the metre’s sound and the historic expectations for its use both predictably and, as it were, against themselves. More fundamentally, however—and this is especially clear with the glyconics and anapaestic dimeters, which occur four times apiece—each metric form is given its own generic history within the Consolation itself. In many cases the historic precedent is a beginning‐point, but the poet’s ambition—remembering especially Philosophy’s expulsion of the muses—is to create a work that has its own internal resonance, its own acoustic logic (to borrow a marvellous phrase from Michael D. Hurley, ‘The Audible Reading of Poetry Revisited’, British Journal of Aesthetics, 44: 4 (2004), 393–407, at 398), and in which, in a very significant way, ‘the meter conducts the argument’. Paul Fussell, Poetic Meter and Poetic Form, rev. edn. (New York: Random House, 1979), 104.

(2) The colour version of Figure 9—available on the OUP website—better conveys the interweaving of different sounds.