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for my mother

Shall we follow the image of Heracles that walks through the darkness bow in hand, or mount to that other Heracles, man, not image, he that has for his bride Hebe, 'The daughter of Zeus, and Hera, shod with gold"? (1)

OWEN BARFIELD undertook a flurry of activity in the years at the end of and following World War II. Among the fruits of that labor were the publication of Romanticism Comes of Age (1944), (2) the major essays "Poetic Diction and Legal Fiction" (1947) and the Preface to the second edition of Poetic Diction (1951), his novella This Ever Diverse Pair (1950), and his long poem Riders on Pegasus (ca. 1950) which combines the myths of Perseus, Andromeda, and Bellerophon and, after the manner of Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, Keats's The Fall of Hyperion, and Tennyson's "Ulysses," continues them. Most of these works will probably be familiar to anyone with an interest in Barfield. Riders on Pegasus, though, has never been published and currently rests among the Barfield papers in Oxford's Bodleian Library. Now seems a good time to introduce readers to this important example of post-war "Romantic Modernism." (3)

Perhaps the first problem with which Barfield's readers will have to grapple when the poem appears is its title. I have called it Riders on Pegasus in keeping with Barfield's late emendation, (4) but its original and long-established title was The Mother of Pegasus, which makes more sense of the epigraph from Ovid that Barfield retained despite the title change: "vidi ipse materno sanguine nasci" (roughly, "I saw him born from his mother's blood"). This is a reference to the birth of Pegasus from the blood that fell when Perseus, with the aid of Athena's reflecting shield, severed Medusa's head. The speaker of the epigraph is Athena, showing her interest in Hippocrene, the spring from which the Muses were born when it was created by Pegasus's shattering hoofbeat. This original title underscores, as Barfield puts it in the poem's "Afterword," that "the ambiguous quality of [Pegasus's] parent is one of several enigmas which caused the foregoing poem to be written." (5) Perhaps another of those enigmas lies buried in the epigraph: why Athena, the goddess of wisdom who was present when Pegasus sprang from Medusa's pooling blood, could not be present for the birth of the Muses from the pure and flowing spring, having to seek the source in a journey of her own. At any rate, the different titles may point to the malignant parentage of winged inspiration, or perhaps to the nature of heroism as it relates to said inspiration--for artists, these were both live but very different questions in the years following the Second World War.

Barfield's 2,720-line poem has two distinguishing formal features: a kind of avant grade archaism and a unique form of the ottava rima stanza that includes two unrhymed lines. The former gives the poem a thorny texture that is often just as challenging as the experimental vers libre of Eliot, Pound, and early Auden to which Riders is a self-conscious response, as his Preface to the poem makes clear. Ottava rima, despite its use by Yeats in such important late poems as "The Circus Animals' Desertion," would have struck readers at mid-century as no less antiquated than much of Barfield's diction, especially given his unique, jagged variation on the form. Indeed, for most of Barfield's audience it would have been mustily reminiscent of Harrington's English translation of Orlando Furioso, Spenser's variation on the stanza for his own Faerie Queene, Keats's Eve of St. Agnes, and Byron's romances.

Barfield justifies his use of archaic diction and an outre poetic form in a prose preface that, whether by design or because questions of language, meaning, and poetry were on his mind, is of a piece with the equally polemical Preface to the second edition of Poetic Diction. (6) The latter is philosophical, arguing against Ayer, Ryle, and others that one cannot carry out the reduction of meaning to "ordinary" language; the former contends that modern poetry has suffered too strict a narrowing to ordinary speech, with implications for our ability to imagine what meaningful thought and speech might consist of. In other words, the Preface to Riders opposes the reduction of poetic diction to ordinary speech while the second Preface to Poetic Diction opposes the reduction of ordinary speech to the denoting of bare sensation.

Without entering into the details of his argument in the 1951 Preface to Poetic Diction, it is enough to say that for Barfield not only was it paramount in the years after World War II to oppose the ascendency of scientism, it was also of utmost importance to assert the crucial role of poetry (or the poetic) in that opposition. Referring to Russell, early Wittgenstein, Ryle, and Ayer, Barfield focuses on their common conviction that "man, as knower, is above all a passive recipient of impressions" (Poetic Diction 17). This matters for meaning in general and poetry in particular because by reducing mental activity to the passive reception of sensation, any statements that cannot be empirically verified are ipso facto meaningless:
Before he begins to write, the Logical Positivist has taken the step
from "I prefer not to interest myself in propositions which cannot be
empirically verified" to "all propositions which can-not be empirically
verified are meaningless." The next step to "I shall legislate to
prevent anyone else using his time on meaningless propositions" is
unlikely to appear either illogical or negative to his successor in
(Poetic Diction 22)

For Barfield it is no wonder that in this climate many of the dominant poets of the age--Eliot and Auden in particular--adopted the affect of self-satisfied paralysis and humble self-limitation. (7) Their tendency to stress adjectival phrases over active verbs suggests "a passive and helpless observer of a disintegrated world" (Poetic Diction 36), and Eliot in particular "solves the problem by using metaphor as sparingly as possible. He prefers the average word--which is a dead metaphor" (Poetic Diction 37). Eliot, then, for all his countervailing mood of antisecular repentance, fully participates in the broad cultural endeavor of the time to deplete the resources of language by reducing it to mere denotation. In a manner consistent with his negative theology, he removes the miraculous beyond language and (what is the same thing) beyond the fallen world.

Barfield's 1949 Preface to Riders also has Eliot as a focus, and his delivery of an expanded version of it as a lecture in 1981 speaks to his enduring commitment to its claims. Near the end of his lecture Barfield notes that the "true poet" has three obligations: to "produce an effective poem ... for his own age"; to "improve the language he is writing in" by using "his shaping spirit of imagination as it manifests itself more especially in his original handling of metaphor"; and finally, to "help to preserve the life and spirit already inherent, as its heritage from the past of humanity, in language as he finds it." (8) He is able thereby to "obstruct and arrest the creeping sclerosis" of language and imagination that is one of the defining features of modernity. Eliot and Auden again lead the way in this process, not merely through their distaste for metaphors (or even for active verbs) but also through their concomitant reliance on the adjectival phrase to create poetic effects.

Barfield's use of archaism and inversion in Riders on Pegasus is part of his larger project to help restock the "storehouse of the imagination" and to oppose the "dragooning of the human spirit" {Poetic Diction 23) that occurs through the systematic starvation of poetic diction and imaginative form.

THE POEM proper begins with a verse preface that confronts this dragooning. It also gives a sense of the compact and sinewy texture of Barfield's thought and style. Here is the complete verse preface:
Of Perseus and Andromeda my verses:
And yet this Tale has slept till now untold.
For delve in thine own heart--thou too shalt find
How their long reign brought in an age of gold
In Aethiopia, where they grew not old
But passed, as thou dost, listening, through time
Out to the Myth, the Word whose form is Man;
Therefore my tale is news; the dew's still on my rhyme:

The dew--this drawing up from my own earth
How Myth, being present in the Word, began
To sketch on time his everlasting Now
In master tableaux--whence the soul of man
Took form and substance--takes it rather: Pan
Is piping here, and chaste Bellerophon,
Strong arm and martial spirit, friend, in thee,
Trampling (beneath what hooves!) Chimaera, passes on.

Poets--deep minds--would ye be priests of Meaning?
Makers--or scribes? Oh, utter all ye are!
Reach in those souls the world's prophetic soul,
The Whole in each become particular,
The Myth: disclose the Word: growing aware
Of old imagination, born anew
As young experience: withered words shall bloom then
And all your tales, like this new Tale of mine, be true.
(1.1-24) (9)

For the reader used to metabolizing mid-century verse by Eliot, Pound, Auden, Bishop, Williams, or even Stevens, these lines come as a shock to the system. Perhaps we first notice the ostentatious capitalization of Important Words, the use of forbidden archaisms--"thee," "ye," and "thou," as well as "dost" and perhaps even "anew"--and ("Oh, utter all ye are!") the repeated use of exclamation. Beyond their affronting the almost universally accepted contemporary tenets of post-Imagist poetic diction, though, one soon sees that these three stanzas are not stuffily old-fashioned or blithely oblivious to the modernist revolution; they present a highly-compressed, complex sense of the dramatic context, poetic logic, and broader import of the poem. Let us take each stanza on its own.

The first two lines of the first stanza already present a problem: how is it that the "Tale" of Perseus and Andromeda "has slept till now untold" if it has already been narrated by Ovid (as the epigraph already has alerted us)? This question is acknowledged and then sidestepped in the next line by "For," which implies but does not offer a logical explanation for this claim, instead shifting to why it is now told. Barfield then links the audience to Perseus and Andromeda as, like them, already transfigured into constellations; that is, as "passed . . . Listening, through time / Out to the Myth, the Word whose form is Man." It is difficult to know yet whether "through time" suggests a continual passage within it--time as an artery in which we are carried like blood cells--or if it is something membranous one passes beyond into the kind of eternity that the stars enjoy. At any rate, time takes us to "Myth," which itself is a single "Word" that is in turn the archetypal human form. This is our first notice that a synecdochic logic--an identity of part and whole, microcosm and macrocosm -governs Barfield's poem. The final line of the stanza makes another pseudo-logical gesture, sealing the argument for why "my tale is news" --because the tale is the myth, which is outside of time and therefore always news and, insofar as it is outside of time, always untold.

The second stanza further elaborates the relation of Myth and Word to time and the "soul of man." The stanza begins with the narrator's equation of the perpetually fresh "dew" with "my own earth." It then configures Myth, Word, time, and the human soul spatially, like a post-Romantic version of the hierarchies of Pseudo-Dionysius: the Word is the outer circumference containing and emanating Myth, which itself contains and inscribes its "everlasting Now" on time, thereby giving "form and substance" to "the soul of man." The narrator self-consciously notes that this is an ongoing process, and locates Pan (who is mentioned at no other point in the poem), Chimaera (who appears only by hearsay in the poem), Bellerophon, and by implication Pegasus, within the souls of the readers which take on form and substance in the "everlasting Now." The location of the action is not mythical Greece, but the allegorized landscape of the soul itself, an example of what Harold Bloom famously described as the Romantic and post-Romantic "internalization of quest romance." That Myth contains time, and the readers' souls contain the characters, perhaps helps to explain why for Perseus the events of the Odyssey have already happened, and why when Athena becomes frustrated with Bellerophon she flies off to work with Socrates in Classical Athens. Nor should we miss the narrator's grandiose claim: he is the outermost ring, drawing forth from his "earth" the Myth and Word that themselves shape the "soul of man" in an "everlasting Now" that contains the narrative of the poem. More than this, though, Perseus and Andromeda are, like us, a part of the audience, and the narrator is among the characters. As soon as we have envisioned the rings that the narrator describes, we find that the outermost is innermost, and the innermost outermost; or, as Yeats put it about ten years before Barfield wrote the poem, "the universe [is] a great egg that turns inside-out perpetually without breaking its shell" (Yeats 24). In a poetic logic governed by synecdoche, if the part is the whole then the inside is also the outside; the center is the circumference.

The final stanza draws out the implications of the first two stanzas. Beginning with a direct address to "Poets," the narrator says that though he is the poem's outermost circumference he also belongs to a community, even as he asserts the imperative that his peers "utter all" they are, so that they might discover or become "the world's prophetic soul." This revelation of the whole in the part then immediately reverses, "The Whole in each become particular," before inverting again ("The Myth: disclose the Word"). This is an example of what Hazard Adams has termed "radical synecdoche." Describing the late narratives of Blake and Joyce, he says:
The neatness of concentric enclosures surrounded by [the narrator] is
confounded late in Jerusalem by an utterance of one of the characters
... indicating that she knows she is in a poem. ... This breakdown of
discrete differences between circumferences of narrated action is
virtually a principle of formal order in Finnegans Wake. ... This
ordering principle we may name synecdoche, though as a formal principle
it goes far beyond the notion of a part standing for a whole. Indeed,
it goes beyond the usual notion of form to include also theme. In Blake,
synecdoche works also in reverse, whole standing for part, and it works
progressively in both directions from the smallest to the largest unit.
("Blake and Joyce" 684)

Barfield too, in an essay written in 1927 that he included in the 1944 collection Romanticism Comes of Age, says that "Blake's 'Jerusalem' heralds a dim awakening of purpose" insofar as, in the poem,
logic is always something that has to be, not ignored, but
conquered--overcome. Imagination and the Redeemer are almost
synonymous, and Albion ... is a symbol for the universal Man. Logic,
and with it the whole experience of Nature as matter, and, with that,
the unfree morality that is based on the law--all these emanate from
the Daughters of Memory. But the Daughters of Memory are to be
overcome by the Daughters of Inspiration, who are also Jerusalem.
"Nature" is to be redeemed by Imagination, is to become Imagination.
(Romanticism 64-65)

Barfield's poem dramatizes the same themes, and with the same poetic logic. In the radical synecdoche that Barfield unfolds in the stanza's final lines, Barfield identifies the following with one another: the discovery of the world's soul within the individual soul, the increasing awareness within fresh experience of ancient imagination, the revitalization of language, and the rediscovery of truth within "all your tales." The individual is the world, which is the individual; the mundane is the extraordinary, which is the mundane; the literal is the figurative, which is the literal; the Active is the true, which is the Active; and, all four of these dilating synecdoches are each other.

THE POEM, then, while it invites our common sense to oppose its idealized world to our deflated "real" one, in fact contains the polarity "ideal" and "real" as reversible parts of its narrative framework. At the end of the poem Pegasus flies "pranceable, and mad, and upside down" (7.279) because, as in Blake's late prophecies, the fallen, scientistic intellect takes itself to be upright but is actually suspended upside down over an abyss; it is Pegasus who is upright in the night sky, and we stargazers who are suspended upside down. This reversibility of perspective of course is one of the hallmarks of such innovative Romantic and post-Romantic romances as Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, Blake's Jerusalem, and Joyce's Ulysses, and indeed Riders on Pegasus is thoroughly steeped in the conventions of romance. This perhaps is no surprise, considering that it is dedicated to the author of The Allegory of Love. Like other members of the genre, its narrative "takes on a spiral form, an open circle where the end is the beginning transformed and renewed by the heroic quest" (Frye 114). This movemerit occurs across the arc of the whole poem, from Africa's "soft hot loins" at the beginning of the poem to celestial Andromeda's "furious womb" at the end of it. This is a version of the pattern Northrop Frye identifies as typical of romance: a quest that involves descent to and return from an underworld or wasteland.

Riders also abides within the borders of romance as described by Gillian Beer by evoking a "socially remote" past in an "ideal world" and using "well-known stories" that permit "a subtly allusive presentation" in which "adventure ... may take over entirely" even as it remains "essentially subjective" (Beer 2-3, 8). (10) In fact, Beer's influential account of the genre gives a wonderfully concise summary of certain aspects of Barfield's poem:
We can think ... of a cluster of properties: the themes of love and
adventure, a certain withdrawal from their own societies on the part
of both reader and romance hero, profuse sensuous detail, simplified
characters (often with a suggestion of allegorical significance), a
serene intermingling of the unexpected and the everyday, a complex and
prolonged succession of incidents usually without a single climax, a
happy ending, amplitude of proportions, a strongly enforced code of
conduct to which all the characters must comply.
(Beer 10)

The narrator of Riders - - a complex, self-aware character knows the genre to which he belongs. Near the end of the poem, as he seeks inspiration, he invokes four poems which help us locate the poem vis-a-vis the genre: Homer's Odyssey, Virgil's Aeneid, Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, and Keats's Endymion:
Would he, who long, long since Nausicaa
Sang, and the gods at loggerheads, or he,
Who that soft-hearted Son, of Venus born,
When enterprise was duty, sent to Italy,

Answer; or he, who joined baptized Ruggiero
With Bradamante dipped in Merlin's cave?
But, more than all, my perilous ending needs
Him, whose Endymion scooped the wide enclave
Of Greece in Hampstead: All these helps I crave
And yet, for inspiration, turn my soul
To you, O Uncompleted Tales, yourselves
And you, ye Constellations blazing next the pole!

These lines contain a number of subtleties: Nausicaa recalls Andromeda in her optimistic naivete and in her facilitating role in the larger arc of the male hero's nostos; Aeneas is notable as a successful Bellerophon, a Stoic follower of duty who is also a dutiful son of love; Ariosto is most relevant for his expansion of the satiric role of the narrator. Indeed, the opening of this book--"I feel the Myth beneath me gathering speed. / The actors crowd the stage, the end draws near. ... whom to call / To bless the uncompleted tale? What Muse?" (6.1-2, 7-8)--itself alludes to the beginning of Canto Three of Orlando Furioso, in which one discovers the scene in Merlin's cave: "who is there now will give me voice and speech / To suit the noble theme I have to tell, / And to my verse lend wings that it may reach / The lofty region where my fancies dwell?" (3.1-4). " And, "more than all," Keats, whose neglected early epic discovers the Greek mythic imagination alive in England even as its self-dramatizing artifice signals its self-aware modernity.

Homer and Virgil are epic poets who include elements of romance, while Ariosto and Keats are authors of romance who at times gesture towards epic, and who have their own complex responses to their epic forebears: Burrow has shown the nuanced detail of Ariosto's response to Virgil (Burrow 52-75), while Keats responds with comparable depth to Homer, from his early sonnet "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer" through his unfinished Hyperion poems. (n) Moreover, Barfield has taken over and modified Ariosto's ottava rima while dropping the Italian's emphasis on comic digression, with the key exception that when Perseus and Andromeda go off to find Bellerophon it turns out not to be about Bellerophon at all. Keats perhaps would be surprised to find himself invoked as a muse. After all, he famously wrote in a letter to John Taylor that "Wonders are no wonders to me. I am more at home among Men and women. I would rather read Chaucer than Ariosto" (Keats 2: 234).

It is also fitting to see in this progression from Homer to Keats a gradual emptying out of myth into history, from Homer's anagogic transparency through Virgil's ideological imperative and Ariosto's winking merge of romance with self-deprecating parody, ending in Keats's pretense to realism that "wonders are no wonders to me." One might say that the logical culmination of this process is Auden's bereft and despairing "The Shield of Achilles." At any rate, none of these poetic predecessors will do: it is the "Uncompleted Tales" and "Constellations" themselves that, like the sleeping "untold" tale in the verse preface, must midwife the poem through the medium of the narrator. The implication in this context is that the next step in the evolution of poetic consciousness is the transformative effect of the synecdochic form of Riders itself on an abject, hopeless, and paralyzed modern western world in the new grip of the Cold War.

Riders also shares with romance the multi-level symbolic structure first identified by Frye. Frye identifies four such concentric circles; in many cases Frye's scheme may overdetermine the text, but in this one it doesn't go far enough, as Barfield's poem contains at least five of them. The most immediately recognizable is the second in order. It is the realm of Perseus, Andromeda, and Bellerophon. At this level, characters suffer existential crises and psychological difficulties, caused in part by the sharp separation between waking consciousness, dreams, and the dreamless sleep from which the gods sometimes inspire human thoughts. From the vantage of this stratum, the gods are sometimes present in various inscrutable ways. In the moral-political sphere, there are only questions and problems with no reliable means to identify them, much less how to meet them.

The immediately lower--and in fact lowest--level is the chthonic realm of Chimaera and the immortal gorgons. These monstrous creatures embody opposite poles. The former is pure shapelessness and the sort of indifference bred of the sensuality savored by, for example, the lotus eaters in the Odyssey. Like Aeschylus's furies, the gorgons are pure rigidity. Their moral code is the simple, unwavering, and relentless idea of retribution. They suffer no existential doubts or ambiguities, nor even a dulling of consciousness, and seem trapped in a hellishly hyperconscious fixation on their one idea. The chief characteristic of this level --psychologically, ethically, and spiritually--is drifting, excarnated shapelessness at one pole and iron mechanism at the other. Barfield's allusions unsurprisingly locate Eliot's Waste Land here. In the poem, the gorgons have the greater role, as one might expect in an era notable for its rigid fanaticism and machinery of death.

We only hear of the third level in the poem's opening and closing pages. This is not nature as assaulted wilderness or sterile wasteland, but the realm of the fixed stars by which wilderness-wanderers find their way and into which Perseus, Andromeda, and Pegasus are finally transfigured. In the sublunar realm, this is the "golden age" that at the end of the poem is at least briefly born or restored--the narrator is ambivalent: "An age of gold was born, (the learned said 'restored')" (7.208). The ambiguity perhaps owes to the seeming inapplicability of time's passage. It seems to be a place that, like the second circle, mixes dream and wakefulness, but with an emphasis on the inspiring effects of dream.

The fourth circle is the home of the gods. This too, like the chthonic realm, is a place of perpetual consciousness, but consciousness as creativity, "the fountain of human thought," rather than as mechanism. It too is untroubled by ethical quandaries though it is rife with conflict. Rather than the assurance of iron law, the ethical compass here is affinity and antipathy.

The fifth and outermost circle is "Myth" (the narrator invariably capitalizes this word). The narrator repeatedly describes myth as an active agent. It "will tell" (2.70), "runs on through time and space" (3.39), "despises daily accidents" (3.121), "beneath me gatherfs] speed" (6.1), "must be outspread" (6.96), and so on. Myth, in other words, participates in, and is the inspiring muse of, the poem; but unlike the celestial nine, it is not a lesser member of the divine family. Indeed, like "fate" in the Homeric poems, it is larger even than the Olympian gods. It is the indirect narrator of the muses' birth from under the hoof of Pegasus (Perseus tells this story in the poem) and from the demiurge who creates all the divine and human characters in the poem.

These levels are not impermeable. In fact, not only is it possible from the "real" world of ordinary human experience in the second level to devolve to the wasteland or ascend to the constellated golden age, but it also seems that one is always in the process of doing so, through a logic of contraries: as Andromeda becomes curious and doubtful about Perseus, she is granted an oblique glimpse of Medusa's head that further consolidates her initial gesture towards suspicion; the devolution of Perseus into solipsism evokes, as if by magic, an army of mechanical humanity; and as Bellerophon hardens into steely prudishness, he is driven into ever-deeper spiritual and geographical exile in a landscape that seems to expand its boundaries with each step he takes. Once again, microcosm and macrocosm mirror and compel one another. Likewise, the "stings" that the Aphrodite-inspired and metamorphosed Andromeda gives to Pegasus literally and symbolically lift her and Perseus above the quotidian world, not as an evacuation but as the fallen world's apocalyptic consummation.

Similarly, although the gods and the chthonic powers cannot exchange places, the first and fourth levels mirror each other parodically. This is most obvious in Book Six when the gorgons literally stand in for the goddesses without the latter knowing it; in fact, since Athena relies on Perseus to inform her of the gorgons' actions, it appears that the chthonic realm is imperceptible to the gods. Stheno and Euryale also have parodic versions of the qualities of Athena and Aphrodite, respectively--the former is "the breastless Beak of nude, intrusive will" (6.83) and the latter is "Self-immolating, soft Euryale" (6.82).

Both gods and chthonic powers seem to spring from a fundamentally ur-phenomenal realm of pure spirit: Athena, "herself the Fountain of men's Laws / Of Thought" (5.332-33), at one point lifts Perseus "to her Place / High in the heavens, to make him of her mind" (2.218-19). Stheno and Euryale cannot be said to inhabit pure thought, but they are pre- or ur-linguistic, which is a parodic version of it: "Between the two began / Parley in figured noises, wombs of words / (As Alphabeta sprang from mother-glyphs / Of Eyes and Roofs and Rising Suns and Looms and Birds)" (6.53-56). Unsurprisingly, this microcosmic divine activity has an immediate and modern macrocosmic effect similar to that evoked by Auden's "The Shield of Achilles": "On dreary, twilit columns of young men / With eager hair and automatic eyes, / Marching and counter-marching through the fog, / Mashing and mangling truth, and praising lies, / Till language rotted down to snarls and cries / And meaning perished" (6.65-71). Since for Barfield language and thought are inseparable, the "wombs of words" that the gorgons grunt are as essentially, though parodically, creative as the fountain of thought the narrator claims Athena to be, and the pure verbal quality Aphrodite claims herself to be (5.38).

IT MAY be helpful at this point to give an overview of the narrative. It unfolds over seven books as follows:

Book 1 'Andromeda': The poem begins as some of Blake's prophecies do, by setting the scene as an anthropomorphized geography, in this case "oozy Congo's fecund and sweaty jungle's / Green tangle of rubber-dropping trunk and bough--/ Boisterous superflux of radical moisture / Swelling her soft hot loins" (1.1-4). Perseus and Andromeda are apparently settled into a stale middle age in a marriage marked by cold formality. Perseus also suffers an atrophied imagination, with correlative problems afoot in his Ethiopian kingdom. Andromeda makes a ritual sacrifice to Aphrodite, who inspires her to uncover the secret Perseus withholds from her. Andromeda does so, with the result that she is poisoned with a desire for secrecy by her oblique glimpse of Medusa's head. Andromeda is walled in by shame and pride as Perseus loses his grip on power.

Book 2 'Perseus': The book begins with a recollection of Perseus's effective military use of Medusa's head. However, there is growing insurrection across his realm. Perseus resorts to the use of the shield

Athena had given him, to little effect. Perseus makes a ritual sacrifice to Athena, telling her of the android army being created by Phineus under the inspiration of Stheno and Euryale. Athena sends Perseus in humble disguise on a quest for Bellerophon. The book ends with Bellerophon's name.

Book 3 'Bellerophon': Perseus sets out alone and in disguise. Refreshed by a night in nature, he awakens to find Andromeda disguised as a boy. Navigating by the stars, they wander together through a desert, arriving finally at the Pillars of Hercules where they meet a disguised Bellerophon and a cloaked Pegasus. Bellerophon reveals his fratricidal sin and the first part of his adventure against Chimaera. The book ends with Bellerophon's promise to describe Pegasus.

Book 4 'Pegasus': Bellerophon, apparently cursed to a proto-existential ennui, begins by describing the loss of the direct vision and favor of the gods that he once enjoyed. He recounts his first sight and meeting of Pegasus after the latter's spiraling descent. Perseus, regaining his memory of his conversation with Athena in Book Two, tells the story of Pegasus from his birth through his fleeing of the "dusty" common world to his creation of Hippocrene. Bellerophon describes the help he received from Athena in pursuing Pegasus. Perseus offers to Bellerophon the gifts he received from Athena before his first adventure to kill Medusa and rescue Andromeda. Bellerophon refuses to mount Pegasus again, and everyone heads to sleep.

Book 5 'The Gods': The narrator prophesies that dreams will one day be more fully appreciated. Andromeda is granted a dream from Aphrodite, coaching her to delay the narrative action. Bellerophon again refuses Athena's command to ride Pegasus. The goddesses fight, Athena dragging Aphrodite off to Zeus. At the same time, a messenger arrives for Perseus with a horrifying picture of technocratic rule. Bellerophon again refuses flight as "lewd." The narrative returns to Athena and Aphrodite, who are informed by Zeus that this is an era of freedom, so the gods must convince Bellerophon to act, and the book ends with Zeus's grim warning that if Athena and Aphrodite cannot cooperate, the world will fall.

Book 6 'The Gorgons': Medusa's immortal sisters Euryale and Stheno have been flying towards the human wanderers during the events of Book Five, and arrive just as Aphrodite and Athena return. They place themselves, apparently unseen, between the Olympians and the mortals, effectively frustrating Athena. Aphrodite remains, however, and communicates with Andromeda subconsiously, as the gorgons coerce an unwitting Bellerophon to intransigent belligerence. Aphrodite then transforms Andromeda into a gadfly to sting Pegasus, all further attempts to include Bellerophon becoming futile. Bellerophon ends the book by walking out of the poem and into the remaining "humdrum years" of his life.

Book 7 'The Temple': Perseus and Andromeda fly on Pegasus's back to the Temple of Athena, where Perseus had previously beheaded Medusa. The flight seems to restore the riders to their former innocence, and Perseus regrets his "follies in the mirror" (7.53). The narrator, claiming incapacity, says the remainder of the story was told to him by "a courteous man, as young as he was old" (7.69). In embedded narrative, Perseus and Andromeda pray at opposite ends of the temple. Athena blocks Andromeda from Perseus behind her shield and gives Perseus an olive crown. Perseus sees his reflection as "a grimy beggar hallowed, yet most like a child" (7.96) while, as Athena raises Medusa's head above that of Perseus, Aphrodite tells Andromeda, '"Thus far / Lift up thine eyes! No farther! All worlds are / Suspended, Lady, on thy steadfast will!'" (7.124-26). Andromeda focuses her eyes on Perseus's olive crown while Perseus's "eyes, / Challenged by Pallas, left the polished Shield / And sank to rest on those thrice-blest convexities" (7.134-36). The couple then exchanges obscure vows as a kind of marriage renewal. "Fiery Zest" (7.156) awakens in Perseus's heart. The two, with the aid of Aphrodite and Thanatos, begin their apotheosis: time itself is overcome ("Time is: time was" [7.177]) and as Perseus rides Pegasus again "An age of gold was born, (the learned said 'restored')" (7.208) and "time, in a shining golden stream, flowed on / Over their heads" (7.213-14). Harmony is restored "through all that golden time" because "harmonious in everyman, / Body and soul and spirit rang a triple chime" (7.222-24). This process complete, Perseus, Andromeda, and Pegasus are raised into constellations, and the poem ends by urging the reader's attention to "imagination's way / To Pegasus from Perseus, down those three / Bright stabs of flame, which men still name Andromeda" (7.286-88).

EVEN FROM this bare outline it should be obvious that the poem has the large spiral arc described by Frye, from a presumed or implied state of innocence; in this case, it is the prior legendary history of

Perseus, Andromeda, and Bellerophon themselves, they being legends in their own minds, through an exile or underworld experience of alienation, to either the freely-chosen affirmation of a renewed imaginative innocence or the freely-chosen perpetuation of Cain-like wandering. This arcing development is also evident in the same sort of mirroring or nesting narrative that Barfield used in his verse drama Orpheus and in The Unicorn. In the first two books, Andromeda and Perseus commune with the gods and each other through traditional, though weakening, rituals; in the final two books they break through the malign influence of the gorgons to a direct communion with the gods and each other. Books Three and Five also mirror one another, pivoting around the need for, and difficulty of, cooperation if the world is not to fail. Finally, the central book is also the deepest nadir from meaning and communion. Its chief theme is freedom, as experienced in tragic isolation by Bellerophon, and, befitting the loneliness of freedom, it has no pairing book.

One cannot do justice to the rich symbolic texture Barfield creates in this poem in an introductory essay, but the shield Athena gave to Perseus is one place to begin. It features prominently in Book Two, and in fact is much more closely associated with Perseus than the head of Medusa, which always remains in a sense beyond the scope of the poem, literally and figuratively unseen. The shield, however, becomes an object of obsessive identification and, according to Athena, misuse. The first mention of the shield is in Book One, when Andromeda - under the influence of Aphrodite and perhaps too many readings of Christabel and The Eve of St. Agnes--transgresses into Perseus's "press," where she finds "the Disc that hangs up on the door ... A swelling Mirror" (1.289, 291). And indeed, it seems the magical property of Athena's shield is to heighten one's reflective and alienated self-regard, as it offers to her a distorted image of a "creature waddling down to meet her,/Dolled in the Queen's nightgown" (1.295-96). Perseus has kept the shield, the "magic mirror for the stony Terror" (1.327), beyond his proper time because it bears Medusa's head which is "sorely needed / To keep the peace and crush the passion seeded / Deep in the hearts of the Queen's rebellious folk" (1.331-33).

Book Two essentially narrates Perseus's fall from grace in his effort to maintain power, just as Book One describes the fall into temptation of Andromeda in her effort to unearth Perseus's secrets. Civilization at the beginning of Book Two seems curiously exhausted. Even the narrator--sounding like Prufrock, Teiresias in the Waste Land, and the narrator of "Ash Wednesday" - laments that "I am old--too often have I seen / The gentler virtues work their proper woe / And sweet forbearance fortify misprisions / One flash of passion might have scattered long ago" (2.5-8). The loss of social cohesion and narrative passion are antitypes to Perseus's seduction by quick but simply reflective thought:
What thing, what strange and doubtful change, the King befell. He in a
thought-well of divine reflection Saw truths, so mere they make mere
glancers blind: So, when men wrangled fruitlessly, entangled In
secondary thoughts, his sovran mind Dropped blessing on them, dancing
round behind The parrot phrase, or pricking vested error With his own
point--the little spot of light The everywhere at once, the Sun's--his
mind a mirror.

This passage captures well the superficial gravitas, the powerfully insubstantial character, of Perseus's thought. Like the logical positivists Barfield critiques in the 1951 Preface to Poetic Diction, Perseus does not have original ideas--is in fact wholly uncreative--but the borrowed light of his mirroring mind dazzles those he meets. Indeed, Barfield's use of "mere" (repeated twice in line 74) captures these different meanings well: for most modern speakers it means "only" or "essential" but in the fifteenth century "entire" or "whole" and the Proto-Indo-European suggests "to gleam."

By the end, when all of Perseus's mental acts are borrowed, when all he can do is reflect, his mind loses its synecdochic properties entirely. And, like Alberich's seduction by the ring in Wagner's Ring cycle, Perseus becomes entirely dependent on his shield:
Perseus began to love the sacred Shield Itself, its rimmed horizon;
before long He needed it beside him everywhere. To use it made him
feel so firm and strong; For in those depths he judged of right and
wrong Aloofly, saw the Whole without infection Of contact with the
part--his darting mind Pierced all things, insulated from them by

Just as Max Mtiller found that myth is a "disease of language," so too does Perseus seek to become a "Whole" free of "infection" by the part, a Urizen type, a disembodied, anti-poetic, moralizing, and totalizing reason who "in those depths . .. judged of right and wrong / Aloofly." The shield becomes for Perseus both literally and figuratively the freely-chosen "rimmed horizon" of his vision, though that restriction also drags him from the ordinary human realm into the sub-humanity of mechanized thought.

No wonder then that as a corollary to his bodiless soul, Perseus's nemesis Phineus "evolves new engines in the womb of his conceit" (2.232), an army of soulless bodies against which Perseus's gifts are helpless. Perseus tells Athena:
Of their new man-made ore--which ash and air And flame, compounding,
bound more hard than stone, Yet light and structural withal, as bone,
And missile unbelievably; and more: For by their skill, disposed
throughout the mass, Their smiths could parcel hard and soft. About
the core

Soft and disgustful, mashy, like a brain, And irritably active, they
could case Impermeable vortexes, protective--The gelatin kissing the
carapace In cockroach-Union--soft in hard's embrace. Nor was this all:
the kiss was consummated, When very essence in their crucibles Was
broken down, and counter qualities equated.


This hideous vision of bioengineering (which ramifies exponentially during Perseus's wanderings), is a satire of the creative polarity Barfield took to be the essence of life and meaning alike. It is a reduction of bodies to simple matter "with speech suspended in them" (2.270), all of them like "mushroom sproutings of ingenuousness" (2.293)--an image that instantly conjures the nuclear age. This vision of the soulless body, and Perseus's of the bodiless soul, is not a negation but a satire of imagination, arising as it does from sources of inspiration beyond the reach of Perseus's reflective vision. "'I know not its true name, this unseen Power'" (2.297), Perseus says, while Barfield in his own voice wrote near the same time that "the possibility of man's avoiding self-destruction depends on his realizing before it is too late that what he let loose over Hiroshima, after fiddling with its exterior for three centuries like a mechanical toy, was the forces of his own unconscious mind" (Poetic Diction 27). What is required to avert the destruction consequent on this felt separation of mind and body, or reduction of mind to body, is the reanimation of imagination in part through the revival of poetic language. One index of the failure of Perseus in this regard is the large number of chivalric archaisms that surround him like the reflective surface of an antique ethic: terms like "gabardine" (2.4), "ambuscade" (2.16), "haulm" (2.54), "enfeoffed" (2.93), "dissoisins" (2.116), "leaguer" (2.162), "vedettes" (2.162), and "barbarous burgonets" (2.165). The shield of Perseus, the misused gift of Athena, is an emblem of the imagination's destructive capacities when it breeds reptiles of the mind from the swamp of an outworn creed.

Barfield's use of the shield image is in a way a proleptic commentary on Auden's contemporaneous "Shield of Achilles" (1952). That poem (which uses a seven-line stanza somewhat akin to Barfield's variant on the ottava rima) reimagines Homer's vision as holding instead "unintelligible multitudes" that "await a sign" as they march "column by column in a cloud of dust" (Auden 595). As we have seen, in the prefaces to Riders and the 1951 edition of Poetic Diction, Auden's diction was criticized, fairly and unfairly, as uninspired. Barfield never comments on "Shield of Achilles" specifically in later years, but its hopeless vision is of course a mirror reflecting the moral hopelessness of his time. In place of Homer's account of Hephaestus's creation, which does seem to capture "the world's prophetic soul," Auden's captures only our enervated, desiccated rootlessness. Auden's purely reflective, surreptitiously moralistic poem--written, as it were, by Blake's Daughters of Memory--finds a fitting emblem in Barfield's shield of Perseus.

If Perseus, like a grim Don Quixote, embodies the spiritual dislocation and loss of self-knowledge that come from adhering too long to dead ideas, Bellerophon a victim of Chimaera's shadowy illusions, in which we "melt, like sleep, / Into all-otherness" (3.296-97)--is the agonized, painfully self-aware exile in the wasteland. It is no accident, I think, that this most modern of characters--too keen a reader of Eliot and early Auden, one might say--occupies the dead center of the poem in Books Three and Four. Indeed, Bellerophon's account in Book Four of his history with Pegasus and his unwillingness to ride him again is a kind of tragedy embedded in the heart of the romance. "The gods my sight / Forsook'" (4.5-6), he says, which is an alternative description of Chimaera's velvety attack, and the explanation for the desolation he finds within and without:
And worse than the world forsaken, worse than all That mausoleum of
mere earth and sky, The charnel stillness of the world within; Where
impulse checks at reason's bantering Why; Till will has put on mind's
infirmity, And old man's languor settles unperceived, And lotus-rotted
are the lips that mutter:--Nought can be felt or done, since naught
can be believed.

In a moment of reverie on the feeling that "nothing signifies, when we despair" (4.42), nature defamiliarizes as imagination awakens and in that space Pegasus "swift as thought ... / Dropped earthward, like a blessing" (4.76, 80). Indeed, Pegasus's path is precisely the spiral form of the narrative itself: "The travelled helix, which he left behind, / As nearer earth in narrowing sweeps he planed / 'Scooped, as if some enchanter's wand defined, / 'A giant funnel, in whose heel reclined / 'My breathing self--in-tapering from a rim wide as the infinite embrace of Heaven'" (4.97-103). Pegasus, the play of imagination at the speed of thought, scoops space itself from an infinite horizon that is the opposite of Perseus's shield, descending miraculously to abject modern man.

Bellerophon, though, despite the urgings of Perseus, Andromeda, and Athena herself, refuses to remount Pegasus. At the crucial moment, asked if he will obey Athena, his response '"I cannot say'" (5.90) indicates as much a failure of language as an affirmed refusal. Dogged by the original sin of fratricide, Bellerophon's inability to forgive himself leads him to create (under the shadow of the gorgons) a puritanical ethic. Asked again '"what is thy word?'" (5.288) he can only answer, '"Have I not said I may not fly? / How shall the Gorgon make the lewd less lewd? ... I have learnt that good / Is not one man on wings, but each man's choice / Instantly to obey'" (5.289-96). Bellerophon's imagination is limited in a way that is reminiscent of Barfield's version of Eliot: genuinely inspired at times, but attacked by illusions and drawing the wrong conclusions from his experience. And yet, as Zeus says, '"Whether he do some service in your wars / And at last be named among the stars, / Lies in his choice'" (5.380-82), because '"the last menace of the Dragon's breath ... Man only may avert'" (5.395-97). As Barfield elsewhere wrote with regard to humanity's modern soul:

Either it must lose itself in the arid subtleties of a logistic intellectualism, which no longer has any life, though it once had - preoccupying itself with a nice balancing and pruning of dogma, theory, and memory--or, by uniting itself with the Spirit of the Earth, with the Word, it may blossom into the Imaginative Soul, and live. It differs from the seed only in this, that the choice lies with itself.

(Romanticism 63)

IT is one of the ironies of the poem's conclusion that neither of its putative heroes, Perseus and Bellerophon, undertakes the decisive action. That is left to Andromeda, though as a deeper irony she freely takes it up only in a paradoxical sense--she is first unwittingly transformed into a gadfly, a winged creature herself, in order to provoke Pegasus into flight. She believes herself to be dreaming, but in "the waking world" (6.234) she "stung and stung" (6.236) Pegasus such that he retraced his spiraled flight "like a wheel" (6.238). Indeed, in the second half of the poem, while Athena consistently fails in her efforts to work through Perseus, Aphrodite inspires Andromeda to decisive action below her conscious awareness: "Close to her heart, and prompts her what to say / Then feeling that heart shrink, she lets it drink / Of blossomy warm wish" (6.152). In keeping with the poem's synecdochic logic, one's deepest and most loving wish comes from without and is one's essence: "Who knows what passes in the heart of hearts? / Who sees the demiurge's demiurge? / Ask not who guard the Guards, but ask who steer / The Steersman--what centripetals converge, / Where indecision alters into urge" (6.161-65). The mystery of choice, of inspiration in the broadest sense, returns us, with its convergent centripetals, to the questions raised by the verse preface. No less than in Eliot, the end is the beginning: part and whole, self and other, narrator and reader, lover and beloved, gather together to feel Pegasus make a Hippocrene of the narrator's own earth, "the thymy turf round Aphrodite's Temple" (7.209).


1 William Butler Yeats, A Vision 220.

2 Barfield wrote many of the essays in this collection in the 1920s, but their collection and publication at the end of the war speaks to Barfield's sense of their relevance.

3 I borrow this phrase from the subtitle of Hazard Adams's The Book of Yeats's Vision: Romantic Modernism and Antithetical Tradition.

4 Barfield changed the title while compiling A Barfield Sampler with Thomas Kranidas (published 1993). As late as 1985, in "Owen Barfield's Defiant Lyricism," Kranidas still referred to the poem as The Mother of Pegasus.

5 Quotes from the "Afterworld" refer to the manuscript currently held at the Bodleian Library.

6 Quotes from the Preface to Riders on Pegasus refer to the manuscript in the possession of the Bodleian Library.

7 I pass without comment the justice of Barfield's claims about Eliot and Auden in particular or about post-War poetry in general; my interest is in what those claims reveal about his purposes.

8 Barfield's 1981 lecture remains unpublished, in the possession of the Bodleian Library.

9 References to Riders on Pegasus are to book and line number.

10 Colin Burrow's observation that "The most stimulating general accounts of romance are Northrop Frye and Gillian Beer" (Burrow 2n) remains true. For an insightful discussion of the "allegorical epic" from Homer to Milton that has obvious relevance for romance, see Murrin. Durling's classic discussion of the evolving role of the narrator in romance from Ovid to Spenser is helpful for understanding Barfield's experiments with that character.

11 It may be that Barfield is slyly nodding to his friend Lewis, whose The Allegory of Love discusses "the prophetic function of Merlin" (Lewis 380) in Ariosto and Spenser.

12 The most helpful discussion of Keats and romance remains Parker 159-218. Also useful is Kucich 165-84, et passim.


Adams, Hazard. "Blake and Joyce." James Joyce Quarterly 35 (1998): 683-93.

--. The Book of Yeats's Vision: Romantic Modernism and Antithetical Tradition. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1996.

Ariosto, Ludovico. Orlando Furioso: A Romantic Epic, Part L Trans. Barbara Reynolds. New York: Penguin Classics, 1975.

Barfield, Owen. A Barfield Sampler: Poetrv and Fiction by Owen Barfield. Ed. Jeanne Clayton Hunter and Thomas Kranidas. New York: SUNY P, 1993.

--. Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning. 3rd ed. Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 1973.

--. The Rediscovery of Meaning, and Other Essays. Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 1977.

--. Romanticism Comes of Age. Ann Arbor: Anthroposophical Publishing Co., 1944.

--. Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry. London: Faber, 1957.

--. What Coleridge Thought. Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 1971.

--. Worlds Apart. London: Faber, 1963.

Beer, Gilian. 777e Romance. Oxfordshire: Routledge, 1970.

Blaxland de Lange, Simon. Owen Barfield: Romanticism Come of Age. Forest Row: Temple Lodge, 2006.

Burrow, Colin. Epic Romance: From Homer to Milton. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1993.

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Biographia Literaria. Ed. Walter Jackson Bate and James Engell. Bollingen Collected Works 7, 2 vols. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1983.

Durling, Robert M. The Figure of the Poet in Renaissance Epic. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1965.

Eliot, Thomas Stearns. The Letters of T.S. Eliot. Vol. 5. Ed. Valerie Eliot and John Haffenden. London: Faber, 2014.

Hipolito, Jeffrey. "Owen Barfield's Orpheus." The Journal of Inklings Studies 5.2 (2015): 113-22.

Frye, Northrop. The Collected Works of Northrop Frve. Ed. Robert D. Denham. 30 vols. Tonronto: U of Toronto P, 1996-2012, Volume 18.

Keats, John. The Letters of John Keats. Ed. Hyder Edward Rollins. 2 vols. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2002.

Kranidas, Thomas. "The Defiant Lyricism of Owen Barfield." Seven 6 (1985): 23-33.

Kucich, Greg. Keats. Shellv, and Romantic Spenserianism. University Park: Penn State UP, 1991.

Lewis, C.S. The Allegory of Love. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1972.

Murrin, Michael. Allegorical Epic: Essays in Its Rise and Decline. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1980.

Parker, Patricia. Inescapable Romance. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1979.

Proust, Marcel. In Search of Lost Time, Vol. 6: Finding Time Again. London: Penguin Classics, 2003.

Russell, Bertrand. Basic Writings. Ed. Robert E. Egner and Lester E. Denonn. Crow's Nest, New South Whales: George Allen & Unwin, 1961.

--. An Introduction to Mathematical Thinking. Crow's Nest, New South Wales: George Allen & Unwin, 1919.

Yeats, William Butler. A Vision: The Revised 1937. New York: Macmillan, 2015.
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Author:Hipolito, Jeffrey
Publication:Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature
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Date:Sep 22, 2019

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