Appreciating beauty = Recapturing the change

The bulk of the value in Owen Barfield’s Poetic diction lies in the very first section. This is killer stuff.

This, an introspective analysis of my experience obliges me to say that appreciation of poetry involves a ‘felt change of consciousness‘. The phrase must be take with some exactness. Appreciation takes place at the actual moment of change. It is not simply that the poet enables me to see with his eyes, and so to apprehend a larger and fuller world. He may indeed do this, as we shall see later; but the actual moment of the pleasure of appreciation depends upon something rarer and more transitory. It depends upon the change itself. If I pass a coil of wire between the poles of a magnet, I generate in it an electric current – but I only do so while the coill is positively moving across the lines of force. I may leave the coil at rest between the lines of force. I may leave the coil at rest between the two poles and in such a position that it is thoroughly permeated by the magnetic field; but in that case, no current will flow along the conductor. Current only flows when I am actually bringing the coil in or taking it away again. So it is with the poetic mood, which, like the dreams to which it has so often been compared, is kindled by the passage from one plane of consciousness to another. It lives during that moment of transition and then dies, and if it is to be repeated, some means must be found of renewing the transition itself.

Poetry, as a possession, as our own souls enriched, is another matter. But when it has entered as deeply as that into our being, we no longer concern ourselves with its diction. At this stage the diction has served its end and may be forgotten. For, if ever we go back to linger lovingly over the exquisite phrasing of some fragment of poesy whose essence has long been our own, and of which the spirit has become a part of our every waking moment, if we do this, is it not FOR THE VERY REASON that we want to renew the thrill which accompanied the first acquisition of the treasure? As our lips murmur the well-known – or it may be the long-forgotten – words, we are trying, whether deliberately or no, to cast ourselves back into the frame of mind which was ours BEFORE we had learnt the lesson. Why? Because we know instinctively that, if we are to feel pleasure, we must have change. Everlasting day can no more freshen the earth with dew than everlasting night, but the change from night to day and from day back again to night.

-Owen Barfield, Poetic Diction, p.52

I think this describes really well what I experience as the appretiation of music, though I wouldn’t have been able to describe it before now. When I go to play or listen to a recording of a piece I love, I think in many ways I’m subconsciously imagining that I’m hearing it again for the first time. I’m trying to replay the original transitional experience. It’s that passing from naivety to awareness that generates all the energy. We’re always trying to recapture that.