Analogy, Melancholy, and Neo-Platonic Beans

The inestimable Jacques Barzun wrote: the book, like the bicycle, is a perfect form which may be true but Jacques was guilty of comma spicing as a book and a bicycle are both perfect forms and not reducible to analogy. 

Bill Clinton said (infamously) “it depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is. We know what Clinton meant but we’re not as certain of Barzun. If a book, like a bicycle “is” a perfect form than we’re invited to be Platonic but vaguely so because Plato would not have acknowledged Barzun’s “is”. According to Plato common objects are inferior and mutable but each thing replicates perfect and immutable Forms. So there’s a book “form” in the hands of the Gods and a bicycle form but no analogy. 

We are of course living in an age of analogy which is a beautiful thing. For poets it means sneaking back into the garden and eating a second apple and a third, even a fourth. Stuffed, they can write like Wallace Stevens in “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”: “a man and a woman/are one./A man and a woman and a blackbird/are one.” Now we must ask is this sentiment beautiful because it is true or untrue? If it’s beautiful it’s because we can say it. When we’re reckless with analogy we make claims on eternity as Lord Byron tells us in Don Juan

What is the end of Fame? ’tis but to fill

   A certain portion of uncertain paper:

Some liken it to climbing up a hill,

   Whose summit, like all hills’, is lost in vapour;

For this men write, speak, preach, and heroes kill,

   And bards burn what they call their ‘midnight taper,’

To have, when the original is dust,

A name, a wretched picture, and worse bust.


Byron gets it right: after the 18th century analogy is the end of fame. Analogy “is” the striving. 
Byron also gets it right: this is beautiful until it isn’t. 


In his essay “Effects of Analogy” Wallace Stevens spilled the neo-Platonic beans:

Another mode of analogy is to be found in the per- 

sonality of the poet. But this mode is no more limited to 

the poet than the mode of metaphor is so limited. This 

mode proposes for study the poet’s sense of the world 

as the source of poetry. The corporeal world exists as 

the common denominator of the incorporeal worlds of its 

inhabitants. If there are people who live only in the 

corporeal world, enjoying the wind and the weather and 

supplying standards of normality, there are other people 

who are not so sure of the wind and the weather and 

who supply standards of abnormality. It is the poet’s 

sense of the world that is the poet’s world The corporeal 

world, the familiar world of the commonplace, in short, 

our world, is one sense of the analogy that develops be- 

tween our world and the world of the poet The poet’s 

sense of the world is the other sense. It is the analogy 

between these two senses that concerns us. 


Analogy is a beautiful thing but it’s untrue as all men and women are untrue. It also requires bravery—the recognition there are no perfect forms. Everyone gets to invent his or her own incorporeality. This is what’s meant by the world of the poet. 

For Stevens the corporeal world is Byron’s “uncertain paper”. 

A book and a bicycle are one/gods ride them singularly or in teams…

Analogy is in the driver’s seat. This is a melancholy world.