Frederick Morgan Sydney Lea - Essay

Sydney Lea

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The very title of his first collection of verse, A Book of Change, implies Frederick Morgan's attraction to the notion of metamorphosis, and that of his second, Poems of the Two Worlds, suggests precisely how quotidian life may transform itself into something richer and stranger. So, too, does The Tarot of Cornelius Agrippa…. (p. 1052)

If it is the self in its fullness that The Tarot of Cornelius Agrippa seeks (in the manner of classic occultist works, of which Agrippa himself, a contemporary of Luther's, was a master), the book also seeks to prove that one cannot scheme one's way to it. Any effort to foist allegorical structure on the passages, then, quickly reveals its poverty. Magician, Rogue, Hermit, Angel: are these figures observed by a pilgrim, or are they aspects of the pilgrim himself? Moot: for it's not here a matter of either/or but, as Jung said of the visionary realm, of "either and or."…

The very awareness that there is a distinction between normal and special circumstances dramatizes humanity's disabling self-consciousness. And the reviewer is in the at least disquieting circumstance of at once insisting that Morgan's book is itself special and that criticism—with its etymologic roots in "division"—is inappropriate to such a work which everywhere points toward indivisibility.

Yet a review must pass judgment, however charily. I can testify that with multiple readings, the accretive effect of The Tarot stole over me like dawn: I began to lose the urge to pin down exact referents …; [images] began to merge so that the book uncannily evoked the dream-unity itself. It was perhaps "foretaste of interdependent entities in infinite multiplications."…

Morgan invites us to that taste, to that atmosphere…. If each passage tilts our perspective, radically or subtly, by way of dislodging ingrained perceptual habits, the gambit would be feckless were it not for the attraction of the language—language, in the end, of a poet…. (p. 1053)

Sydney Lea, "Frederick Morgan's 'Tarot'" (copyright, 1979, by Sydney Lea), in The Southern Review, Vol. 15, No. 4, Autumn, 1979, pp. 1052-54.