binary oppositions

A basic analytical tool of linguistics and structuralism. Founded on the assumption that language is a differential structure of signs and that the most basic distinction is binary (e.g. good-bad, right-wrong, yes-no, etc.); and extended as a method of analysing the way in which texts, ideologies and modes of perceptions are structured. See chapter 6, pp. 189-91.

blank verse

The iambic pentameter without rhyme. The basic verse form of sixteenth-seventeeth-century drama (see chapter 2, pp. 31-40 on 'Shakespeare'), which became an accepted non-dramatic form only after Milton's precedent in Paradise Lost (see chapter 3, pp. 76-85).


The cognitive dimension of language refers to our most fundamental level of comprehension (a.k.a. linguistic competence). The term can only be properly understood in relation to its opposing conventional dimension. For example, when we read and understand the statement, 'I am Richard', we generally focus upon its signifying structure as pronoun, verb and name (cognitive) but if a statement has a prominent rhythmic pattern, uses rhyme or alliteration, or is divided typographically into distinct lines, we are also obliged to take into account its conventional structure, i.e. those elements that are self-evidently poetic. See S.R.Levin's The Conventions of Poetry' (1971), and Chapter 1, pp. 15-16.

See also the 'double pattern' and the 'sliding scale'.


This is fundamental to our perception of how texts are organised. In prose, cohesion is governed by the relation between syntactic units, particularly when something is designated specifically by a predicate or referring expression ('John', 'my mother', 'the house') and thereafter referred to as 'he', 'she' or 'it'. In poetry this relationship is complicated by a second level of organisation dividing the text into lines, couplets or stanzas. See Birch (1989) and Halliday and Hasan (1976), and Chapter 3, pp. 69-76.

A LINGUISTIC HISTORY OF ENGLISH POETRY 205 competence—linguistic and literary

Linguistic competence is what enables us to relate instances of linguistic usage with the rules and conventions which govern usage. Literary competence involves the adaptation of this event-instance relationship to the particular conventions, rules and precedents of literary writing. For example a competent reader of poetry will recognise metre, sound pattern and line division as elements of a specifically poetic grammar. See also 'langue' and 'parole', and 'reader-response criticism'.


A subdivision of context (see Jakobson's diagram of the communicative circuit, chapter 1, pp. 26-8). The contact code refers to the means by which the message is delivered from addresser to addressee (spoken, written, sung, books, handwritten notes, etc.). Each of these will be affected by context. For example our expectations of the spoken message at a poetry reading will differ from our expectations of a political oration.


Two principal meanings: (i) The immediate or situational context. This is important in interpreting poems. It is the situation of the poem as speech act which the reader constructs from the evidence within the text (see 'deictics'); (ii) The historical context. This involves the broader network of linguistic, social and behavioural conventions that influence the construction of the text. For example, to understand the term 'the Romantic poem' we also need to appreciate the cultural, political and social conditions of the early nineteenth century (see 'functional—structural').

A third type is the intertextual context. This is ahistorical and refers to the langue of poetic writing. For example Wordsworth's Tintern Abbey' invokes the broader stylistic context occupied by Milton's 'Paradise Lost' (both are in blank verse). See chapter 1, pp. 25-30. See also 'contact'.


A term used most productively by Hollander (1975). It refers to the double effect created when a line division cuts into the deep structure of a sentence, often appearing to at once close and reengage with the pattern of meaning. For example, Williams's, with dead, brown leaves under them leafless vines

See chapter 6, pp. 164-73 on 'Williams and Visualism'.


See 'cognitive'. couplet

The most basic form of stanza, rhyming aa, bb, etc. The heroic (ten syllable) and octosyllabic (eight syllable) couplet are the most widely used forms. See chapter 3 passim..


Deconstruction is an extension of the linguistic theories of Saussure. Saussure suggested that language is not so much a medium that allows us to reflect or mediate reality but more an autonomous sign system of relations in which to some extent we construct reality. For example the difference between two words is conventionally regarded as a representation of the difference between two elements of reality, physical or mental. Deconstruction (founded by Derrida) holds that the differential relation between signs is what enables us to construct and stabilise the differential nature of physical and mental existence. To deconstruct a text is to demonstrate how by relying upon the differential structure of language, it subverts its own claims to reflect or mediate pre-linguistic reality.

Poetry offers itself as an attractive test-case for literary deconstructionists because it foregrounds the unstable relationship between the autonomous, material, differential nature of language and its idealised function as a transparent medium (see the 'double pattern'). In short, some poems appear to be self-deconstructing texts, because they are as much about language as they are a means by which language reflects reality. See Chapter 2, pp. 46-7, Chapter 3, pp. 89-92, Chapter 4, pp. 118-28, The Ode and Deconstruction'. See also Culler (1982).

deep structure—surface structure

The deep structure of a sentence is the abstract, underlying pattern that links its surface structure (the actual sentence) with the rules and conventions of language. This system has been adapted by metrists to account for the tension between the abstract metrical pattern of a line (deep structure or verse design) and the more variable spoken pattern which might sweep across line divisions (surface structure or verse instance). See Traugott and Pratt (1980) for the syntactic method and Attridge (1982) for its metrical counterpart. See Chapter 3, pp. 78-81 on 'Paradise Lost'. See also 'contrerejet'.


Deixis is the study of the part or parts of language (the deictic features) that allow us to establish the context of the speech act—

the orientational features of the text. The identification of deictic features is particularly important in the criticism of poetry because the poem (unlike the reported speech acts of a novel or a play) is rarely attended by external evidence of its spatio-temporal or social context. See Traugott and Pratt (1980) and see Chapter 2, pp. 405.

double pattern

The defining characteristic of poetic language. A double pattern is discernible when a linguistic structure draws upon the normal organisational imperatives of language (syntax, grammar etc.) and creates patterns comprised of the material constituents of language (phonemes, graphemes, rhythmic and metrical patterns). This binary doubling also incorporates, respectively: cognitive and conventional functions; syntax and the line; referential and poetic functions; functional and structural conditions. See Chapter 1, pp. 1-8. See also the 'sliding scale'.


The experiencer is the animate being inwardly affected by a state or a pattern of events, whose speech act is a subjective record of these. Benveniste's concept of discours (subjective record) involves the foregrounding of the presence of the experiencer, while histoire (objective record) involves the distancing of the state or the events reported from the presence of the experiencer. See Traugott and Pratt, and see Chapter 4, pp. 115-17 on 'Blake'.


The collective title given to a number of mostly Russian and Eastern European linguists and literary critics, whose seminal work was done in the first two decades of this century. The Formalists, more than any other literary-critical school, emphasise the necessary and cooperative relationship between literary and linguistic studies. Their objective of defining in abstract terms the structure and effects of poetry corresponds with that of the Anglo-American New Critics of the 1930s-1950s, except that the former maintained that the empirical study of linguistic and poetic data would explain factors such as aesthetic quality, while the latter remained coyly enigmatic regarding the mysterious nature of literary art'. Formalists referred to in this study include Jakobson (Chapter 1 and passim), Bakhtin (Chapter 2), Ingarden (Chapter 2) and Propp (Chapter 4). See Erlich (1965).

free verse

The most important innovative development in twentieth-century poetic form. Free verse disrupts or rejects the conventional regular and irregular forms of the double pattern. The only common feature of all free verse poems is the existence (in various conditions of cooperation, conflict or tension) of syntax and the line. See Chapter 6 passim.


The functional condition of a text is determined by what it is meant to achieve and by the circumstances which substantiate this objective. For example the functional purpose of a washing machine guarantee is straightforward, while the function of literature, poetry and prose, is not so easy to define. To properly understand the function and the functional objectives of texts we should consider their structural condition: the salient technical or stylistic features of a text that allow us to identify categories such as poetic or prosaic. The principal problem with poetry is the specification of what its stylistic features actually do. See Chapter 2, pp. 58-61.


The visual equivalent of the phoneme: the shape or appearance of the character on the page. See Chapter 6, pp. 164-73.

iambic pentameter

The most consistently employed metrical pattern in post-sixteenth-century English poetry. The iambic pentameter consists of ten syllables, with a basic stress pattern of weak-strong, weak-strong. There are variations upon this formula, and the most sophisticated methods of documenting these have been developed by the so-called 'linguistic metrists'. See 'deep structure—surface structure' and Chapter 1, pp. 22-3.


These terms were used by Saussure to account for the relationship between language as a system of rules and conventions (langue) and individual instances of linguistic usage (parole). This distinction underpins the broader twentieth-century phenomenon of structuralism (see Culler, 1975). The meaning or status of an individual speech act or text (parole) is largely determined by the broader system or structure (langue) from which it is drawn. See also 'deep structure—surface structure' and 'competence— linguistic and literary'. The poetic langue supplements the normal rules of syntax and semantics with specifically poetic elements such as metre, line division and rhyme, and each poem (each poetic parole) can only be properly understood in terms of this system (langue) of poetic conventions and devices.

See also the 'double pattern'.


The comparing or contrasting of two or more linguistic elements in relation to a pre-linguistic impression, experience or fact. The simile

(a type of metaphor) involves a comparison which announces the self-evident intervention of the speaker/writer ('is like'), whereas the most prominent type of literary metaphor suggests a natural or immanent resemblance ('is').

The most widely used method of analysing a metaphor is to divide it into tenor (the intended effect) and vehicle (the means by which this effect is achieved). For example in Wordsworth's 'I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud', the tenor is the condition of wandering and loneliness while the vehicle is the image of the cloud.

Regarding poetry, Jakobson (1960) has distinguished between metaphoric and metonymic elements of language. The metonymic function involves a less violent disturbance of the relation between language and perceived reality. For example, we might refer to cars as wheels or to training shoes as runners. In short metonymic usage involves the substitution of a part or a function for the whole. Metaphor involves a more extreme shift from one level of meaning and context to another: John Donne, for instance, transposes a fleabite with sexual intercourse. Jakobson regards the metonymic as the function which underpins prose and the metaphoric as that which underpins poetry.

In terms of syntactic structure, metaphor involves the foregrounding of the paradigmatic axis (a.k.a. the selective or associative); for example, the use of the verb 'flew' instead of 'walked'. Metonymy shifts the balance toward the syntagmatic axis (a.k.a. the contiguous, or combinative) in which there is a more logical correspondence between tenor and vehicle. For example, 'paced' instead of 'walked'.

The most problematic distinction is between poetic and non-poetic metaphor. Jakobson claims that poetic metaphor involves an interaction between the effect of the metaphor and its embedding in patterns of versification (metre, rhyme, alliteration, assonance, line division, etc.). See Chapter 1 on 'Jakobson'. See also Hawkes (1972) and Leech (1969).


See 'metaphor'.


In specific terms metre refers to the measurement of a poetic line by the number and the stress, pitch and accentual value of its syllables. In a more general sense the term refers to the practice and study of poetic form, a sphere also referred to as prosody, metrics and versification. These constitute the conventional dimension of the double pattern. The best bibliography and reference guide to the 'science' of metre and versification is Brogan (1981), and recent studies include Fraser (1970), Easthope (1983) and Attridge (1982). See Chapter 1 passim..


In basic terms, when we naturalise a poem we explain it, translate its effects into the more familiar terms and conventions of non-poetic language. The principal problem for linguists and critics is whether, when naturalising a poem, we simplify and unjustly rationalise its complex multi-dimensional pattern of effects. See Chapter 1, pp. 17-21, 'Naturalisation' and Appendix.

The most flexible and irregular type of rhymed pre-modernist verse. Its structure consists of strophes which, unlike the stanza, permit almost limitless variations of rhyme scheme and metrical pattern. To complicate matters, more regular stanzaic poems are sometimes called 'the ode on.'. See Chapter 4 on The Ode and Deconstruction'.


See 'metaphor'.


Phonetics is the study of sounds in language, a phoneme indicating a particular class of similar sounds. In poetry phonetics relates specifically to effects such as rhyme, assonance and alliteration. See Chapter 4, pp. 127-8 on The Ode and Deconstruction'.

reader-response criticism—reception theory

This type of criticism involves a shift in emphasis from the relation between the projected author's intention and the text toward the relation between the text and the expectations, affiliations and interpretive competence of the reader. With poetry, reader-response criticism is applied mainly to the type of text (particularly modernist) which unsettles regular patterns of form or syntactic, referential coherence. The reader is consequently obliged to impose structures and patterns of coherence upon formless texts, and to draw upon his/her awareness of the poetic langue in order to achieve this (see 'competence—linguistic and literary').

See Chapter 1, pp. 13-17 and Chapter 6 passim, particularly The Clashing of Codes: A Definition of Modernism'.


The kind of meaning whereby an expression or speech act designates real-world entities or states (as opposed to 'sense' which indicates the lexical, word-meaning relation irrespective of context or usage). In poetry the opposing term is 'textual' which indicates patterns and effects (metre, rhyme etc.) whose relations with one another are determined as much by the internal structure of the text as they are by a relation between text and predicated meaning. 'Referential' and 'textual' are terms that correspond closely with 'functional' and 'structural'. See Chapter 4, pp. 120-8 on The Ode and Deconstruction'.

See also the 'double pattern' and the 'sliding scale'.


Similarity or identity in sound. Prior to Paradise Lost the use of rhyme in non-dramatic English poetry was a prescribed convention because it was thought that metre alone would not enable the hearer to distinguish between the line and syntax. Prior to free verse, blank verse was the dominant unrhymed form.

The principal interpretive questions are whether rhyme always produces a counterpattern of meaning (focusing upon the semantics of the rhyme words), whether it functions only as a supplement to punctuation, or as a merely decorative sign of the poetic. See Chapter 3 on 'Rhyme, the Superreader and the Superpoem' and Wimsatt (1944).


The relation between sign (word) and meaning. There is an important distinction between lexical semantics (the meaning of individual words) and sentence semantics, which refers to the relation between the meaning of a word and broader signifying structure of the sentence. See Traugott and Pratt (1980), and Chapter 4, pp. 111-14.

sliding scale

A means of measuring the relationship between the two elements of the double pattern. At one end of the scale we place the cognitive-referential dimension (syntax-paraphrasable meaning) and at the other the conventional and textual dimension (metre, sound pattern, line division—the structural-textual elements). A text which foregrounds the former (see 'Browning', Chapter 5 or 'Pope', Chapter 3) shifts toward the end of the scale that is closest to the referential functions of non-poetic discourse. A text which foregrounds the latter (see 'Hopkins', Chapter 5 or 'Thomas', Chapter 6) shifts toward the end of the scale that is furthest from non-poetic discourse and which involves a dense proliferation of devices drawn from the specifically poetic langue. See Chapter 1, pp. 16-17 and Appendix.


Arguably the most complex metrical formula in English. The two most commonly used versions are the Shakespearean (rhyming abab cdcd for the octave, and efef gg for the sestet) and the Petrarchan (rhyming abba abba for the octave and cdc dcd for the sestet). Irregular or unrhymed sonnets have been used in modern poetry (see Chapter 6, pp. 196-7). The sonnet differs from the stanza in that the latter is an organisational unit of the poem while the former is a complete text. See Chapter 1, pp. 12-13 and Chapter 2, pp. 48-52).

speech acts

A linguistic act performed to accomplish some communicative goal, such as commanding, promising, stating, naming or influencing the addressee emotionally or ideologically. The most prominent form of the poetic speech act is the lyric in which the hearer is addressed directly and drawn into the context of the utterance. See Searle (1969).


The most obvious distinction between speech and writing involves, respectively, what is spoken and heard and what is written, printed and read on the page. But there are two more complex designations: (i) The poststructuralists (see Culler, 1982, on Derrida) regard speech as the idealised medium for truth and sincerity (the speaker is always verifiably present) and writing as a more powerful, autonomous structure in which the speech act is subservient to an intertextual collage of pre-existing texts and utterances (see Chapter 3, pp. 89-92); (ii) In some poetry, particularly blank and free verse, the relation between the spoken and the written text becomes uncertain. What we see on the page might not correspond with what we hear, and the consequent tension is an element of the double pattern. See Bradford (1993) and Chapter 6, pp. 164-73 on 'Williams and Visualism'.

the stanza

Roughly translated (from Italian) 'stanza' means 'room'—in short a designated space within which a linguistic pattern can operate. The line length can vary but the crucial unifying feature of the stanza is the rhyme scheme. The most basic form of stanza is the couplet (aa bb), the next the quatrain (rhyming ab ab). See 'sonnet'.


See 'function'.


The superreader is a term coined by Riffaterre to account for the type of reader who maintains a commanding, omniscient perspective on all of the complex internal structures of the poem

(see 'reference— referential'), and on the relation between the situational context of the speech act and its broader historical and cultural circumstances (see 'context'). In short the superreader is the informed and competent critic. The superpoem refers to the vast framework of devices, effects and contexts surveyed by the superreader. See Chapter 3, pp. 85-92 on 'Rhyme, the Superreader and the Superpoem'.

surface structure

See 'deep structure—surface structure'.


See 'metaphor'.


Syntax refers to the sentence structure of language, and the sentence is the fundamental organisational unit of language. The two concepts most widely used to document syntax or sentence structure are clause and phrase: a clause is effectively the most basic sentence, containing its own subject and predicate, and some sentences contain two or more clauses; a phrase (most significantly noun phrase and verb phrase) enables us to account for the hierarchy of a sentence, in particular whether it is dominated by noun or verb. See Traugott and Pratt (1980).

In poetry syntax represents the organisational element of the cognitive part of the double pattern (with metre/versification as its conventional counterpart). Particular attention should be given to the interactive relationship between syntax and metre. Grammatical deviation (grammar being the rules that determine correct or incorrect syntax) in traditional poetry will often be compensated for by metrical regularity.

Metasyntax refers to the effect achieved when conventional features (such as line division) control or subordinate the normal structures of non-poetic syntax (see 'Williams and Visualism', Chapter 6, pp. 164-73). A related term is grammetrics, which refers to a cooperative relation between syntax and metre (see 'Blank Verse in the Eighteenth Century', Chapter 3, pp. 81-5).

See Chapter 1 passim, 'double pattern', 'sliding scale' and 'Appendix'.


See 'metaphor'.


See 'context'.

214 GLOSSARY textual

See 'reference—referential'. vehicle

See 'metaphor'.


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