How to Use the Study

The principal problem in any attempt to find a fruitful and cooperative pattern of contacts between linguistics and literary criticism is depressingly simple: where do you begin? Should the study of syntax structure precondition your encounters with sentences in a poem? If so how do you classify and respond to deviations from normal structure? Perhaps these should not be regarded as deviations; perhaps poetry should be categorised as an autonomous linguistic system, maybe even an independent sign system, with its own rules and conventions.

Two assumptions will govern the structure and methodology of this study: firstly, poetry is different from other linguistic discourses and non-linguistic sign systems. Its difference is not, as many current cultural theorists claim, a product of the reader's a priori cultural, aesthetic and ideological expectations; its uniqueness is an intrinsic feature of its structure. The key to our understanding of poetic difference is the 'double pattern'—in its simplest form the relation between the line and syntax—and this will be more fully explained in Chapter 1. Secondly, distinctions between the form, the objectives and the meaning of individual poems can best be understood in terms of the different historical and generic categories that constitute the canon of post-sixteenth-century literature, and Chapters 2-6 will follow this traditional format.

The study is intended to be accessible enough for those whose familiarity with the terms and methodology of linguistics is slight and uncertain, and its format will provide the student with a means of contextualising each poem in terms of the major historical and aesthetic categories of literary studies— metaphysical, Romantic, modernist and so on. But it is not offered as a mechanical 'reader's guide' to conventional perceptions of poetry and interpretation. As well as explaining concepts, terms and effects it also invites the reader to challenge literary and critical norms.

Each specialised interpretive tool—deictics, cohesion, structural versus functional elements, text versus context, etc.—will be briefly defined at its point of introduction, and this system will be supplemented by a glossary of terms, including pointers to uses within this study and to recommended background reading. The Appendix, 'Using the Double Pattern and the Sliding Scale' is a brief guide to the methods employed in the book.

With the exception of Chapter 1, each chapter will conclude with an Exercise section in which the reader will be asked to test issues raised against other texts from the same generic-historical category.

The bibliography will include publication details of every text referred to in the study. If I cite a proper name in the main text or refer to a permutation of surname, title, date and page number, the source will be found in the bibliography.

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