Possible Misgiving

I shall try now to forestall a misgiving which may arise in the mind of a reader who thinks of modern intellectual life in terms of the dichotomy of the 'two cultures', arts and science, with literary scholarship in the one camp and linguistics in the other. The analytic approach to literature might appear to such a mind objective and clinical, bent on destroying the sublime mysteries of poetry, and on reducing the study of literature to a set of lifeless mechanical procedures.

To allay that fear, I would firstly suggest that the division between arts and science, like that between 'lit.' and 'lang.', is to be fought rather than accepted.

Secondly, objectivity for its own sake is by no means a goal of science. In fact, though objectivity may be a theoretical requirement of science, a scientist (particularly in linguistics, if that is to be counted a science) in practice can rely so much on his own intuition for discovery and on his own judgment for corroboration, that his method of investigation may prove hardly distinguishable from that, say, of a literary commentator. Linguistics and literary criticism, to the extent that they are both concerned with explaining what and how a poem communicates, perform much the same task, but at a rather different level of abstraction.

Thirdly, insight or understanding is a much more important goal, in any human endeavour, than being objective. Statements of objective fact (for example, that there are eighty-two occurrences of the word the in the fourth canto of the first book of The Faerie Queetie) can be as inane in the domain of style as anywhere else. I am fairly untroubled by the thought that I may be criticized for being unobjective, unscientific, or even un-linguistic. But if this book fails to enlighten, and thereby to sharpen appreciation of poetry, it will fail utterly.


1 The earlier history of poetics and rhetoric( a subject which has often had a much wider scope than literary technique) can be traced, in so far as they concern English literature, in j. w. h. Atkins's volumes Literary Criticism in Antiquity, Vols. I and II, Cambridge, 1934; English Literary Criticism: the Medieval Phase, Cambridge, 1943; and English Literary Criticism: the Renaissance, London, 1947. Relatively modern representatives of the rhetorical tradition are a. bain, English Composition and Rhetoric, London, etc., 1887; and sir h. grierson, Rhetoric and English Composition, London, 1944- The 'rhetoric and composition' type of textbook has flourished independently in the USA up to the present day. See, for example, c. brooks and r. p. warren, Fundamentals of Good Writing: a Handbook of Modern Rhetoric, London, 1952.

2 e. pound, 'Retrospect', in Modern Poets on Modem Poetry, ed. j. scully, Fontana Library, 1966, 33.

3 See g. puttenham, Arte of English Poesie, ed. g. d. willcock and a. waiker, Cambridge, 1936. Puttenham coined such homespun terms as cuckoo-spell (for epi-zcuxis), over-rcacher (for hyperbole), and insertour (for parenthesis).

4 'Figures of speech' is here used in a loose, modern sense. In the past this expression has been used more narrowly in a sense corresponding to schemes (see ยง5.1), and so has excluded devices such as metaphor or hyperbole.

5 Consider, for example, a gloss by the Elizabethan commentator 'E.K.' on a passage from the January Eclogue of Spenser's The Shepheardes Calender: 'a pretty Epanorthosis in these two verses, and withal a Paronomasia or playing with the word. ...'

Poetry and the Language of Past and Present

Poetic language' should be the current language heightened, to any degree heightened and unlike itself, but not... an obsolete one.' [GerardManley Hopkins]'

' The language of the age is never the language of poetry.' [ Thomas Cray]1

These two pronouncements by poets will serve to introduce our present theme.3 They differ in emphasis, and indeed seem to contradict one another. This conflict leads us to wonder what is the degree of general truth in each assertion: a question to which an answer will be sought in this and the next chapter. They also testify to the keen interest poets themselves have taken in the relation between the language of poetry and the language of everyday communication.

0 -1

Post a comment