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The Verbal Icon

The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry

and two preliminary essays written in collaboration with MONROE C. BEARDSLEY
Copyright Date: 1982
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The Verbal Icon
    Book Description:

    The sixteen essays in this volume form a series of related focuses upon various levels and areas of literary criticism. W.K. Wimsatt's assumption is that practice and theory of both the past and the present are integrally related-that there is a continuity in the materials of criticism-that a person who studies poetry today has a critical concern, not merely a historical interest, in what Aristotle or Plato said about poetry. He regards the great perennial problems of criticism as arising not by the whim of a tolerantly pluralist choice, but from the nature of language and reality.

    With profound learning and insight, Wimsatt treats almost the whole range of literary criticism. The first group of essays deals with fallacies he believes are involved in prevalent approaches to the literary object. The next two groups face the responsibilities of the critic who defends literature as a form of knowledge; they treat various problems of structure and style. The last group undertakes to examine the relation of literature to other arts, the relation of evaluative criticism to historical studies, and the relation of literature not only to morals, but more broadly to the whole complex of the Christian religious tradition.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5849-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    W. K. W. Jr.
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-ix)
    (pp. xi-xviii)

    THE ESSAYS which compose this volume were written over a period of about eleven years, from 1941 to 1952. They arose out of several critical preoccupations and occasions, and largely without my planning that they should ever be put together to make a book. They represent, however, what I believe has been my consistent approach to the literary problem at various levels. In the sequence which I now give them, not that of their original publication, and after revisions aimed at the improvement of their relations to one another, I believe the essays approximate a rounded whole.

    The volume begins...

  5. 1

      (pp. 3-19)

      THE CLAIM of the author’s “intention” upon the critic’s judgment has been challenged in a number of recent discussions, notably in the debate entitledThe Personal Heresy, between Professors Lewis and Tillyard. But it seems doubtful if this claim and most of its romantic corollaries are as yet subject to any widespread questioning. The present writers, in a short article entitled “Intention” for aDictionary¹ of literary criticism, raised the issue but were unable to pursue its implications at any length. We argued that the design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for...

      (pp. 21-39)

      AS THE title of this essay invites comparison with that of our first, it may be relevant to assert at this point that we believe ourselves to be exploring two roads which have seemed to offer convenient detours around the acknowledged and usually feared obstacles to objective criticism, both of which, however, have actually led away from criticism and from poetry. The Intentional Fallacy is a confusion between the poem and its origins, a special case of what is known to philosophers as the Genetic Fallacy. It begins by trying to derive the standard of criticism from the psychologicalcauses...

      (pp. 41-66)

      BACK IN the mid 1930’s Professor R. S. Crane of Chicago had a conversion, from straight, neutral history of literature and ideas to literary criticism. His essay, “History versus Criticism in the University Study of Literature,” in theEnglish Journal, October, 1935, was for its date a revolutionary document, a signal victory for criticism. It drew a line between history and criticism with convincing clarity, though perhaps so severely as to have helped raise some later needless embarrassment between academic critics and their colleagues.¹ Crane received the handsome compliments of a poet and critic, John Crowe Ransom, in his essay...

  6. 2

      (pp. 69-83)

      THE CENTRAL argument of this essay, concerning what I shall call the “concrete universal,” proceeds from the observation that literary theorists have from early times to the present persisted in making statements which in their contexts seem to mean that a work of literary art is in some peculiar sense a very individual thing or a very universal thing or both. What that paradox can mean, or what important fact behind the paradox has been discerned by such various critics as Aristotle, Plotinus, Hegel, and Ransom, it will be the purpose of the essay to inquire, and by the inquiry...

      (pp. 85-101)

      THE ANCIENT question whether poetry can appear independently of morals does not lack current answers, both affirmative and negative, and both earnestly argued. The separation of the beautiful and the good, urges one school, is a “fundamental self-deception which vitiates and depraves the very center” of the artist’s character, “the fountains whence his energies as a human personality spring.”¹ For this unified view of values I would at the outset confess my serious sympathy. It is difficult to dissent from it with thorough complacency. On the other hand the champions of the opposite view—most notably Professors Maritain and Adler—...

      (pp. 103-117)

      STUDENTS OF romantic nature poetry have had a great deal to tell us about the philosophic components of this poetry: the specific blend of deistic theology, Newtonian physics, and pantheistic naturalism which pervades the Wordsworthian landscape in the period of “Tintern Abbey,” the theism which sounds in the “Eolian Harp” of Coleridge, the conflict between French atheism and Platonic idealism which even in “Prometheus Unbound” Shelley was not able to resolve. We have been instructed in some of the more purely scientific coloring of the poetry—the images derived from geology, astronomy, and magnetism, and the coruscant green mystery which...

      (pp. 119-130)

      MARTIN FOSS’Symbol and Metaphor in Human Experience¹ is a somewhat romantic hyperdevelopment of the distinction between the literal and the metaphoric which is today a normal preoccupation with philosophers of literature and of symbolic form.Symbol, it may be well to explain at once, does not in Foss’ usage enjoy its usual literary and honorific alliance withmetaphor, but, carrying rather a logical connotation, means what for Foss is the opposite of metaphor, the conceptual. This much understood, one may go on to say that the main difference between Foss and other writers on the same theme lies in...

  7. 3

      (pp. 133-151)

      MY ARGUMENT begins with a respectful but inquiring glance at the schoolbook rule that verbal discourse, and especially description, ought to be particular or concrete. This counterpart of such anciently honored figures as vividness (enargeia) and amplification, formulated for the English tradition during the second half of the eighteenth century as Scottish associational rhetoricians moved away from the more Platonic forms of neoclassicism, appears to be one of the most axiomatic of all modern rhetorical rules. At the same time it is, I believe, one of the most reluctant to yield its modicum of real meaning.

      “Men jostled one another...

      (pp. 153-167)

      THE VIEW of rhyme which I wish to discuss in this essay has been formerly advanced¹ but has never, I believe, been widely entertained. It seems never to have been expounded in English and has never become a part of English literary theory in the sense of being illustrated from English poetry. English prosodists have discussed rhyme as a degree of likeness in word sounds and have catalogued its approximations: alliteration, assonance, slant rhyme, eye rhyme, analyzed rhyme, dissonance, and so forth. But about the meaning of rhyme words they have had little to say. In this essay I wish...

      (pp. 169-185)

      WHEN WE seek to confront two such elusive entities as a theory of poems and poems themselves and to determine relations between these two, I think there is much to be said for placing them first, tentatively, in their most generic and noncommittal relation. There is much to be said for the conjunctional form of title commonly given to the academic paper: XandY, ShakespeareandHall’s Chronicle, TheoryandPoems. I for one find it convenient to distinguish five main types of relation between theory and poems, all five of which are frequently to be observed in critical...

      (pp. 187-199)

      THE TERM “elegant variation” is one which I believe we owe toThe King’s Englishof H. W. and F. G. Fowler. Their analytic wit and readiness with example seem to have brought recognition and a name to a rhetorical fault which formerly one shunned or cultivated only by intuition. Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch in his essay “On Jargon” has written humorously of the same fault. For some time now it has been a topic in textbooks for college English composition. H. W. Fowler’s treatment in hisModern English Usageis perhaps the most concise and orderly. Here under the headings...

      (pp. 201-218)

      THE WORDverbalas it appears in the title of this essay looks in two directions or has two antitheses. In combination with the wordstyleit designates a level of meaning distinct from the substantial, and especially from the stated part of substantial meaning. At the same time,verbalimplies that the level of stylistic meaning is something different from what is expressed by the medium of any other art, and that the discussion will avoid such metaphors as “verbal painting” and “verbal music”—or if it employs them briefly, will do so in full overtness.

      The aim of...

  8. 4

      (pp. 221-233)

      THE ROLE which I have undertaken in this essay is that of defending the domain of poetry and poetics from the encircling (if friendly) arm of the general aesthetician. It is a role which I confess is congenial to my habits of thinking about poetry, yet I should like to protest at the outset that this is so not through any routine attitude of pluralism or nominalism. It is not one of my assumptions, and it will not even be one of my conclusions, that poetry has nothing in common with other arts, any more than it is one of...

      (pp. 235-251)

      MY AIM in this essay is to talk about the question whether explication of a poem is itself an act of criticism and hence of evaluation. Not whether it is necessary to understand a poemin orderto evaluate it (The question in that form is little better than rhetorical), but whether to understand a poem is the same as to evaluate it. This indeed I conceive to be the only critical question that can be asked about explication. And this is far from a rhetorical question. The correct answer to it lies, I believe, not in a simple affirmation...

      (pp. 253-265)

      THE TOPIC which I am undertaking to discuss8—that of the relation between history and literary criticism—is one which today apparently invites the polemic style. I wish, however, to forego that style and at the same time to refrain from the special defense of, or attack upon, any critic or historian or any school of critics or historians. What I have in mind is the delineation of a certain issue which arises between literary criticism and historical scholarship. This issue I look upon as something unavoidably problematic, part of a troublesome opposition which runs through all our experience—between...

      (pp. 267-280)

      THE TERM “poetry” when joined, as it is in the title of this essay, with the term “thinking” is almost sure to mean in effect thinking about poetry, or poetics. This is the more true today because literary critics have for some years been so vigorously concerned to reconsider their activity and to define and vindicate it as a modern liberal art. The title of a recent survey aptly designates the last fifty years in America asAn Age of Criticism. Such an age is bound to give a new theoretical tilt to certain ancient questions concerning the relation of...

    (pp. 281-294)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 295-300)