Experience into Words: Essays on Poetry

By D. W. Harding | Go to book overview
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The Theme of 'The Ancient Mariner'

IN The Road to Xanadu Livingston Lowes eschews any attempt attempt to interpret Coleridge's work along psychoanalytic lines, and no doubt at the time he wrote (in the arly nineteen-twenties) the dangers of amateur psychoanalytic interpretations were more evident than their promise. At the point where he discusses the problem explicitly he shows that Robert Graves' interpretation of 'Kubla Khan', speculative and undisciplined as well as ham-fisted, founders on several errors of biographical fact which better scholarship would have avoided.

The mutual relevance of an author's personal experience and the characteristics of his writing raises questions which fortunately need not be settled as a preliminary to literary studies, even those influenced by psychological thinking. It seems entirely possible, and wise, to distinguish clearly the biographical or clinical study of the author from the literary assessment or elucidation of his writings. Each may sometimes be used to illuminate the other, though the dangers of an over-simplified view of their interrelation are alarming; but if we take the risk we ought to make it perfectly clear whether our purpose is biographical or literary.

If literary, as mine is here, the essential guiding principle is to keep close to the poem (or whatever the form of writing is) and as far as possible use only what it says, either avoiding or using with extreme caution importations from psychological theory and biography. Even the poet's other writings, though they often give useful con


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Experience into Words: Essays on Poetry


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