The Truest Poetry: An Essay on the Question: What Is Literature?

The Truest Poetry: An Essay on the Question: What Is Literature?

The Truest Poetry: An Essay on the Question: What Is Literature?

The Truest Poetry: An Essay on the Question: What Is Literature?

Excerpt

How far should criticism concern itself with general principles? Most opinions about this are rationalizations of the critic's own preference, his aversion from generalizations as 'categorizing' or his respect for them as a further degree of wisdom than the particular comment. After admitting this, I can set down the view that lies behind this book: that to seek out the principles behind one's critical practice is always fascinating, often useful, and sometimes necessary; that to do this badly is easy, to do it well is very hard; and that the tendency of modern criticism to stick closely to actual texts was a healthy reaction against easy generalization. But as with all reactions, we can, if we like, say that it has gone too far. I do like, as the existence of this book shows: but I know that any theoretical critic today who gives reason to suspect that he could not be a practical critic too deserves all the censure that he will no doubt get. And so at the heart of the book, when it comes to indicating in general terms what the literary response is like, I have put a discussion of two actual poems.

A similar question arises with the writing of literature. Criticism is most directly concerned with readers, but it can also have a pragmatic or indirect function, that of influencing creation. We don't know, of course, how directly it can ever do this, not knowing the relation between poems and poetic theories. Which is cause, which effect? Did the young Pope read Addison, and then decide to write in poetic diction? Or was he helplessly in the grip of a creative urge, of which . . .

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