Modern Poetry: Studies in Practical Criticism

Modern Poetry: Studies in Practical Criticism

Modern Poetry: Studies in Practical Criticism

Modern Poetry: Studies in Practical Criticism

Excerpt

When the Cambridge English Tripos was started in 1917, most critics of poetry wrote in a highly generalised, metaphorical style. The reviews in The Times Literary Supplement inclined towards gossip, and were full of description and unspecific praise. They used phrases such as 'golden verse', 'pure tender spirit', or 'his mind was like the wide world dreaming of things to come'. Behind this style was the assumption that literature was a thing of beauty, a product of moonlight and exaltation, and that poetry should be a gateway into the ideal.

In The Muse Unchained (1958), E. M. W. Tillyard has described how in the post-1918 period the teachers at Cambridge wanted to supplant this imprecise laudatory criticism by something more rigorous. Particularly influential was I. A. Richards, whose, famous book, Practical Criticism, was published in 1929. Richards had been trained as a philosopher, and took a First in Moral Science in 1915. When he was a student, the most influential teacher of philosophy at Cambridge was G. E. Moore, who was one of the fathers of modern linguistic analysis. The interest of modern philosophers, such as A. J. Ayer, in the meaning of words runs parallel with developments in literary criticism. Richards learnt from Moore to scrutinise apparently simple statements, and to consider their various shades of meaning. He applied these techniques to imaginative literature, and gradually moved towards the conception of critical analysis which is current today. When in 1926 the English Tripos was extended, practical criticism established itself as an essential part of the examination. In the ensuing years, close scrutiny of literary texts was introduced as a normal part of many university courses. It has become increasingly popular in schools, and questions such . . .

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