Criticism: The Foundations of Modern Literary Judgment

By Mark Schorer; Gordon McKenzie et al. | Go to book overview

I. A. RICHARDS: Sense and Feeling*

My belief is that there every one is under the sway of preferences deeply rooted within, into the hands of which he unwittingly plays as he pursues his speculation. When there are such good grounds for distrust, only a tepid feeling of indulgence is possible towards the results of one's own mental labours. But I hasten to add that such self-criticism does not render obligatory any special tolerance of divergent opinions. One may inexorably reject theories that are contradicted by the very first steps in the analysis of observation, and yet at the same time be aware that those one holds oneself have only a tentative validity.

-- FREUD, Beyond the Pleasure Principle

SO FAR we have been concerned with some of the snares that waylay the apprehension and judgment of the sense of poetry,1 treated more or less in isolation from its other kinds of meaning. But the interferences with one another of these various meanings give rise to more formidable difficulties. A mistake as to the general intention of a passage can obviously twist its sense for us, and its tone and feeling, almost out of recognition. If we supposed, for example, that Poem I should be read, not as a passage from an Epic, but as a piece of dramatic verse put in the mouth either of a prosing bore, or of a juvenile enthusiast, our apprehension of its tone and feeling would obviously be changed, and our judgment of it, though still perhaps adverse, would be based upon different considerations. The different intentions attributed to Poem II by readers who take it to express on the one hand "a deep passion for real life" (2.61) and on the other "an atmosphere of quietness and uninterrupted peace" (2.71) reflect themselves in the different descriptions they give of its tone ("breathless tumultuous music,"

____________________
*
"Sense and Feeling" is the third chapter of Part III of Practical Criticism ( 1929) and, together with the extended footnote from the Introduction, it is reprinted here by permission of Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc.
1
[In the "Introductory" section of Practical Criticism, Mr. Richards writes as follows:

"The following seem to be the chief difficulties of criticism or, at least, those which we shall have most occasion to consider here:--

"A. First must come the difficulty of making out the plain sense of poetry. The most disturbing and impressive fact brought out by this experiment is that a large proportion of average-to-good (and in some cases, certainly, devoted) readers of poetry frequently and repeatedly fail to understand it, both as a statement and as an expression. They fail to make out its prose sense, its plain, overt meaning, as a set of ordinary, intelligible, English sentences, taken quite apart from any further poetic significance. And equally, they misapprehend its feeling, its tone, and its intention. They would travesty it in a paraphrase. They fail to construe it just as a schoolboy fails to construe a piece of Caesar. How serious in its effects in different instances this failure may be, we shall have to consider with care. It is not confined to one class of readers; not only those whom we would suspect fall victims. Nor is it only the most abstruse poetry which so betrays us. In fact, to set down, for once, the brutal truth, no immunity is possessed on any occasion, not by the most reputable scholar, from this or any other of these critical dangers.

"B. Parallel to, and not unconnected with, these difficulties of interpreting the meaning are the difficulties of sensuous apprehension. Words in sequence have a form to the mind's car and the mind's tongue and larynx, even when silently read. They have a movement and may have a rhythm. The gulf is wide between a reader who naturally and immediately perceives this form and movement (by a conjunction of sensory, intellectual and emotional sagacity) and another reader, who either ignores it or has to build it up laboriously with finger-counting, table-tapping and the rest; and this difference has most far-reaching effects.

"C. Next may come those difficulties that are connected with the place of imagery, principally visual imagery, in poetic reading. They arise in part from the incurable fact that we differ immensely in our capacity to visualise, and to produce imagery of the other senses. Also the importance of our imagery as a whole, as well as of some pet particular type of image, in our mental lives varies surprisingly. Some minds can do nothing and get nowhere without images; others seem to be able to do everything and get anywhere, reach any and every state of thought and feeling without making use of them. Poets on the whole (though by no means all poets always) may be suspected of exceptional imaging capacity, and some readers are constitutionally prone to stress the place of imagery in reading, to pay great attention to it, and even to judge the value of

-524-

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