Essay Literature Is The Best Criticism Of Life

This article is about the poet. For other uses, see Matthew Arnold (disambiguation).

Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold, by Elliott & Fry, circa 1883.

Born24 December 1822 (1822-12-24)
Laleham, Middlesex, England, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Died15 April 1888 (1888-04-16) (aged 65)
Liverpool, England
OccupationHer Majesty's Inspector of Schools
GenrePoetry; literary, social and religious criticism
Notable works"Dover Beach", "The Scholar-Gipsy", "Thyrsis", Culture and Anarchy, Literature and Dogma
SpouseFrances Lucy

Matthew Arnold (24 December 1822 – 15 April 1888) was an English poet and cultural critic who worked as an inspector of schools. He was the son of Thomas Arnold, the famed headmaster of Rugby School, and brother to both Tom Arnold, literary professor, and William Delafield Arnold, novelist and colonial administrator. Matthew Arnold has been characterised as a sage writer, a type of writer who chastises and instructs the reader on contemporary social issues.[1]

Early years[edit]

The Reverend John Keble, who would become one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement, stood as godfather to Matthew. "Thomas Arnold admired Keble's 'hymns' in The Christian Year, only reversing himself with exasperation when this old friend became a Romeward-tending 'High Church' reactionary in the 1830s."[2] In 1828, Arnold's father was appointed Headmaster of Rugby School and his young family took up residence, that year, in the Headmaster's house. In 1831, Arnold was tutored by his uncle, Rev. John Buckland in the small village of Laleham. In 1834, the Arnolds occupied a holiday home, Fox How, in the Lake District. William Wordsworth was a neighbour and close friend. In 1836, Arnold was sent to Winchester College, but in 1837 he returned to Rugby School where he was enrolled in the fifth form. He moved to the sixth form in 1838 and thus came under the direct tutelage of his father. He wrote verse for the manuscript Fox How Magazine co-produced with his brother Tom for the family's enjoyment from 1838 to 1843. During his years there, he won school prizes for English essay writing, and Latin and English poetry. His prize poem, "Alaric at Rome," was printed at Rugby.

In 1841, he won an open scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford. During his residence at Oxford, his friendship ripened with Arthur Hugh Clough, another Rugby old boy who had been one of his father's favourites. Arnold attended John Henry Newman's sermons at St. Mary's but did not join the Oxford Movement. His father died suddenly of heart disease in 1842, and Fox How became his family's permanent residence. Arnold's poem Cromwell won the 1843 Newdigate prize. He graduated in the following year with a 2nd class honours degree in Literae Humaniores (colloquially Greats).

In 1845, after a short interlude of teaching at Rugby, he was elected Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford. In 1847, he became Private Secretary to Lord Lansdowne, Lord President of the Council. In 1849, he published his first book of poetry, The Strayed Reveller. In 1850 Wordsworth died; Arnold published his "Memorial Verses" on the older poet in Fraser's Magazine.

Marriage and a career[edit]

Wishing to marry, but unable to support a family on the wages of a private secretary, Arnold sought the position of, and was appointed, in April 1851, one of Her Majesty's Inspector of Schools. Two months later, he married Frances Lucy, daughter of Sir William Wightman, Justice of the Queen's Bench. The Arnolds had six children: Thomas (1852–1868); Trevenen William (1853–1872); Richard Penrose (1855–1908), an inspector of factories;[3] Lucy Charlotte (1858–1934) who married Frederick W. Whitridge of New York, whom she had met during Arnold's American lecture tour; Eleanore Mary Caroline (1861–1936) married (1) Hon. Armine Wodehouse (MP) in 1889, (2) William Mansfield, 1st Viscount Sandhurst, in 1909; Basil Francis (1866–1868).

Arnold often described his duties as a school inspector as "drudgery," although "at other times he acknowledged the benefit of regular work."[4] The inspectorship required him, at least at first, to travel constantly and across much of England. "Initially, Arnold was responsible for inspecting Nonconformist schools across a broad swath of central England. He spent many dreary hours during the 1850s in railway waiting-rooms and small-town hotels, and longer hours still in listening to children reciting their lessons and parents reciting their grievances. But that also meant that he, among the first generation of the railway age, travelled across more of England than any man of letters had ever done. Although his duties were later confined to a smaller area, Arnold knew the society of provincial England better than most of the metropolitan authors and politicians of the day."[5]

Literary career[edit]

In 1852, Arnold published his second volume of poems, Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems. In 1853, he published Poems: A New Edition, a selection from the two earlier volumes famously excluding Empedocles on Etna, but adding new poems, Sohrab and Rustum and The Scholar Gipsy. In 1854, Poems: Second Series appeared; also a selection, it included the new poem, Balder Dead.

Arnold was elected Professor of Poetry at Oxford in 1857, and he was the first in this position to deliver his lectures in English rather than in Latin.[6] He was re-elected in 1862. On Translating Homer (1861) and the initial thoughts that Arnold would transform into Culture and Anarchy were among the fruits of the Oxford lectures. In 1859, he conducted the first of three trips to the continent at the behest of parliament to study European educational practices. He self-published The Popular Education of France (1861), the introduction to which was later published under the title Democracy (1879).[7]

In 1865, Arnold published Essays in Criticism: First Series. Essays in Criticism: Second Series would not appear until November 1888, shortly after his untimely death. In 1866, he published Thyrsis, his elegy to Clough who had died in 1861. Culture and Anarchy, Arnold's major work in social criticism (and one of the few pieces of his prose work currently in print) was published in 1869. Literature and Dogma, Arnold's major work in religious criticism appeared in 1873. In 1883 and 1884, Arnold toured the United States and Canada[8] delivering lectures on education, democracy and Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1883.[9] In 1886, he retired from school inspection and made another trip to America.


Arnold died suddenly in 1888 of heart failure whilst running to meet a tram that would have taken him to the Liverpool Landing Stage to see his daughter, who was visiting from the United States where she had moved after marrying an American. Mrs. Arnold died in June 1901.[10]

Arnold's character[edit]

"Matthew Arnold," wrote G. W. E. Russell in Portraits of the Seventies, is "a man of the world entirely free from worldliness and a man of letters without the faintest trace of pedantry".[11] Arnold was a familiar figure at the Athenaeum Club, a frequent diner-out and guest at great country houses, fond of fishing and shooting, and a lively conversationalist, with a self-consciously cultivated air combining foppishness and Olympian grandeur. He read constantly, widely, and deeply, and in the intervals of supporting himself and his family by the quiet drudgery of school inspecting, filled notebook after notebook with meditations of an almost monastic tone. In his writings, he often baffled and sometimes annoyed his contemporaries by the apparent contradiction between his urbane, even frivolous manner in controversy, and the "high seriousness" of his critical views and the melancholy, almost plaintive note of much of his poetry. "A voice poking fun in the wilderness" was T. H. Warren's description of him.


Arnold is sometimes called the third great Victorian poet, along with Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Robert Browning.[12] Arnold was keenly aware of his place in poetry. In an 1869 letter to his mother, he wrote:

My poems represent, on the whole, the main movement of mind of the last quarter of a century, and thus they will probably have their day as people become conscious to themselves of what that movement of mind is, and interested in the literary productions which reflect it. It might be fairly urged that I have less poetical sentiment than Tennyson and less intellectual vigour and abundance than Browning; yet because I have perhaps more of a fusion of the two than either of them, and have more regularly applied that fusion to the main line of modern development, I am likely enough to have my turn as they have had theirs."[13]

Stefan Collini regards this as "an exceptionally frank, but not unjust, self-assessment. ... Arnold's poetry continues to have scholarly attention lavished upon it, in part because it seems to furnish such striking evidence for several central aspects of the intellectual history of the nineteenth century, especially the corrosion of 'Faith' by 'Doubt'. No poet, presumably, would wish to be summoned by later ages merely as an historical witness, but the sheer intellectual grasp of Arnold's verse renders it peculiarly liable to this treatment."[14]

Harold Bloom echoes Arnold's self-characterization in his introduction (as series editor) to the Modern Critical Views volume on Arnold: "Arnold got into his poetry what Tennyson and Browning scarcely needed (but absorbed anyway), the main march of mind of his time." Of his poetry, Bloom says,

"Whatever his achievement as a critic of literature, society, or religion, his work as a poet may not merit the reputation it has continued to hold in the twentieth century. Arnold is, at his best, a very good but highly derivative poet.... As with Tennyson, Hopkins, and Rossetti, Arnold's dominant precursor was Keats, but this is an unhappy puzzle, since Arnold (unlike the others) professed not to admire Keats greatly, while writing his own elegiac poems in a diction, meter, imagistic procedure, that are embarrassingly close to Keats."[15]

Sir Edmund Chambers noted, however, that "in a comparison between the best works of Matthew Arnold and that of his six greatest contemporaries... the proportion of work which endures is greater in the case of Matthew Arnold than in any one of them."[16] Chambers judged Arnold's poetic vision by

"its simplicity, lucidity, and straightforwardness; its literalness...; the sparing use of aureate words, or of far-fetched words, which are all the more effective when they come; the avoidance of inversions, and the general directness of syntax, which gives full value to the delicacies of a varied rhythm, and makes it, of all verse that I know, the easiest to read aloud."[17]

He has a primary school named after him in Liverpool, where he died, and secondary schools named after him in Oxford and Staines.

His literary career — leaving out the two prize poems — had begun in 1849 with the publication of The Strayed Reveller and Other Poems by A., which attracted little notice and was soon withdrawn. It contained what is perhaps Arnold's most purely poetical poem, "The Forsaken Merman." Empedocles on Etna and Other Poems (among them "Tristram and Iseult"), published in 1852, had a similar fate. In 1858 he published his tragedy of Merope, calculated, he wrote to a friend, "rather to inaugurate my Professorship with dignity than to move deeply the present race of humans," and chiefly remarkable for some experiments in unusual – and unsuccessful – metres.

His 1867 poem, "Dover Beach," depicted a nightmarish world from which the old religious verities have receded. It is sometimes held up as an early, if not the first, example of the modern sensibility. In a famous preface to a selection of the poems of William Wordsworth, Arnold identified, a little ironically, as a "Wordsworthian." The influence of Wordsworth, both in ideas and in diction, is unmistakable in Arnold's best poetry. Arnold's poem, "Dover Beach" was included in Ray Bradbury's novel, Fahrenheit 451, and is also featured prominently in the novel Saturday by Ian McEwan. It has also been quoted or alluded to in a variety of other contexts (see Dover Beach).

Some consider Arnold to be the bridge between Romanticism and Modernism. His use of symbolic landscapes was typical of the Romantic era, while his sceptical and pessimistic perspective was typical of the Modern era. The rationalistic tendency of certain of his writings gave offence to many readers, and the sufficiency of his equipment in scholarship for dealing with some of the subjects which he handled was called in question, but he undoubtedly exercised a stimulating influence on his time. His writings are characterised by the finest culture, high purpose, sincerity, and a style of great distinction, and much of his poetry has an exquisite and subtle beauty, though here also it has been doubted whether high culture and wide knowledge of poetry did not sometimes take the place of true poetic fire. Henry James wrote that Matthew Arnold's poetry will appeal to those who "like their pleasures rare" and who like to hear the poet "taking breath."

The mood of Arnold's poetry tends to be of plaintive reflection, and he is restrained in expressing emotion. He felt that poetry should be the 'criticism of life' and express a philosophy. Arnold's philosophy is that true happiness comes from within, and that people should seek within themselves for good, while being resigned in acceptance of outward things and avoiding the pointless turmoil of the world. However, he argues that we should not live in the belief that we shall one day inherit eternal bliss. If we are not happy on earth, we should moderate our desires rather than live in dreams of something that may never be attained. This philosophy is clearly expressed in such poems as "Dover Beach" and in these lines from "Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse":

Wandering between two worlds, one dead
The other powerless to be born,
With nowhere yet to rest my head
Like these, on earth I wait forlorn.

Arnold valued natural scenery for its peace and permanence in contrast with the ceaseless change of human things. His descriptions are often picturesque, and marked by striking similes. However, at the same time he liked subdued colours, mist and moonlight. He seems to prefer the 'spent lights' of the sea-depths in "The Forsaken Merman" to the village life preferred by the merman's lost wife.

In his poetry he derived not only the subject matter of his narrative poems from various traditional or literary sources but even much of the romantic melancholy of his earlier poems from Senancour's "Obermann".


Assessing the importance of Arnold's prose work in 1988, Stefan Collini stated, "for reasons to do with our own cultural preoccupations as much as with the merits of his writing, the best of his prose has a claim on us today that cannot be matched by his poetry."[18] "Certainly there may still be some readers who, vaguely recalling 'Dover Beach' or 'The Scholar Gipsy' from school anthologies, are surprised to find he 'also' wrote prose."[19]

George Watson follows George Saintsbury in dividing Arnold's career as a prose writer into three phases: 1) early literary criticism that begins with his preface to the 1853 edition of his poems and ends with the first series of Essays in Criticism (1865); 2) a prolonged middle period (overlapping the first and third phases) characterised by social, political and religious writing (roughly 1860–1875); 3) a return to literary criticism with the selecting and editing of collections of Wordsworth's and Byron's poetry and the second series of Essays in Criticism.[20] Both Watson and Saintsbury declare their preference for Arnold's literary criticism over his social or religious criticism. More recent writers, such as Collini, have shown a greater interest in his social writing,[21] while over the years a significant second tier of criticism has focused on Arnold's religious writing.[22] His writing on education has not drawn a significant critical endeavour separable from the criticism of his social writings.[23]

Selections from the Prose Work of Matthew Arnold[24]

Literary criticism[edit]

Arnold's work as a literary critic began with the 1853 "Preface to the Poems". In it, he attempted to explain his extreme act of self-censorship in excluding the dramatic poem "Empedocles on Etna". With its emphasis on the importance of subject in poetry, on "clearness of arrangement, rigor of development, simplicity of style" learned from the Greeks, and in the strong imprint of Goethe and Wordsworth, may be observed nearly all the essential elements in his critical theory. George Watson described the preface, written by the thirty-one-year-old Arnold, as "oddly stiff and graceless when we think of the elegance of his later prose."[25]

Criticism began to take first place in Arnold's writing with his appointment in 1857 to the professorship of poetry at Oxford, which he held for two successive terms of five years. In 1861 his lectures On Translating Homer were published, to be followed in 1862 by Last Words on Translating Homer, both volumes admirable in style and full of striking judgments and suggestive remarks, but built on rather arbitrary assumptions and reaching no well-established conclusions.[citation needed] Especially characteristic, both of his defects and his qualities, are on the one hand, Arnold's unconvincing advocacy of English hexameters and his creation of a kind of literary absolute in the "grand style," and, on the other, his keen feeling of the need for a disinterested and intelligent criticism in England.

Although Arnold's poetry received only mixed reviews and attention during his lifetime, his forays into literary criticism were more successful. Arnold is famous for introducing a methodology of literary criticism somewhere between the historicist approach common to many critics at the time and the personal essay; he often moved quickly and easily from literary subjects to political and social issues. His Essays in Criticism (1865, 1888), remains a significant influence on critics to this day, and his prefatory essay to that collection, "The Function of Criticism at the Present Time", is one of the most influential essays written on the role of the critic in identifying and elevating literature — even while admitting, "The critical power is of lower rank than the creative." In one of his most famous essays on the topic, "The Study of Poetry", Arnold wrote that, "Without poetry, our science will appear incomplete; and most of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy will be replaced by poetry". He considered the most important criteria used to judge the value of a poem were "high truth" and "high seriousness". By this standard, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales did not merit Arnold's approval. Further, Arnold thought the works that had been proven to possess both "high truth" and "high seriousness", such as those of Shakespeare and Milton, could be used as a basis of comparison to determine the merit of other works of poetry. He also sought for literary criticism to remain disinterested, and said that the appreciation should be of "the object as in itself it really is."

Social criticism[edit]

He was led on from literary criticism to a more general critique of the spirit of his age. Between 1867 and 1869 he wrote Culture and Anarchy, famous for the term he popularised for the middle class of the English Victorian era population: "Philistines", a word which derives its modern cultural meaning (in English – the German-language usage was well established) from him. Culture and Anarchy is also famous for its popularisation of the phrase "sweetness and light," first coined by Jonathan Swift.[26]

Arnold's "want of logic and thoroughness of thought" as noted by John M. Robertson in Modern Humanists was an aspect of the inconsistency of which Arnold was accused.[27] Few of his ideas were his own, and he failed to reconcile the conflicting influences which moved him so strongly. "There are four people, in especial," he once wrote to Cardinal Newman, "from whom I am conscious of having learnt – a very different thing from merely receiving a strong impression – learnt habits, methods, ruling ideas, which are constantly with me; and the four are – Goethe, Wordsworth, Sainte-Beuve, and yourself." Dr. Arnold must be added; the son's fundamental likeness to the father was early pointed out by Swinburne, and was later attested by Matthew Arnold's grandson, Mr. Arnold Whitridge.

Journalistic criticism[edit]

In 1887, Arnold was credited with coining the phrase "New Journalism", a term that went on to define an entire genre of newspaper history, particularly Lord Northcliffe's turn-of-the-century press empire. However, at the time, the target of Arnold's irritation was not Northcliffe, but the sensational journalism of Pall Mall Gazette editor, W.T. Stead.[28] Arnold had enjoyed a long and mutually beneficial association with the Pall Mall Gazette since its inception in 1865. As an occasional contributor, he had formed a particular friendship with its first editor, Frederick Greenwood and a close acquaintance with its second, John Morley. But he strongly disapproved of the muck-raking Stead, and declared that, under Stead, "the P.M.G., whatever may be its merits, is fast ceasing to be literature."[29]

Religious criticism[edit]

His religious views were unusual for his time. Scholars of Arnold's works disagree on the nature of Arnold's personal religious beliefs. Under the influence of Baruch Spinoza and his father, Dr. Thomas Arnold, he rejected the supernatural elements in religion, even while retaining a fascination for church rituals. Arnold seems to belong to a middle ground that is more concerned with the poetry of religion and its virtues and values for society than with the existence of God.[citation needed] In the preface to God and the Bible, written in 1875, Arnold recounts a powerful sermon he attended discussing the "salvation by Jesus Christ", he writes: "Never let us deny to this story power and pathos, or treat with hostility ideas which have entered so deep into the life of Christendom. But the story is not true; it never really happened".[30]

He continues to express his concern with Biblical truth explaining that "The personages of the Christian heaven and their conversations are no more matter of fact than the personages of the Greek Olympus and their conversations."[30] He also wrote in Literature and Dogma: "The word 'God' is used in most cases as by no means a term of science or exact knowledge, but a term of poetry and eloquence, a term thrown out, so to speak, as a not fully grasped object of the speaker's consciousness – a literary term, in short; and mankind mean different things by it as their consciousness differs."[31] He defined religion as "morality touched with emotion".[32]

However, he also wrote in the same book, "to pass from a Christianity relying on its miracles to a Christianity relying on its natural truth is a great change. It can only be brought about by those whose attachment to Christianity is such, that they cannot part with it, and yet cannot but deal with it sincerely."[33]


Harold Bloom writes that "Whatever his achievement as a critic of literature, society or religion, his work as a poet may not merit the reputation it has continued to hold in the twentieth century. Arnold is, at his best, a very good, but highly derivative poet, unlike Tennyson, Browning, Hopkins, Swinburne and Rossetti, all of whom individualized their voices." [34]

The writer John Cowper Powys, an admirer, wrote that, "with the possible exception of Merope, Matthew Arnold's poetry is arresting from cover to cover – [he] is the great amateur of English poetry [he] always has the air of an ironic and urbane scholar chatting freely, perhaps a little indiscreetly, with his not very respectful pupils."[35]

Partial list of works:[36]

  1. The Strayed Reveller, and Other Poems
  2. Empedocles on Etna, and Other Poems
  3. Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse
  4. Sohrab and Rustum
  5. The Scholar-Gipsy
  6. Memorial Verses to Wordsworth
  7. Stanzas in Memory of the Author of "Obermann"
  8. Rugby Chapel
  9. Thyrsis
  10. Essays in Criticism
  11. Culture and Anarchy
  12. Friendship's Garland

See also[edit]


  1. ^Landow, George. Elegant Jeremiahs: The Sage from Carlyle to Mailer. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1986.
  2. ^Honan, 1981, p. 5.
  3. ^Composer Edward Elgar dedicated one of the Enigma Variations to Richard.
  4. ^Collini, 1988, p. 21.
  5. ^Collini, 1988, p. 21
  6. ^"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 23 July 2014. Retrieved 16 July 2014. 
  7. ^Super, CPW, II, p. 330.
  8. ^"Literary Gossip". The Week : a Canadian journal of politics, literature, science and arts. 1. 1: 13. 6 December 1883. 
  9. ^"Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter A"(PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 25 April 2011. 
  10. ^"Obituary – Mrs. Matthew Arnold". The Times (36495). London. 1 July 1901. p. 11. 
  11. ^Russell, 1916[page needed]
  12. ^Collini, 1988, p. 2.
  13. ^Lang, Volume 3, p. 347.
  14. ^Collini, 1988, p. 26.
  15. ^Bloom, 1987, pp. 1–2.
  16. ^Chambers, 1933, p. 159.
  17. ^Chambers, 1933, p. 165.
  18. ^Collini, 1988, p. vii.
  19. ^Collini, 1988, p. 25.
  20. ^Watson, 1962, pp. 150–160. Saintsbury, 1899, p. 78 passim.
  21. ^Collini, 1988. Also see the introduction to Culture and Anarchy and other writings, Collini, 1993.
  22. ^See "The Critical Reception of Arnold's Religious Writings" in Mazzeno, 1999.
  23. ^Mazzeno, 1999.
  24. ^Arnold, Matthew (1913). William S. Johnson, ed. Selections from the Prose Work of Matthew Arnold. Houghton Mifflin. 
  25. ^Watson, 1962, p. 147.
  26. ^The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Sweetness and light. Houghton Mifflin Company.
  27. ^Robertson, John M. (1901). Modern Humanists. S. Sonnenschein. p. 145.  
  28. ^We have had opportunities of observing a new journalism which a clever and energetic man has lately invented. It has much to recommend it; it is full of ability, novelty, variety, sensation, sympathy, generous instincts; its one great fault is that it is feather-brained." Mathew Arnold, The Nineteenth century No. CXXIII. (May 1887) pp. 629–643. Available online at
  29. ^Quoted in Harold Begbie, The Life of General William BoothArchived 14 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine., (2 vols., New York, 1920). Available [online]
  30. ^ abSuper, CPW, VII, p. 384.
  31. ^Super, CPW, VI, p. 171.
  32. ^Super, CPW, VI, p. 176.
  33. ^Super, CPW, VI, p. 143.
  34. ^Poets and Poems, Harold Bloom, p.203
  35. ^The Pleasures of Literature, John Cowper Powys, p.397-398
  36. ^Drabble, Margaret (2000). The Oxford Companion to English Literature (6th edition). Oxford University Press. p. 42. ISBN 0-19-866244-0. 

Abbreviation: CPW stands for Robert H. Super (editor), The Complete Prose Works of Matthew Arnold, see Bibliography.


  • George W. E. Russell (editor), Letters of Matthew Arnold, 1849–88, 2 vols. (London and New York: Macmillan, 1895)
Published seven years after their author's death these letters were heavily edited by Arnold's family.
  • Howard F. Lowry (editor), The Letters of Matthew Arnold to Arthur Hugh Clough (New York: Oxford University Press, 1932)
  • C. B. Tinker and H. F. Lowry (editors), The Poetical Works of Matthew Arnold, Oxford University Press, 1950 standard edition, OCLC 556893161
  • Kenneth Allott (editor), The Poems of Matthew Arnold (London and New York: Longman Norton, 1965) ISBN 0-393-04377-0
Part of the "Annotated English Poets Series," Allott includes 145 poems (with fragments and juvenilia) all fully annotated.
  • Robert H. Super (editor), The Complete Prose Works of Matthew Arnold in eleven volumes (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1960–1977)
  • Miriam Allott and Robert H. Super (editors), The Oxford Authors: Matthew Arnold (Oxford: Oxford university Press, 1986)
A strong selection from Miriam Allot, who had (silently) assisted her husband in editing the Longman Norton annotated edition of Arnold's poems, and Robert H. Super, editor of the eleven volume complete prose.
  • Stefan Collini (editor), Culture and Anarchy and other writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993) part of the Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought series.
Collini's introduction to this edition attempts to show that "Culture and Anarchy, first published in 1869, has left a lasting impress upon subsequent debate about the relation between politics and culture" —Introduction, p. ix.
  • Cecil Y. Lang (editor), The Letters of Matthew Arnold in six volumes (Charlottesville and London: The University Press of Virginia, 1996–2001)
  • Biographies (by publication date):
Saintsbury combines biography with critical appraisal. In his view, "Arnold's greatness lies in 'his general literary position' (p. 227). Neither the greatest poet nor the greatest critic, Arnold was able to achieve distinction in both areas, making his contributions to literature greater than those of virtually any other writer before him." Mazzeno, 1999, p. 8.
  • Herbert W. Paul, Mathew Arnold (London: Macmillan, 1902)
  • G. W. E. Russell, Matthew Arnold (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1904)
  • Lionel Trilling, Matthew Arnold (New York: Norton, 1939)
Trilling called his study a "biography of a mind."
  • Park Honan, Matthew Arnold, a life (New York, McGraw–Hill, 1981) ISBN 0-07-029697-9
"Trilling's book challenged and delighted me but failed to take me close to Matthew Arnold's life. ... I decided in 1970 to write a definitive biography... Three-quarters of the biographical data in this book, I may say, has not appeared in a previous study of Arnold." —Preface, pp. viii–ix.
  • Stefan Collini, Arnold (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988)
A good starting point for those new to Arnold's prose. "Like many late century scholars, Collini believes Arnold's chief contribution to English literature is as a critic. ... Collini insists Arnold remains a force in literary criticism because 'he characterizes in unforgettable ways' the role that literary and cultural criticism 'can and must play in modern societies'" (p 67). Mazzeno, 1999, pp. 103–104.
  • Nicholas Murray, A Life of Matthew Arnold (New York: St. Martin's, 1996)
"...focuses on the conflicts between Arnold's public and private lives. A poet himself, Murray believes Arnold was a superb poet who turned to criticism when he realised his gift for verse was fading." Mazzeno, 1999, p. 118.
  • Ian Hamilton, A Gift Imprisoned: A Poetic Life of Matthew Arnold (London: Bloomsbury, 1998)
"Choosing to concentrate on the development of Arnold's talents as a poet, Hamilton takes great pains to explore the biographical and literary sources of Arnold's verse." Mazzeno, 1999, p. 118.
  • Thomas Burnett Smart, The Bibliography of Matthew Arnold 1892, (reprinted New York: Burt Franklin, 1968, Burt Franklin Bibliography and Reference Series #159)
  • Laurence W. Mazzeno, Matthew Arnold: The Critical Legacy (Woodbridge: Camden House, 1999)
Not a true bibliography, nonetheless, it provides thorough coverage and intelligent commentary for the critical writings on Arnold.
  • Writings on Matthew Arnold or containing significant discussion of Arnold (by publication date):
  • Stephen, Leslie (1898). "Matthew Arnold". Studies of a Biographer. 2. London: Duckworth and Co. pp. 76–122. 
  • G. W. E. Russell, Portraits of the Seventies (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916)
  • Sir Edmund Chambers, "Matthew Arnold," Watson Lecture on English Poetry, 1932, in English Critical Essays: Twentieth century, Phyllis M. Jones (editor) (London: Oxford University Press, 1933)
  • T. S. Eliot, "Matthew Arnold" in The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1933)
This is Eliot's second essay on Matthew Arnold. The title of the series consciously echoes Arnold's essay, “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time” (1864).
  • Professors Chauncey Brewster Tinker and Howard Foster Lowry, The Poetry of Matthew Arnold: A Commentary (New York: Oxford University Press, 1940) Alibris ID 8235403151
  • W. F. Connell, The Educational Thought and Influence of Matthew Arnold (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, Ltd, 1950)
Mazzeno describes this as the "definitive word" on Arnold's educational thought. Mazzeno, 1999, p. 42.
  • George Watson, "Matthew Arnold" in The Literary Critics: A Study of English Descriptive Criticism (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1962)
  • A. Dwight Culler, "Imaginative Reason: The Poetry of Matthew Arnold" (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966).
Described by Stefan Collini as "the most comprehensive discussion" of the poetry in his "Arnold" Past Masters, p.121.
  • David J. DeLaura, "Hebrew and Hellene in Victorian England: Newman, Arnold, and Pater" (Austin: University of Texas Pr, 1969).
This celebrated study brilliantly situates Arnold in the intellectual history of his time.
  • Northrop Frye, The Critical Path: An Essay on the Social Context of Literary Criticism (in "Daedalus", 99, 2, pp. 268–342, Spring 1970; then New York: Prentice Hall/Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1983) ISBN 0-7108-0641-8
  • Joseph Carroll, The Cultural Theory of Matthew Arnold. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981)
  • Ruth apRoberts, Arnold and God (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983)
  • Harold Bloom (editor), W. H. Auden, J. Hillis Miller, Geoffrey Tillotson, G. Wilson Knight, William Robbins, William E. Buckler, Ruth apRoberts, A. Dwight Culler, and Sara Suleri, Modern Critical Views: Matthew Arnold (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987)
  • David G. Riede, Matthew Arnold and the Betrayal of Language (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1988)
"...explores Arnold's attempts to find an authoratative language, and argues that his occasional claims for such language reveal more uneasiness than confidence in the value of 'letters.' ... Riede argues that Arnold's determined efforts to write with authority, combined with his deep-seated suspicion of his medium, result in an exciting if often agonised tension in his poetic language." –from the book flap.
  • Donald Stone, Communications with the Future: Matthew Arnold in Dialogue (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997)
  • Linda Ray Pratt, Matthew Arnold Revisited, (New York: Twayne Publishers, 2000) ISBN 0-8057-1698-X
  • Francesco Marroni, Miti e mondi vittoriani (Rome: Carocci, 2004)
  • Renzo D'Agnillo, The Poetry of Matthew Arnold (Rome: Aracne, 2005)

External links[edit]

Matthew Arnold's grave at All Saints' Church, Laleham, Surrey.
Caricature from Punch, 1881: "Admit that Homer sometimes nods, That poets do write trash, Our Bard has written "Balder Dead," And also Balder-dash"

Some Literary Criticism quotes

(there's a blog version at

Purposes and Definitions of the Arts

  • Purposes
    • Poetry and other Arts
      • "poetry is music set to words", Dennis O'Driscoll
      • "One of [Donald Davie's favourite notions] was that there were three useful analogies for the understanding of literature in general and modern literature in particular. Poetry was like theatre, as in Yeats; like music, as in Pasternak and Eliot; and like sculpture, as in Pound", Denis Donoghue, "Words Alone", 2000
      • "Poetry, unlike music, is a meta-art, and relies upon non-physical structures for the production of its effects. In its case, the medium is syntax, grammar and logical continuity, which together form the carrier-wave of plain sense within which its deeper meanings are broadcast.", Don Paterson, "The empty image: new models of the poetic trope",
      • "Poetry lies at the centre of the literary experience because it is the form that most clearly asserts the specificity of literature", Jonathan Culler, "Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics and the Study of Literature", Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975, p.189
      • "Of all the arts poetry (which owes its origin almost entirely to genius and will least be guided by precept or example) maintains the first rank", Kant, "Critique of Judgement", p.215
      • "Hegel declares that poetry is supreme among the arts, combining music's apprehension of the inner life of the mind with the determinate phenomenal character of sculpture and painting. In contrast to many of his contemporaries who make similar claims, however, Hegel never wavers in insisting that poetry is the crisis of art as much as it is its triumph. Poetry's uniqueness stems from the fact that the subject and the object of poetry, the medium and the message, are one and the same. Unlike painting or sculpture, poetry can deal with any and every topic in any and every fashion because in the final analysis what poetry really expresses is the mind's apprehension of itself to itself in itself", "Derrida, Hegel, and the Language of Finitude", Jan Mieszkowski, Postmodern Culture, May 2005
    • Poetry and Ritual
      • "Poetry speaks most effectively and inclusively (whether in free or formal verse) when it recognizes its connection - without apology - to its musical and ritualistic origins", Dana Gioia, "The Dark Horse", 2015, p.13
      • "I suggest that what artists do in all media can be summarized as deliberately performing the operations that occur instinctively during a ritualized behaviour: they simplify or formalize, repeat (sometimes with variation), exaggerate, and elaborate in both space and time for the purpose of attracting attention and provoking and manipulating emotional response", Dissanayake, "Aesthetic Incunabula", Philosophy and Literature - Volume 25, Number 2, October 2001.
      • "all art emulates the condition of ritual. That is what it comes from and to that it must always return for nourishment", T.S. Eliot, The Dial 75
    • Poetry and Life
      • "poetry gets to be the poetry of life by successfully becoming first the poetry of poetry", Hollander, "Melodious Guile", Yale Univ Press, 1988, p.15
      • "Those who are not very concerned with art want poems or pictures to record for them something they already know - as one might want a picture of a place he loves" George Oppen, "An Adequate Vision: A George Oppen Daybook", ed Davidson, IR 26:5-31, p.29.
      • "Poems very seldom consist of poetry and nothing else; and pleasure can be derived also from their other ingredients. I am convinced that most readers, when they think they are admiring poetry, are deceived by inability to analyse their sensations, and that they are really admiring, not the poetry of the passage before them, but something else in it, which they like better than poetry", A.E. Housman, "The Name and Nature of Poetry" (lecture), 1933.
      • "The public, as a whole, does not demand or appreciate the pure expression of beauty. Its cultured members expect to find in poetry, if anything, repose from material and nervous anxiety; an apt or chiselled phrase strokes the appetites and tickles the imagination. The more general public merely enjoys its platitudes and truisms jerked on to the understanding in line and rhyme; truth put into metre sounds overwhelmingly true", Harold Monro, "The Future of Poetry", Poetry Review, January 1912
    • "artworks not only mime nature; they also mime the accepted modes of miming", Stephen H. Blackwell, "The Quill and the Scalpel", Ohio State University Press, 2009, p.88
    • "art as a whole is a riddle. Another way of putting this is to say that art expresses something while at the same time hiding it", Adorno,""
    • "What the artist tries to do (either consciously or unconsciously) is to not only capture the essence of something but also to amplify it in order to more powerfully activate the same neural mechanisms that would be activated by the original object", Ramachandran, 1999
    • "It is a mistake to suppose, with some philosophers of aesthetics, that art and poetry aim to deal with the general and the abstract. This misconception has been foisted upon us by mediaeval logic. Art and poetry deal with the concrete of nature, not with separate 'particulars,' for such rows do not exist.", Fenollosa, The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry, p.27
    • "The function of poetry is to point out that the sign is not identical to the referent", Jacobson
    • "The end of writing is to instruct; the end of poetry is to instruct by pleasing", Samuel Johnson, "Johnson on Shakespeare" (ed. Walter Raleigh), 1908. p.16
    • "one’s deepest impulse in writing … is to my mind not "I must tell everybody about that" (i.e. responsibility to other people) but "I must stop that from being forgotten if I can" (i.e. responsibility towards subject)", Philip Larkin, "Daily Telegraph interview"
    • "All Poetry, to speak with Aristotle and the Greek critics (if for so plain a point authorities be thought wanting) is, properly, imitation. It is, indeed, the noblest and most extensive of the mimetic arts; having all creation for its object, and ranging the entire circuit of universal being", Richard Hurd, "Discourse on Poetical Imitation", 1751
    • "Poetry exists partly to undermine the certainties of an accepted intellectual system, by opening a fissure of awareness at which the reality of the unconquered world may enter", "Slip-shod Sibyls", Germaine Greer, Viking, 1995, p.3
    • "I want poetry not to be like reality but to be as impossible as reality" - Keston Sutherland
    • "The job of the poet (a job which can't be learned) consists of placing those objects of the visible world which have become invisible due to the glue of habit, in an unusual position which strikes the soul and gives them a tragic force", Cocteau, p.12, "La Mort et les Statues", Paris, 1977.
    • "The future of poetry is immense, because in poetry, where it is worthy of its high destinies, our race, as time goes on, will find an ever surer and surer stay ... More and more mankind will discover that we have to turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to console us, to sustain us", Matthew Arnold, "The Study of Poetry".
    • "If reality impacted directly on our senses and our consciousness, if we could have direct communication between the material world and ourselves, art would be unnecessary", Bergson, ""
    • "If what has happened in the one person were communicated directly to the other, all art would collapse, all the effects of art would disappear", Valéry, "Reflections", p.64, Collected Works 13:142.
    • "The non-mimetic character of language is thus, in a certain way, the opportunity and the condition for poetry to exist. Poetry exists only to 'renumerate' in other words, to repair and compensate for the 'defect of languages'" - Gerard Genette, "Valéry and the Poetics of Language"
    • "The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects 'unfamiliar', to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception, because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important" - Shklovsky, "Art as Technique", 1917 (in Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays, Lemon and Reis, Univ of Nebraska Press, 1965), p.12
    • "Poetry presents the thing in order to convey the feeling. It should be precise about the thing and reticent about the feeling, for as soon as the mind responds and connects with the thing the feeling shows in the words" - Wei T'ai, 11th century.
    • "No longer do we accept the 'sublimation model' according to which 'the function of art is to sublimate or transform experience, raising it from ordinary to extraordinary, from commonplace to unique, from low to high'", Rosalind Krauss, October 56, [spring 1991]:3
    • "A poem points to nothing but itself. Information is relative. A poem is absolute", EM Forster, "Anonymity: An Inquiry", 1925.
    • "Poetry is not only the most concise way of conveying the human experience; it also offers the highest possible standards for any linguistic operation" - Brodsky, "On Grief and Reason", Hamish Hamilton, 1996
    • "The primary function of poetry, as of all the arts, is to make us more aware of ourselves and the world around us. I do not know if such increased awareness makes us more moral or more efficient. I hope not. I think it makes us more human, and I am quite certain it makes us more difficult to deceive", Auden, in "The English Auden: Poems, Essays and Dramatic Writings, 1927-1939", ed Mendelson, Faber, p.371
    • "The primary pigment of poetry is the IMAGE", BLAST
    • "The poetic myths are dead; and the poetic image, which is the myth of the individual, reigns in their stead" - C. Day Lewis
    • "Thought must be hidden in the verse like nutritional virtue in a fruit", Valéry
    • "If the value of poetry is seen as dependent on posterity, and thus in opposition to strategies of intervention in the present, particularly to interventions with any serious prospect of political effectivity, then contemporaneity is mortgaged to aesthetic ambition", Drew Milne, "Agoraphobia, and the embarrassment of manifestos" (Parataxis, republished in Jacket 20, 2002).
    • "Verbal art is experienced as aesthetic because it exploits to the full every option for making verbal behaviour difficult", Nigel Fabb, "Language and Linguistic Structure", CUP, 2002, p.217
    • "most poets who have little or nothing to say are concerned primarily with the way in which they say it ... if it is true that the style of a poem and the poem itself are one, ... it may be ... that the poets who have little or nothing to say are, or will be, the poets that matter", Wallace Stevens, "Two or Three Ideas" in "Opus Posthumous", Samuel French Morse, Knopf, 1975.
    • "Poetry is always the most impure and most conservative of the arts", Monroe K. Spears, "Dionysus and the City", OUP, 1970, p.111
  • Definitions
    • "As I see it, the value of poetry is that it should matter. It should matter first to the writer and then to the reader", Michael Rosen
    • poetry is the "fusion of three arts: music, storytelling, and painting" where the line represents the poem's music, the sentence explains the story and the image displays the 'vision' of the poet, Molly Peacock, "How to read a poem ... and start a poetry circle", 1999, p.19
    • "a poem is an interruption of silence, an occupation of silence, whereas public language is a continuation of noise", B. Collins
    • "A poem needs to find a way into itself", G. Margolis
    • "A poem is a detour we willingly subject ourselves to, a trick surprising us into the deepened vulnerability we both desire and fear. Its strategies of beauty, delay, and deception smuggle us past the border of our own hesitation", J. Hirshfield, "Nine gates: Entering the mind of poetry", Harper Collins, 1997, p.125
    • Poets "peer into dark places and speak for those who have no voice. They wonder into the cities and forests, with eyes and ears open, and report on these experiences with astonishing candor and subtleness", Parini, "Why Poetry Matters", Yale UP, 2008, p.178
    • "Poetry offers a way of understanding and expressing existence that is fundamentally different from conceptual thought", Dana Gioia, "The Dark Horse", 2015, p.17
    • "So we start with an oversignifying reader. Those texts that appear to reward this reader for this additional investment - text that we find exceptionally suggestive, apposite, or musical - are usually adjudged to be 'poetic'. ... The work of the poet is to contribute a text that will firstly invite such a reading; and secondly reward such a reading.", Don Paterson, "The empty image: new models of the poetic trope"
    • "The poem is a structure of signifiers which absorbs and reconstitutes the signified", Jonathan Culler, "Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics and the Study of Literature", Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975, p.191
    • "Literature is the question minus the answer", Roland Barthes
    • "Poetry is language in orbit", Seamus Heaney, " Sunday Independent", 25 September 1994
    • "poetry is to be distinguished from the other arts, according to Lessing, Kant, and Heidegger, by its freedom from intuition and its disavowal of imitation. In effect, poetry renders the world by making illusory and even impossible images of things - by rendering the world as what it is not", Daniel Tiffany, "Infidel Poetics", Univ of Chicago Press, 2009, p.38
    • "uniquely, poetry is concerned as much with the processes and material of language as it is with its use as an efficient medium of exchange", Richard Bradford, "Poetry: The Ultimate Guide ", Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, p.3
    • "poetry is the most versatile, ambidextrous and omnipotent of all type of speech or writing, yet, paradoxically, it is the only one which is unified by a single exclusive feature, that which enables us to identify it and which separates it from every other kind of linguistic expression. This element is the keystone of my definition of poetry and it is called 'the double pattern' ... One half of the double pattern is made up of devices, effects, habits and frames of reference that poetry shares with all other linguistic discources ... The other half of the pattern pulls against this, it announces the text as a poem by marshalling aspects of language into patterns that serve no purpose elsewhere in language yet which play a role in the way the poem is structured and, most significantly, in how it discharges meaning.", Richard Bradford, "Poetry: The Ultimate Guide ", Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, p.25-28
    • "Poetry is about language. It shows us that language is brittle, magical, untrustworthy, arbitrary, but unlike a philosophical essay on such topics, it does not enable us to answer back. It demonstrates that, on the one hand, language creates it, that consciousness and language are coterminous but also that we can step outside it", Richard Bradford, "Poetry: The Ultimate Guide ", Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, p.261
    • "When [oxygen and sulphur dioxide] are mixed in the presence of a filiament of platinum, they form sulphurous acid. This combination takes place only if the platinum is present; nevertheless the newly formed acid contains no trace of platinum, and the platinum itself is apparently unaffected: has remained inert, neutral, and unchanged. The mind of the poet is the shred of platinum", T.S. Eliot, "Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot", p.41
    • "[A poem] begins in delight and ends in wisdom", Frost, "The Figure a Poem Makes"
    • "Poetry is the sound of language organized in lines. More than meter, more than rhyme, more than images or alliteration or figurative language, line is what distinguishes our experience of poetry as poetry, rather than some other kind of writing", James Longenbach", The Art of the Poetic Line", Graywolf, 2009
    • "[poetry is news] brought to the mountains by a unicorn and an echo", Milosz
    • "Eloquence is heard; poetry is overheard ... All poetry is of the nature of the soliloquy", JS Mill, "What is Poetry", 1833
    • "What characterizes a poem is its necessary dependence on words as much as its struggle to transcend them", Paz, "L'Arc et la lyre", 1965, p.46
    • "Poetry is a satifying of the desire for resemblance", Wallace Stevens, "The Necessary Angel", 1951, p.116
    • "poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind. In this mood successful composition generally begins", Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads, 1800
    • "[Poetry is ] An integral/Lower limit speech/Upper limit music", "A" 12, Zukovsky, p.138
    • "poetry is the break (or rather the meeting at the breaking point) between the visible and the invisible", Genet, "Our Lady of the Flowers", 1963, p.293
    • "the poem is not only the point of origin for all the language and narrative arts, the poem returns us to the very social function of art as such", Ron Silliman, "The New Sentence", Roof, 1987
    • "poetry is a verdict rather than an intention", Leonard Cohen
    • "Art's effect is due to the tension resulting from the clash of the collocation of elements of two (or more) systems [of interpretation]. This conflict has the function of breaking down automatism of perception and occurs simultaneously on the many levels of a work of art ... All levels may carry meaning", "Analysis of the Poetic Text", Yury Lotman, Ardis, 1976, p.xv
    • "Poetic language features an iconic rather than a predominantly conventional relationship of form and content in which all language (and cultural) elements, variant as well as invariant, may be involved in the expression of the content.", "Analysis of the Poetic Text", Yury Lotman, Ardis, 1976, p.xxi
    • "certain supplementary restrictions imposed on the text compel us to perceive it as poetry. As soon as one assigns a given text to the category of poetry, the number of meaningful elements in it acquires the capacity to grow [and] the system of their combinations also becomes more complex", "Analysis of the Poetic Text", Yury Lotman, Ardis, 1976, p.33
    • "in several ways, one of which is entirely specific to it, poetry contains repetitions in the signifier which thus work to foreground the signifier. This feature can stand as a definition of poetry", Antony Easthope, "Poetry as Discourse", Methuen, 1963, p.16.
    • "The underlying purpose of all art is to create patterns of imagery which somehow convey a sense of life set in a framework of order ... all great art ... harmonises consciousness with the ego-transcending Self", "The Seven Basic Plots", Christopher Booker, continuum, 2004, p.552
    • "[Poetry is] that magic which consists in awakening sensations with the help of a combination of sounds ... that sorcery by which ideas are necessarily communicated to us, in a definite way, by words which nevertheless do not express them." - Banville
    • "In literature, questions of fact or truth are subordinated to the primary literary aims of producing a structure of words for its own sake, and the sign-values of symbols are subordinated to their importance as a structure of interconnected motifs", Frye, "Anatomy of Criticism", p.74
    • "[Literature is a form of language that] breaks with the whole definition of genres as forms adapted to an order of representations, and becomes merely a manifestation of a language which has no other law than that of affirming in opposition to all other forms of discourse its own precipitous existence", Foucault, "The Order of Things", p.300
    • "Verse is a mechanism by which we can create interpretative illusions suggesting profoundities of response and understanding which far exceed the engagement or research of the writer", John Constable, PN Review 159, V31.1 (2004), p.40
    • "A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words. When I say there's nothing sentimental about a poem I mean that there can be no part, as in any other machine, that is redundant.", William Carlos Williams, "Selected Essays"
    • "The poem, in a sense, is no more or less than a little machine for remembering itself ... Poetry is therefore primarily a commemorative act" - "101 Sonnets", Don Paterson, Faber and Faber, 1999, p.xiv.
    • "[a poem is] a kind of machine for producing the poetic state of mind by means of words", Valéry, "Complainte d'une convalescence en mai"
    • "a bad poem is one that vanishes into meaning", Valéry
    • "As far as I can tell, there are two kinds of poets: those who want to tell stories and sing songs, and those who want to work out the chemical equation for language and pass on their experiments as poetry" - "Short and Sweet", Simon Armitage, Faber and Faber, 1999, p.xiii.
    • "A poem is like a radio that can broadcast continuously for thousands of years", Ginsberg
    • "verse is the vehicle of exploration rather than the versification of a pre-conceived idea", Peter Armstrong, Other Poetry II.22
    • "[a poet's work] consists less in seeking words for his ideas than in seeking ideas for his words and predominant rhythms", Valéry
    • "True art can only spring from the intimate linking of the serious and the playful", Goethe.
    • "Art is the placing of your attention on the periphery of knowing", Robert Irwin, Arts Magazine, Feb 1976.
    • "The power of verse stems from an indefinable harmony between when it says and what it is.", Valéry, Tel Quel
    • "it is never what a poem says that matters, but what it is" - I.A. Richards
    • "a poem shouldn't mean but be", Archibald MacLeish, "Ars Poetica"
    • "to write a poem is to find a way from exile into pilgrimage" - Gunn?
    • "Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things", T.S. Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent", 1919.
    • "[the poet's mind is] a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feeling, phrases and images, which remain there until all the particles, which can unite to form a new compound are present together", T.S. Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent", 1919.
    • "the ordinary man's experience is chaotic, irregular, fragmentary. [He] falls in love or reads Spinoza, and these two experiences have nothing to do with each other, or with the noise of the typewriter, or the smell of cooking; in the mind of the poet these experiences are always forming new wholes" - T.S. Eliot.
    • "Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting" - Robert Frost
    • "Poetry is not the record of an event: it is an event" - Lowell
    • "poetic effect [is] the peculiar effect of an utterance which achieves most of its relevance through a wide array of weak implicatures.", - D.Sperber and D.Wilson, "Relevance", Blackwell, 1986, p.222)
    • "[the poetic function is] the set (Einstellung) towards the message itself, focus on the message for its own sake [which] by promoting the palpability of signs, deepens the fundamental dichotomy of signs and objects", Jakobsen, in "Style in Language", (ed T.A. Sebeck), Cambridge, 1960, p.356
    • "the machinations of ambiguity are among the very roots of poetry", William Empson, "Seven Types of Ambiguity", Penguin, 1961, p.21
    • the "meaning of poetry is its 'tension', the full organised body of all the extension and intension that we can find in it", Tate, quoted in "Sense and Sensibility in Modern Poetry", O'Connor, Univ of Chicago Press, 1948, p.143
    • "What is common to all modern poetry is the assertion or the assumption (most often the latter) that syntax in poetry is wholly different from syntax as understood by logicians and grammarians", Donald Davie, "Articulate Energy", 1955
    • "Two opposing forces inhabit the poem: one of elevation or up-rooting, which pulls the word from the language: the other of gravity, which makes it return. The poem is an original and unique creation, but it is also reading and recitation: participation. The poet creates it; the people, by recitation, re-create it. Poet and reader are two moments of a single reality.", Octavia Paz
    • "Poetry is the art of creating imaginary gardens with real toads.", Marianne Moore, "Poetry"
  • Reception
    • "se un branco di musica lascia ancora a un uomo la possibilità di scegliere tra il ruolo passivo dell'ascoltatore e quello activo ... un'opera letteraria ... lo destina a un unico ruolo, quello dell'interprete", (if a piece of music lets the audience choose between an active and passive role ... the reader of a literary work is doomed to an interpretive role), Brodskij, "Dall'esilo", p.50
    • "[for Fish], poetry is generically characterized not by any formal quality distinguishing it from prose, but by the activity of the reader, who gives one kind of attention to prose and another kind to poetry. Nor does the supposed rich excess of meaning provide a useful means of defining poetic language, since the reader can readily supply that excess in the act of reading", "Studying Poetry", S.Matterson and D.Jones, Arnold, 2000, p.115
    • "We might think of poetry as the most compelling, forceful use of language, but we must also consider whether that is because we give that force and that richness to the language. That is, poetry may be demanding to read because we think of a poem as a powerful, concentrated use of all the resources of language", "Studying Poetry", S.Matterson and D.Jones, Arnold, 2000, p.117
      • "The first demand any work of any art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive", p.19
      • "a work of (whatever) art can be either 'received' or 'used'. ...'Using' is inferior to 'reception' because art, if used rather than received, merely facilitates, brightens, relieves or palliates our life, and does not add to it ... When the art in question is literature a complication arises, for to 'receive' significant words is always, in one sense, to 'use' them, to go through and beyond them to an imagined something which is not itself verbal", p.88
      from "An Experiment in Criticism", CS Lewis, CUP, 1961
    • "I do share Jacobson's sense that the characteristic response associated with the reading of poetry, at least in postmedieval Western culture, is a feeling of intensified referentiality combined with (and inseparable from) a heightened awareness of the aural qualities of language", Derek Attridge, "Peculiar Language", Methuen, 1988, p.135
    • "I regard literary reception as generally characterised by subjectivity, fictionality, polyvalence and form orientation", "Understanding Metaphor in Literature", G.Steen, Longman, 1994.

Form(back to top)

  • "Do not be led astray by the surface of things, in the depths everything becomes law", Rilke
  • "the notion of conflicting structural principles [is] a specific property of literary art", Meijer, "Verbal Art as Interference", p.223
  • "the sonnet is an obsessional form. Its intellectual skeleton is opposition, its form is imbalance, the impatient compression of its concluding section (whether six, four, three or two lines) always leaving a question only temporarily settled, so the writer is invited or compelled to return to the charge", Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, "Dublin Review of Books" (Issue 90, June 2017)
  • "The rules of formal poetry generate not static objects like vases, but the same kind of bottom-up, self-organizing processes seen in complex natural systems such as flocking birds, shifting sand dunes, and living trees. ... symmetrical forms such as sonnets, villanelles, and ballad stanzas are not static 'received forms'; they evolve, like plants, through a process of iteration and feedback. The regular meter of formal poems is not a dull mechanical ticking, like a clock's; it coalesces out of the rhythms of randomly jotted phrases through a process of 'phase-locking'", Paul Lake, "The Shape of Poetry", The Winter Anthology, V2
  • "[for Pareyson] structure is absolved, but on the grounds that it does not harm the poetry, not because it too is poetry. Structure functions as a buoy to which the poetic swimmer clings: it is good that it is there, but only to let us catch our breath before we start again on the crawl of lyric effusion", Umberto Eco, "on literature" , Vintage, 2006, p.206
  • "in the new book Field Work I very deliberately set out to lengthen the line again because the narrow line was become a habit. The shortness of line constricts, in a sense, the breadth of your movement", Seamus Heaney, "Ploughshares, 5, 3", 1979, p.21
  • "The great thing about form is that it hinders us from saying what we had originally intended to say", John Glenday, "Northwords Now, issue 27", summer 2014, p.8
  • "In 1889 Walter Pater argued that the 'chaotic variety and complexity of the modern world' could not be properly mediated by the 'restraint proper to verse form', that the 'special art of the modern world was imaginative prose'", Richard Bradford, "Poetry: The Ultimate Guide", palgrave macmillan, 2010, p.120
  • "form is largely neglected in contemporary poetry. It is largely untaught - except in rather pointless exercises in which students write a sestina or a vilanelle - and most critics of contemporary poetry seem largely uninterested in it", David Kennedy, "The Ekphrastic Encounter in Contemporary British Poetry ", Ashgate Publishing, 2012, p.14
  • "Indents or centre-justification really ought to have some rationale, and I'd extend that to those poems that roam freely about the whiteness", Glyn Maxwell, Glyn Maxwell, "On Poetry", Oberon Books, 2012, p.57
  • "I see these days, in young aspiring poets, a phenomenal complacency regarding form, a prejudice that allows them to arrive at aduplthood having been convinced somehow that rhyme and meter and pattern are things of the past", Glyn Maxwell , Glyn Maxwell, "On Poetry", Oberon Books, 2012, p.59
  • "Many of the old forms - sestinas, villanelles - had a purpose centuries back but are no more than exercises now ", Glyn Maxwell, Glyn Maxwell, "On Poetry", Oberon Books, 2012, p.69
  • "people who use 'formalist' as an insult think poets who use meter are counting crotchets when in fact we're passing through bars", Glyn Maxwell , Glyn Maxwell, "On Poetry", Oberon Books, 2012, p.86
  • "Blessed be all metrical rules that forbid automatic responses, force us to have second thoughts, free from the fetters of Self", W.H. Auden
  • "Form exists for us only as long as it is difficult to perceive, as long as we sense the resistance of the material", Jackobson, "The Newest Russian Poetry", 1921,
  • "The Acrostick was probably invented about the same Time with the Anagram, tho' it is impossible to decide whether the Inventor of the one or the other were the greater Blockhead ", Addison, "The Spectator", 1711
  • "the numerical patterning of language in verse encourages creative play with gaps among the aural, the graphic, and the numerical", David J. Rothman, "Verse, Prose, Speech, Counting, and the Problem of Graphic Order" in Versification, Vol 1, No. 1, 1997
  • "poets write in verse partly because it excites what we could call the numerical imagination, which is both rational and superstitious, quotidian and magical. Versification is inherently a way of asserting the relatedness of words and therefore also of things to one another", David J. Rothman, "Verse, Prose, Speech, Counting, and the Problem of Graphic Order" in Versification, Vol 1, No. 1, 1997
  • "It can be argued that to invent a verse-form which becomes immortal, living on in the works of future poets and in other languages, is one of the greatest achievements possible for a poet", Martin Lyon, "Acumen 71 (Sept 2011)", p.71
  • "Much contemporary 'free-verse' is in fact blank verse", Fiona Sampson, "Poetry Writing: The expert guide", Robert Hale, 2009, p.41
  • "Many poetry tutors don't like to discuss [line endings] at all; there is such a taboo on discussing this most personal aspect of poetry", Katy Evans-Bush, in "Stress Fractures" edited by Tom Chivers, 2010, p.194
  • "Syllabic meter in English is a compelling measure because it is clear, simple, consistent, and regulates phonemic flow, albeit minimally", Rothman, in "Meter in English: A Critical Engagement", David Baker (ed), University of Arkansas Press, 1996, (p. 207).
  • "My impression is that contemporary syllabics, where the organisational principle in the line is the number of syllables, never was and still isn’t popular ... Peter Groves has listed the judgments of anti-syllabicists including Basil Bunting (‘silly’), Michael Hamburger (‘cannot see the point’), Adrian Henri (‘redundant’), Peter Levi (‘uninteresting’), and John Heath-Stubbs (‘totally spurious’) ... Many excellent syllabics-controlled poems offer occasional miscounted lines", Claire Crowther, "Syllabics: Psycho-Syllabics / Confessing to Syllabics" (PN Review May/Jun 2016)
  • "Personally I have a dread of the sonnet. It must contain 14 lines and a man must be a tremendous poet or a cold mathematician if he can accommodate his thoughts to such a condition", Edward Thomas
  • "Personally I enjoy writing in a form first, then playing the same set of words through variations of different forms, lengthening the poem, shortening it, until it either 'clicks' into the right form (Robert Frost again), or decides that it wants to be 'free' verse. The move into free verse is always a pleasant surprise for a poem that has passed through so many cages and narrow ways. And such a poem bears the voice-print of strictness and discipline while also appearing to be merely spoken, inevitably, as if improvised on the spot. Your working must never show. Art must conceal art", David Morley
  • "Form is content-as-arranged; content is form-as-deployed", Helen Vendler
  • "Can form make the primary chaos ... articulate without depriving it of its capacious vitality, its generative power? Can form go even further than that and actually generate that potency, opening uncertainty to curiosity, incompleteness to speculation, and turning vastness into plentitude? In my opinion the answer is yes", Lyn Hejinian in "Moving Borders", Mary Margaret Sloan (ed), Talisman House, 1998, p.622
  • "Writing's forms are not merely shapes but forces, too; formal questions are about dynamics... Form does not necessarily achieve closure, nor does raw materiality provide openness", Lyn Hejinian in "Moving Borders", Mary Margaret Sloan (ed), Talisman House, 1998, p.618
  • "It seems that in Ireland radical 'content' is permissable only through conventional 'form'", p.164, Trevor Joyce in "Assembling Alternatives", Romana Huk (ed), Wesleyan Univ Press, 2003
  • "we ... have no choice but to write in free verse", Bly, American Poetry: Wildness and Domesticity, Harper and Row, 1990, p.38
  • "Instead of treating verse as a by-product of prose, I suggest that verse is composed directly: that lines are the units of composition. Since lines are not linguistic units, they must be produced by other than the normal linguistic processes, and I will show that this is why lines take on 'poetic' characteristics", Nigel Fabb, "Why is Verse Poetry", PN Review, V36.1, p.52
  • "In a truly beautiful work of art the content should do nothing, the form everything", Schiller, "On the Aesthetic Education of Man", 1795, xxii.106
  • "Form is a straitjacket in the way that a straitjacket was a straitjacket for Houdini", Paul Muldoon, "Irish Times", 2003
  • "Poetic formalism is a bit like keeping a bale of hay in your garage to remind you of the horse-power that preceded automobiles", Jed Rasula, "Syncopations", Univ of Alabama Press, 2004, p.130
  • "Only new contents permit new forms. Indeed they demand them. For if new contents were forced into old forms, at once you would have a recurrence of that disastrous division between content and form", Brecht, "Uber Lyrik", 1938, p.16
  • "Perhaps giving oneself a tight structure, making limitations for oneself, squeezes out new substance where you least expect it", Doris Lessing, "the golden notebook" (Preface), Flamingo, 1972, p.10
  • "the primary reason for reading is pleasure, and, dry as it sounds to say so, the primary source of poetic pleasure is form. The content of a poem may be personal to the point of narcissism, self-involved to the point of autism, but its form - that is, any feature that gives the poem cohesion and keeps it from drifting into chaos - is communal, inclusive, even cordial.", Billy Collins, 2006
  • "The rhyme and uniformity of perfect poems show the free growth of metrical laws and bud from them as unerringly and loosely as lilacs or roses on a bush ... and shed the perfume of impalpable form", Whitman
  • "I would contend that the constraints of form are spurs to the imagination: that they are in fact the chief producers of imagination", George Szirtes, Poetry, Feb 2006
  • "Formal writing is, in fact, a beautiful device for liberating the essential powerlessness of the artist, Keats's negative capability. Outsiders may see formal composition as rule-fixated grind: practitioners know it as rule-forgetting delight ... I have heard it said that the least talented writers benefit the most from practising form. This is only partly true ... In general ... form urges all degrees of ability to optimum performance", Carol Rumens, "The Creative Writing Coursebook", Julia Bell & Paul Magrs (eds), MacMillan, 2001, p.226
    • "Ingarden's treatment of the structures of objects of art is indebted ... to both Aristotle's primary stress, in the Poetics, on the stratified structure of the work of art itself, and to Lessing's attempt, in the Laocoon, to set psychologistic questions aside in the interests of general problems of structure.", p.8
    • "The formal unity of the work derives from the essential inner-connectedness (sic) of these four strata.", p.11
    From "Selected Papers in Aesthetics/Roman Ingarden", P.J. McCormick, The Catholic University of America Press, 1985.
  • "I think there is a 'fluid' as well as a 'solid' content, that some poems may have form as a tree has form, some as water poured into a vase. That most symmetrical forms have certain uses. That a vast number of subjects cannot be precisely, and therefore not properly rendered in symmetrical forms", Ezra Pound, "A Retrospect" in Literary Essays of Ezra Pound
  • "vers libre has not even the excuse of a polemic; it is a battle-cry of freedom, and there is no freedom in art", T.S. Eliot, "Reflections on Vers Libre"
  • "I began to suspect that the vaunted strictures of the New Formalism were rather like the rules in a household with small children: tiny attempts at maintaining order, frequently reiterated, and rarely observed.", Eliot Weinberger, "What Was Formalism?", Jacket 6
  • "Regular rhythm and rhyme schemes work for me as a kind of drilling rig to mine for meanings that lie beneath the original idea of the poem", A. Adams, "Rialto 38", 1997, p.45
  • "metre with its tendency towards statement rather than exploration ... It has long been recognised that metrical verse encourages a tendency towards reflection and introspection while free verse acts as a vehicle for expressing the immediate, capturing the sense of the moment as it happens", Ian Parks, p.14, Acumen 51, 2005
  • "metre always fixes at least two characteristics of the line. The metre always fixes the length of the line (with controlled variation) ... In English, stress maxima are fixed in place. In Welsh, rhyme is fixed in place. In Irish, word boundaries are fixed in place", Nigel Fabb, "Language and Linguistic Structure", CUP, 2002, p.142
  • "formal complexity has a function irrespective of whether it is mirrored in the concept of the poem; I suggest that we experience these shifting formal contradictions and complexities at aesthetic", Nigel Fabb, "Language and Linguistic Structure", CUP, 2002, p.185
  • "While there is a general tendency [Greek dactylic hexameter, Vedic Sanskrit, etc] for the end of the line to be metrically strict, there is also a general tendency for the very final syllable to show some metrical looseness", Nigel Fabb, "Language and Linguistic Structure", CUP, 2002, p.175
  • "form is never more than an extension of content, and content never more than an extension of form opposition", Creeley or Olson
  • "History and politics can play a part: they propose questions. In poetry the answers come not as arguments but as form" - Schmidt, "Lives of the Poets", 1998, p.1
  • "[Words] already have what the artist first wants to give them - meaning - and fatally lack what he needs in order to shape them - body. I propose that the nature and primary function of the most important poetic devices - especially rhyme, meter, and metaphor - is to release words in some measure from their bondage to meaning, their purely referential role, and to give or restore to them the corporeality which a true medium needs.", Burckhardt, "The Poet as Fool and Priest", ELH 23 (1956), p.279
  • "When the correct device is also the expected one and by definition outworn, the act of composition will bristle with difficulties, with unforgivable wrong choices. The device itself will be parodied, distorted, or avoided in such a way as to make its absence very remarkable", "The Chances of Rhyme", R.Wesling, Univ of California Press, 1980.
  • "a new form will always seem more or less an absence of any form at all, since it is unconsciously judged by reference to the consecrated forms", Robbe-Grillet, "For a New Novel", Grove-Evergreen, 1965, p.17.
  • "In all beautiful art the essential thing is the form", Kant, "Critique of Judgement", p.214
  • "[free verse is the] direct utterance from the instant, whole man ... [, the ] soul and mind and body surging at once, nothing left out", D H Lawrence, "New Poems", 1918.
  • "The difficult thing about learning to write free verse is that you have to improvise what you consider to be interesting enough rhythms to exist on their own, and they have to be different for each line. So I think it's easier to write well in metrical poetry, when you can", Thom Gunn, quoted by Potts in The Guardian.
  • "I think I read my poetry more by length than by stress - as a matter of movements in space than footsteps hitting the earth. I think more of a bird with broad wings flying and lapsing through the air, than anything, when I think of metre ... It all depends on the pause - the natural pause, the natural lingering of the voice according to the feeling - it is the hidden emotional pattern that makes poetry, not the obvious form", D H Lawrence, letter to Edward Marsh
  • "Forms are unlike those sent by the IR, they are not to be filled in" - Alan Rawsthorne
  • "Form is regarded not as a neat mould to be filled, but rather as a sieve to catch certain kinds of material", Theodore Roethke, in "A Poet's Guide to Writing Poetry", Mary Kinzie, p.345
  • "form isn't a container (of content) but rather a rule for generating a possible 'next move'", Foreman, "How to write a play", p.229
  • "It has been suggested that free verse is inferior to metrical verse because it provides nothing against which to make variations. [Louis] Simpson's ear is so good that some of his poems suggest ... that free verse can be rewardingly varied by the occasional use of meter" - "Compulsory Figures", Henry Taylor, Louisiana State Univ Press, 1992, p.46
    • "Meter is perceived in the actual stress-contour, or the line is perceived as unmetrical, or the perceiver doesn't perceive meter at all", p.262
    • "It follows ... that the notion of norm and variation is not relevant to traditional meter", p.268
    from "Collected Essays", JV Cunningham
  • "The governing principle of much Persian poetry is circular rather than linear; rather than a logically sequential progression, a poem is seen as a collection of stanzas interlinked by symbol and image - the links being patterns of likeness and unlikeness, of repetition and variation - which 'hover', as it were, around an unspoken centre", Glyn Pursglove, Acumen 25, p.9
  • "As stress-languages, English and German allow for great flexibility in the formation of lines; the French alexandrine however is based on syllable count, and so effective versification becomes a matter of observing certain norms: the caesura dividing the two hemistichs, the avoidance of hiatus, the alternation of masculine and feminine rhymes, and so on", Marjorie Perloff, "Lucent and inescapable rhythms: metrical 'choice' and historical formation"
    • "Aristotelian logic, the reigning mode until the time of Coleridge and Hegel, analyzes the forms of coherence found in completed acts of thought. What Coleridge proposed as a dynamic supplement, in his idea of method as 'progressive translation', is a logic of the activity of thinking ... the miming of the writer's choices at transition points and of the reader's shifting attention.", p.113
    • "The principal of expressive variation from a metrical norm, according to Paul Fussell in Poetry Meter and Poetic Form, 'is certainly the primary source of metrical pleasure for the modern critical reader' ... Such patterns - of expectation, delay, and resolution - exercise the grasp of grammar and the delicacy of anyone's ear.", p.151
    from Wesling, D, "The New Poetries", Associated University Presses, 1985.
  • "The further in anything, as a work of art, the organisation is carried out, the deeper the form penetrates ... the more capacity for receiving that synthesis of ... impressions which gives us the unity with the prepossession conveyed by it", Hopkins, "Notebooks", p.96
  • "In poetry deviations from the vraisemblable are easily recuperated as metaphors which should be translated or as moments of a visionary or prophetic stance; but in the novel conventional expectations make such deviations more troubling and therefore potentially more powerful", J. Culler, "Structuralist Poetics", Cornell UP, 1975, p.198.
  • "on the simplest level, form functions for any poet as a kind of scaffold from which the poem can be constructed. Stravinsky maintained that only in art could one be freed by the imposition of more rules, perhaps because these rules limit the field of possibilities and escort us rapidly beyond the selection of tools and media to laying the first stone of the work itself. For the reader, on the other hand, the shared language of the poem functions as a map through the terrain of a new idea ... The effect of form on the reader is like the hypnotist's dangling fob watch ... We are hypnotised or spellbound by form, because the traditional aural techniques of verse ... are designed to fix the poem in the memory ... But think of the unconscious effect of form on the poets themselves ... Any degree of difficulty in a form requires of the poet that s/he negotiate with the medium, and compromise what s/he originally 'spontaneously' intended to say ... surely this is precisely the function of 'form in the traditional sense' - that serendipity provided by negotiation with a resistant medium." - Michael Donaghy, "binary myths" (Andy Brown ed.), p.16.
  • the HEAD, by way of the EAR, to the SYLLABLE
    the HEART, by way of the BREATH, to the LINE
    Olson, Poetry New York No 3, 1950.
  • "In the classical system, the length or shortness of syllables is fundamental, but there was also a beat accent, and the two never corresponded exactly. In the European system the beat is fundamental, but still the two never correspond. This sets up a descant. The natural rhythm of the spoken language, that is the rhythm of syntax, of meaning, also never or nearly never coincides with the metrical units even for a single line. When is does so, it produces the gigantic clang of a final closure ... But sometimes the ground-rhythm is very obscurely established; in that case the moment it becomes clear is an important and tense one", "The Noise Made by Poems", Peter Levi, Anvil, 1977, p.77.
  • "free verse is inherently more private in character [than metrical poetry]", Jonathan Holden, Style and Authenticity in Postmodern Poetry, Univ of Columbia Press, 1986, p.73
  • "I will do what I will do, the free verse poet says to his audience, and it is not yours to wonder why. He versifies by fiat", Timothy Steele, Missing Measures, Univ of Arkansas Press, 1990, p.283
  • "the distinction of metre is regular and uniform, and not, like that which is produced by what is usually called POETIC DICTION, arbitrary, and subject to infinite caprices upon which no calculation whatever can be made. In the one case, the Reader is utterly at the mercy of the Poet, respecting what imagery or diction he may choose to connect with the passion; whereas, in the other, the metre obeys certain laws, to which the Poet and Reader both willingly submit because they are certain, and because no interference is made by them with the passion, but such as the concurring testimony of ages has shown to heighten and improve the pleasure which co-exists with it.", Wordsworth, Preface to Lyrical Ballads, 1800
  • "the free verse, now dominant not only in the US but around the world, has become, with notable exceptions, little more than linear prose, arbitrarily divided into line-lengths", Marjorie Perloff, "The Oulipo Factor", Jacket 23
  • "The poetic line seems highly problematic nowadays and it sometimes seems better to avoid it altogether", Frances Presley, "Poetry Review", V98.4, 2008
  • "Not only hapless adolescents, but many gifted and justly esteemed poets writing in contemporary nonmetrical forms, have only the vaguest concept, and the most haphazard use, of the line", Denise Levertov", On the Function of the Line", 1979
  • "The term structure which we have used so often, is a metaphor from architecture, and may be misleading when we are speaking of narrative, which is not a simultaneous structure but a movement in time.", "The Great Code", Northrop Frye.
  • "Constraints are interesting interfaces between processes and products", Cris Cheek
  • "Sequence and contiguity are inescapable features of sentence-processing, of meaning creation" .. "duple patterns ... are optimally contrastive, and lend themselves most readily to both local and larger-scale contrasts" - "Against Transcendental Gossip: The Symbolic Language of Rhythm" (in PN Review 123), Chris McCully, p.44.
  • "The poetic spirit requires to be limited, that it may move within its range with a becoming liberty ... it must act according to laws derivable from its own essence", Schlegel, quoted by Coleridge.
  • "vers libre has become as prolix and as verbose as any of the flaccid varieties that preceded it", Pound, "A Retrospect", 1918.
    • p.93 - "1) coupling need not occur solely between two lines (as in the cases with rhyme) but may arise within equivalent syntactic positions in one line; 2) coupling which primarily foregrounds one element (a phonic one, for instance) tends, secondarily, to foreground other elements (semantic ones); 3) coupling on the semantic level involves opposed as well as parallel features ...; 4) coupling is not solely a microcontextual trait."
    • p.97 - "Modernist verse perforce employs couplings in many ways different from couplings which arise in traditional verse. Two differences between a Modernist coupling and a traditional coupling involve the assumption of nondeleted syntax and accurate 'positioning' through meter"
    • p.98 - types of cohesion: phonic, grammatical, rhetorical and semantic.
    • p.110 - "[free verse] is based not on the recurrence of stress accent in a regular, strictly measurable pattern" and it "treats the device of rhyme with a similar freedom and irregularity", "The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics", Preminger and Brogan, Princeton University Press, 1993
    from "Modernist Form", J. S. Childs, Associated University Presses, 1986.
  • "The only reality in literature is form; meaning is a shadow-show", Valéry
  • "Form in literature is an arousing and fulfilment of desires. A work has form insofar as one part of it leads us to anticipate another part, to be gratified by the sequence", Kenneth Burke, "Counter-statement", 1931
  • "Forms can only expose other forms, and the new ones seem transparent only by highlighting the opaqueness of the old", ra page, "hyphen", Comma Press, 2003, p.x
  • "The poet who writes 'free' verse is like Robinson Crusoe on his desert island: he must do all his cooking, laundry and darning for himself. In a few exceptional cases, this manly independence produces something original and impressive, but more often the result is squalor - dirty sheets on the unmade bed and empty bottles on the unswept floor." - Auden, "Writing" (from "The Dyer's Hand")
  • "La nuova fase della poesia in rete richiede un intervento sulle forme, dunque, perché le questioni di forma sono questioni di contenuto; e di nuovi contenuti ha bisogno la poesia in rete" (the new phase of online poetry demands changes in form, because questions of form are questions of content, and online poetry needs new content), Valerio Cuccaroni, "Poesia, Giugno 2010", p.51
  • Books - "Vision and Resonance", John Hollander. "Rhythmic Phrasing in English Verse", R.D. Curton, Longman, 1992. "Lines and 'Lines'", Sinclair, J.McH, 1972, in B.B. Kachru and H.F.W. Stahlke (eds) Current Trends in Stylistics, Edmonton, Alberta: Linguistic Research Inc. "Cohesion in English", Halliday, M.A.K. and Hasan, R., 1976, London:Longman. "The Web of Words", Carter, R. and Long, M., 1987, London: Longman. "Linguistic Structures in Poetry", SR Levin.

Poetry/Prose(back to top)

  • "Poems, even when narrative, do not resemble stories. All stories are about battles, of one kind or another, which end in victory and defeat ... Poems, regardless of any outcome, cross the battlefields, tending the wounded ... They bring a kind of peace", John Berger, "and our faces, my heart, brief as photos" (Bloomsbury, 2005), p.21
  • "This ability of the compactness of Novel Word Juxtapositions to give 'the mind several notions at one glance of the eye' is the basic element that distinguishes poetry from prose", Jeffrey Side, "Empirical and Non-Empirical Identifiers" in "Jacket 36 " (2008)
  • "If prose is a house, poetry is a man on fire running quite fast through it", Anne Carson
  • "I think that writing prose and writing poetry are so different, you almost use different sides of the brain ... I'd say that prose definitely kills off poetry rather than the other way. Although it depends what kind of prose", Jackie Kay, "The Poetry Paper", Issue 8
  • "Gothic novels were strong from 1800-1825, sporting novels seem to run from 1820 to 1860, while imperial romances run from 1850 though 1890, and so on for over 40 genres. What is most interesting, however, is that the genres seem grouped into six periods of creativity and they disappear in clusters as well. Consequently there is an almost complete turn-over in genres every 25 years or so, that is, roughly a generation", Moretti, F., "Graphs, Maps, Trees: Abstract Models for Literary History", "New Left Review 24" (quoted by William L. Benzon in PsyArt)
  • "la differenza tra prosa e poesia non viene più avvertita come quantitativa o tecnica, ma come qualitativa: lo stile è infatti percepito come prodotto di una sensibilità particolare e irripetibile", (the difference between prose and poetry no longer derives from issues of quantity or technique, but of quality: the style is in fact perceived as a product of a particular and unrepeatable sensibility), Fiorenza Lipparini, "L'oscurità nella poesia moderna", in "Lettere Italiane", LXI, N.2, 2009, p.293
  • "Prose invents - poetry discloses", Jack Spicer, "The Collected books of Jack Spicer, letter", p.15
  • "Prose is much more heraclitean [than poetry], it begins with change and seeks only to find ways of managing it", Godzich and Kittay, "Emergence of Prose", U of Minnesota P, p.197
  • "in prose you start with the world/ and find the words to match; in poetry you start/ with the words and find the world in them.", Charles Bernstein, "Dysraphism", 1983
  • "Perhaps one of the more interesting developments in poetry over the last fifty years has been its overlap with short story writing. It's unsurprising that poetic language has relaxed into an easy colloquial manner but maybe what wasn't expected is the way poetry's taken on the subject matter of prose forms", ???, "Seam 27", 2007, p.53,
  • "There are two chief classical sources of the long line - the epic hexameter and the dithyrambic lyric: the first stands for heroic endeavor. the second for ecstatic utterance ... Hopkins used the long line in several ways - as a container of heterogeneity [or] to creep up on something by a chromatic series of words ... Whitman ... also used it to signify intellectual and speculative difficulties", Helen Vendler, "The Breaking of Style: Hopkins, Heaney, Graham", Harvard Univ Press, 1995, p.72
  • "isometric breathing is the basis for regular lines, orderly and successive ones. But the gaze has no such isometric rhythm: a gaze can be prolonged at will, held for inspection, meditated on, and periodically interrupted ... what utterance becomes is the tracking of the gaze.", Helen Vendler, "The Breaking of Style: Hopkins, Heaney, Graham", Harvard Univ Press, 1995, p.83
  • "In contemporary European literature, 'poetry' hardly consists exclusively of work with line breaks; 'short prose' no longer necessarily implies 'fiction' or 'short story'", John Taylor, "The Antioch Review", Summer 2007, p.574
  • "Everyone grasps that hospitals operate as factories of feeling - humming production lines of dread and despair, of hope and renewal. Poems start here; novels finish here", Boyd Tonkin, "New Writing 15", Evaristo and Gee (eds), Granta/British Council, 2007, p.281
  • "'poetry' is a genre, with fiction, drama, and the various nonfiction genres (autobiography, travelogue, epistles, journalism, and so forth), whereas 'verse' is a mode like prose, and again, any of the genres may be written in either of the modes", Turco, The Book of Forms, 2000, p.250
    • "An important difference between poetic and non-poetic text is that for ordinary language the number of structural levels and their meaningful elements is restricted and known to the speaker in advance, whereas for the poetic text it remains for the reader or listener to establish the nature of the aggregate of code systems that regulate the text. Therefore, any system of regularities can in principle be perceived as meaningful in poetry", p.68
    • "Prose is a later phenomenon than poetry, arising in a period of chronologically more mature esthetic consciousness ... notwithstanding its seeming simplicity and closeness to ordinary speech, prose is esthetically more complex than poetry", p.24
    From "Analysis of the Poetic Text", Yury Lotman, Ardis, 1976
  • "In poetry it is the choice of expression that determines the content, whereas in prose it is the opposite; it is the world the author chooses, the events that happen in it, that dictate its rhythm, style, and even verbal choices", "on literature", Umberto Eco, Secker & Warburg, 2005, p.313
  • "The terms poetry and prose are incorrectly opposed to each other. Verse is, properly, the contrary of prose ... and writing should be divided, not into poetry and prose, but into poetry and philosophy", Rev William Enfield, "Monthly Magazine", II (1796), p.453-6
  • "Much confusion has been introduced into criticism by this contradistinction of Poetry and Prose, instead of the more philosophical one of Poetry and Matter of Fact, or Science", Wordsworth, "Wordsworth's literary Criticism", p.21
  • "No truth, it seems to me, is too precious, no observation too profound, and no sentiment too exalted to be expressed in prose", AE Housman
  • "poetry is now more quintessentially poetical than ever before; 'purer' in the negative sense. It not only does (like all good poetry) what prose can't do: it deliberately refrains from doing anything that prose can do", "An Experiment in Criticism", CS Lewis, CUP, 1961, p.97
  • "I'm being somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but only somewhat when I say that a poem is the city of language just as prose is its countryside. Prose extends laterally filling the page's horizon unimpeded, while poetry is marked by dense verticality, by layerings of meaning and sound. Cities and poetry also share compression, heterogeneity, juxtaposition", Cole Swensen,
  • "Prose exists to convey meaning, and no meaning such as prose conveys can be expressed as well in poetry. That's not poetry's purpose." - Basil Bunting
  • "all the modern experiments in reading seek to make the poem end as a novel and the novel as a poem" - Mallarme, 1892, letter to Georges Rodenbach.
  • "In Bakhtin's scheme of genres, poetry is characteristically monological. ... 'Stream of consciousness' is a belated rearguard action to confine the novel within the linguistic modes and norms of poetry" - Charles Lock, Stand 2(4)/3(1), p.81
  • "Many great novelists begin by aspiring to poetry or drama ... there may be only one major poet who would have preferred to have been a novelist: Boris Pasternak", Charles Lock, Stand 2(4)/3(1), p.74
  • "neither meter nor rhyme are sufficient conditions for an identification of a text as a poem" - "Linguistic Structures in Poetry", S.R. Levin, The Hague:Mouton, 1962
  • "Prose ... must return to its only purpose; to clarify to enlighten the understanding. There is no form to prose but that which depends on clarity. If prose is not accurately adjusted to the exposition of facts it does not exist ... Poetry is something quite different. Poetry has to do with the crystallization of the imagination - the perfection of new forms as additions to nature", WC Williams, "Imaginations", New Directions, 1970, p.116-17, 140.
  • "the insistence that poetry partake of the lofty and sublime ... meant that poetry abandoned large areas of subject matter as 'unpoetic'. These areas were eagerly seized on by the newly enfranchized medium of prose .. In essence [the free verse reform] took away from poetry what had always been its distinguishing and defining characteristic, metre, and offered in metre's place nothing which prose could not already accomplish much better", Dick Davis, Poetry Durham, 28, p.33.
  • "So often, when reading 'free' verse, I can see no reason why a line ends where it does; why the poet did not write it out as a prose-poem", Auden, "On Technique", Agenda V10.4, 1972.
  • "the lines allow for the visual interruption of the phrase (or sentence) without necessarily requiring a temporal interruption, a pause. ... I can ... set in motion a counter-measure that adds to the rhythmic richness of the poem" - Bernstein, "An Interview".
  • "The gap between verse and poetry is enormous. Between good poetry and good prose the gap is much narrower" - Michael Longley in "How Poets Work", Tony Curtis, 1996, Seren, p.118.
  • "to have the virtues of good prose is the first and minimum requirement of great poetry", T.S. Eliot.
  • "Verse is always struggling, while remaining verse, to take up more and more of what is prose, to take something more from life and turn it into 'play'", T.S. Eliot, "Prose and Verse", The Chapbook 22, 1921, p.9
  • Samuel Johnson's style is a "species of rhyming in prose ... each sentence, revolving round its centre of gravity, is contained with itself like a couplet, and each paragraph forms itself into a stanza", William Hazlitt, Complete Works (ed P.P. Howe), 1931, V6, p.102
  • "Too many poets today think that not to write prose is certainly to write poetry" - Samuel Johnson, 1777
  • "In prose as in algebra concrete things are embodied in signs or counters which are moved about according to the rules, without being visualised at all in the process ... One only changes the X's and Y's back into physical things at the end of the process. Poetry, in one aspect at any rate, may be considered as an effort to avoid this characteristic of prose ... It chooses fresh epithets and fresh metaphors, not so much because they are new, and we are tired of the old, but because the old cease to convey a physical thing and become abstract counters.", Hulme
    • p.108 - "Conventions associated with lineation appears to have emerged originally from the economic needs of the book-trade in Alexandria ... First the size of the rolls was standardised so that they were easier to transport. Later the lines contained in the columns of prose writing in any one roll were made almost equal in length. ... By this standard length, payment of the scribe and the price of the book were fixed."
    • p.1 - "Old English text is written continuously across the page, filling the valuable vellum from left to right margin"
    • p.20 - "colour ... in early Middle English texts is sometimes used to mark the beginning of a metrical unit in texts without lineation"
    • p.101 - "the practise [of lineation in English poetry] is clearly not established for late Old English poetry in the mid-eleventh century and that it is well established, especially for socially valued reproductions of texts, by the end of the fourteenth century."
    • p.114 - "The practice of bracketing lines in various ways to indicate rhyme schemes is also frequently encountered in manuscripts with the dominant one verse per line layout"
    • p.25 - "The interrelating of sound pattern and visual line is so well established that modern poetry, even when without traditional metrical regularity or rhyme scheme, may encourage us to read in a certain way according to the line breaks."
    From "The Written Poem", Rosemary Huisman, Cassell, 1998.
    • "Obtrusive irregularity (poetic deviation) and obtrusive regularity (parallelism) account for most of what is characteristic of poetic language"
    • "The feeling of 'heightening' in poetic language is, in part, nothing more than the consciousness that it is strange and arresting by the side of common usage."
    • "in judging [traditional modes of foregrounding and contrivances] we clearly have to take account of the different standards of different periods. We live at a time when poetic heightening for its own sake, i.e. the contrived distancing of poetic language from 'ordinary' language, tends to be avoided by poets and condemned by critics. Our demand for a justification of parallelism is stronger than that of other ages."
    From "A linguistic guide to English poetry", Geoffrey N. Leech, Longman, 1969.
  • "an abundance of blank verse lines in English prose usually indicates an incursion of solemnity or melancholy". F Scott Fitzgerald's "Babylon Revisited" story has examples, p.114, "Oulipo Compendium", Harry Mathews and Alastair Brotchie (eds), Atlas Press 1998
  • "I think many people (like myself) prefer to read poetry mixed with prose; it gives you more to go by; the conventions of poetry have been getting far off from normal life, so that to have a prose bridge make reading poetry seem more natural" - William Empson, "The Complete Poems of William Empson", John Haffenden, Penguin, 2000. p.112.
  • "In the classical period, prose and poetry are quantities, their difference can be measured ... modern poetry is a quality sui generis and without antecedents. It is no longer an attribute but a substance, and therefore it can very well renounce signs, since it ... does not need to signal its identity outwardly: poetic language and prosaic language are sufficiently separate to be able to dispense with the very signs of their difference. ... modern poetry is opposed to classical art by a difference which involves the whole structure of language, without leaving between those two types of poetry anything in common except the same sociological intention. ... modern poetry, since it must be distinguished from classical poetry and from any type of prose, destroys the spontaneous functional nature of language, and leaves standing only its lexical basis", Barthes, "Writing Degree Zero"
  • "Contemporary poetry ... tries to transform the sign back into meaning: its ideal, ultimately, would be to reach not the meaning of words, but the meaning of things themselves. This is why it clouds the language, increases as much as it can the abstractness of the concept and the arbitrariness of the sign and stretches to the limit the link between signifier and signified", Barthes, "Myth Today"
  • "we read prose, we listen (albeit internally) to poetry", ra page, "hyphen", Comma Press, 2003, p.xiii
See also "New Meaning and Poetic Vocabulary ...", B.Watten, "Poetics Today" (V18:2) and my The End of the Line for Modern Poetry article.

Linear/Spatial Form (back to top)

  • "The least effective method of describing landscape is by cataloguing all the things in it. Language is successive and contrastive, space is simultaneous and without emphasis. .. A method of rendering landscape ... by minimal signs distributed around a suggested shape .... Carefully breaking down the successive feature of language structure, so that A does not disappear when we move onto B", Andrew Duncan, "The Failure of Conservatism in Modern British Poetry", 2003, p.199
  • "Spatial Form (modernist poetics) gives unity to a literary work by a pattern of interconnected motifs that can only be perceived by 'reading over'", "The Art of Fiction", Lodge, p.82
    • "the internal conflict between the time-logic of language and the space-logic implicit in the modern conception of the nature of poetry."
    • "The meaning-relationship is completed only by the simultaneous perception in space of word-groups that have no comprehensible relation to each other when read consecutively in time ... modern poetry asks its readers to suspend the process of individual reference temporarily until the entire pattern of internal references can be apprehended as a unity"
    From "Spatial Form in Modern Literature", J. Frank, Sewanee Review (1945) (see also "Spatial Form: Thirty Years After" in "Spatial Form in Narrative", Smitten and Daghistany, Cornell Univ Press, 1981)
  • "[Frye] argues that whatever literary structure is in itself, it must be spatial to the critic", "Beyond Formalism", G.H. Hartman, Yale University Press, 1970, p.13.
  • "Deconstruction of the image: 1) presented as inherently deceptive (Ashbery); 2) word as Image (Concrete); 3) Images give way to syntax. "Making strange" now occurs at the level of the phrasal and sentence structure rather than at the level of the image cluster (Coolidge, Bernstein, Andrews, Gertrude Stein)", "Radical Artifice", Marjorie Perloff, 1991, University of Chicago Press
    • p.87 - "When ordinarily unassociated elements are juxtaposed, they constitute a 'place of indeterminacy' (Ingarden) that the reader is called upon to determine. But if this determination is not logically possible, if the relation between the two is undecidable, something else appears in this gap. Eliot and Pound spoke of 'emotion'"
    • p.98 - "the order of words (in most languages) is meaningful, whereas the order of saccadic recurrence (in most visual acts) is not."
    From "The Poetics of the Mind's Eye", C Collins, Univ of Pennsylvania, 1991
  • "Browning ... makes a conscious and concerted effort to disrupt the linearity of time ... through interior and exterior monologues, and through the juxtaposition of opposing points of view", "Modernist Form", J. S. Childs, Associated University Presses, 1986, p.72.
  • "Abrupt and disordered syntax can be at times very honest, and an elaborately constructed sentence can be at times merely an elaborate camouflage", "A B C of Reading", Erza Pound, p.86.
  • "We no longer think or need to think in terms of monolinear logic, the sentence structure, subject, predicate, object etc. We are as capable or almost as capable as the biologist of thinking thoughts that join like spokes in a wheel-hub and that fuse in hyper-geometric amalgams", Erza Pound
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