The Uses of Poetry and the Uses of Criticism Flashcards Preview

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What are these lectures compiled from?

The 1932-33 Norton Lectures at Harvard University


Introduction: What are the two questions poetic criticism seeks to address?

1. What is poetry? (What desire it satisfies, what use it is, why it is read, etc.)

2. Is this a good poem?

A critic is only worth reading if she has asked, and imperfectly answered, these two questions.


Introduction: Which of the two required critical questions is most important?

Neither can ever give a fully satisfactory answer, but if you don't trust someone's taste, you won't trust their analysis.

However, you can think someone has good taste and not totally agree with their analysis.


Introduction: What argument does Eliot make about changes in poetry over time?

That the circumstances of literature can never be separated from the circumstances of life and social change.


Introduction: What is Eliot's stated aim for this series of lectures that he lays out in the introduction?

To examine the history of criticism as "a process of readjustment between poetry and the world in which it was produced. "


Introduction: What are the three periods in the Development of Taste (for poetry)?

1. Childhood, during which most people are fond of poetry, though have no particular taste

2. Adolescence, during which certain poets strike us emotionally and personally. We care about the poetry for how it relates to ourselves, and not it on its own.

3. When we cease to identify with the poets, and our critical facilities awaken


Wordsworth and Coleridge: With what work of Coleridge's poetry does Eliot most closely connect with his Biographia Litteraria? Why?

Dejection: An Ode

Eliot speaks of Coleridge's being visited and then abandoned by the Muse; the author of the Biographia "is already a ruined man."


Wordsworth and Coleridge: What difference does Eliot point to between "Preface" and Biographia Litteraria?

One was written when Wordsworth while at the height of his powers, the other when Coleridge's Muse was long gone.


Wordsworth and Coleridge: What idea of Coleridge's does Eliot treat in this essay?

His doctrine of imagination and fancy


Wordsworth and Coleridge: What idea from Preface to Lyrical Ballads is Eliot primarily concerned?

Their new theory of poetic diction


Wordsworth and Coleridge: What is Eliot's main point about "Preface"?

That Wordsworth's revolutionary interest in diction was social in nature, and informed by the circumstances of the time. (He doesn't say so, but presumably French Revolution?)


Wordsworth and Coleridge: What does Eliot think of Coleridge's distinction between imagination and fancy?

That is doesn't quite make sense


Wordsworth and Coleridge: Where, according to Eliot, does the best of Coleridge's criticism come in?

When he is drawing from his own experience to describe the imaginative process


Wordsworth and Coleridge: Of the two, whose criticism does Eliot think "better"?



Wordsworth and Coleridge: To what earlier critics does Eliot say Wordsworth and Coleridge are breaking away from?

Dryden and Johnson


Wordsworth and Coleridge: With what contemporary critic does Eliot disagree, and what point does he contest?

Herbert Read; On there being no notable English poetry between Shakespeare and Wordsworth. (No Milton? No Blake?)


Shelley and Keats: What complaints does Eliot have about Shelley?

He finds him altogether too "adolescent." In addition, his sensibilities are offended by the number of causes Shelley tries to promote in his poetry (vegetarianism, etc.).


Shelley and Keats: To whose views on poetry does Eliot think Shelley's are similar?

Wordsworth's; he thinks that many of their ideas are similar, especially about the "use" of poetry, but that Shelley's "Defense of Poetry" is weaker than "Preface."


Shelley and Keats: What is Shelley's contribution to criticism, despite his faults?

Though Wordsworth's ideas about Poetry's uses were similar to Shelley's, Shelley is the first to make the explicit connection between poetry and events of his own time, drawing attention to the fact that they "throw light upon one another."


Shelley and Keats: What is Eliot's ultimate opinion on whether we can separate the poet from his beliefs?

They cannot be separated, but if we can accept the views expressed in the poem as coherent and mature, we can still enjoy the poetry even without agreeing with the poet.


Shelley and Keats: What does Eliot have to say about Keats?

That his Letters evidence genius, and he thinks about poetry very different from Shelley. His criticism is of a different kind, based on intuition and not made public.


Shelley and Keats: What main distinction does Eliot draw between Shelley and Keats?

While Shelley tries to put poetry to a number of social uses, Keats is interested only in its "highest use" (which isn't specifically defined, but presumably philosophic and as works of art).


The Modern Mind: What opinions characterize the modern mind?

"Beyond a belief that poetry does something of importance, or has something of importance to do, there does not seem to be much agreement."


The Modern Mind: What special point does Eliot make about authors and readers?

That a reader's interpretation of a poem is as important as an author's intentions, and that over time often the poet just becomes another reader of his work.


The Modern Mind: What is a criticism Eliot makes of I.A. Richards?

He takes issues with five points that Richards lays out for evaluating a poem. He doesn't believe that any one method of interpretation will work for everyone.


The Modern Mind: What is Eliot's main point in this chapter?

That there may very well be a "common element" to various poetry and the demand for it, but efforts to define this element are limited by the limitations of the critics and their times. It is only later (in history) that these limitations and motivations will become clear.


Conclusion: What does Eliot think the best medium for the social "usefulness" of poetry is? Why?

Theatre; It is the best way to convey poetry to not just a large audience, but a large group of people collectively.


Conclusion: What might the varied taste of the "present" time (1930s) be a sign of , according to Eliot?

Social disintegration


Conclusion: What is the gist of Eliot's conclusion?

That poetry is not defined by its uses, and that defining it in some ways goes against what it is - native, instinctive, rhythmic. He emphasizes again that poetry and criticism is informed by its times, and that that influence is not often apparent until time has gone by.


What critical approach does this anticipate?

New Historicism

A form of literary theory whose goal is to understand intellectual history through literature, and literature through its cultural context, which follows the 1950s field of history of ideas and refers to itself as a form of "Cultural Poetics"