How to Read a Poem

How to Read a Poem

Terry Eagleton

Language: English

Pages: 192

ISBN: 1405151412

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Lucid, entertaining and full of insight, How To Read A Poem is designed to banish the intimidation that too often attends the subject of poetry, and in doing so to bring it into the personal possession of the students and the general reader.

  • Offers a detailed examination of poetic form and its relation to content.
  • Takes a wide range of poems from the Renaissance to the present day and submits them to brilliantly illuminating closes analysis.
  • Discusses the work of major poets, including John Milton, Alexander Pope, John Keats, Christina Rossetti, Emily Dickinson, W.B. Yeats, Robert Frost, W.H.Auden, Seamus Heaney, Derek Mahon, and many more.
  • Includes a helpful glossary of poetic terms.

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what this might be, however, we may pause to wonder why it should need a rationale at all, any more than sex or sunbathing. So far, we have been speaking of poems and poetry without pausing to define our terms. Before we go any further, then, we need to see if we can arrive at some workable definition of what we are dealing with. 12 For further critical comments about the imagination, see Terry Eagleton, The Idea of Culture (Oxford, 1983, pp. 45–6). 24 HTRC02.qxd 12/05/2006 12:31PM Page 25

to the discussion, thus ensuring that no woman is able do so, are caught in such a bind. A performative contradiction is a useful concept because it reminds us that poems are performances, not simply objects on the page. We can think of a poem as a pattern of sound or meaning; but we can also see it as a strategy which aims to get something done. Or, indeed, a number of different, perhaps mutually incompatible things at the same time. To achieve this, the poem mobilises its army of formal

poetry is at once communicative and autonomous. And though these two aspects of a poem do not always slide neatly together, as we shall see later, they have to be taken in terms of each other. A poem, then, is a rhetorical performance, but (unlike most rhetorical exercises) not typically an instrumental one. It does things to us, though not usually so that we can get something done. Even so, there are forms of poetry which are written with the explicit intention of praising, cursing, consoling,

it, it might sound as though he means ‘somewhere I have never travelled gladly’, which given the meaning of the poem’s first lines would be something of a slap in the face for his lover. But it is a pity, all the same, that the comma should have to intrude. cummings also uses colons, semicolons and commas in the body of the poem that could have been omitted. (Colons, incidentally, have today almost passed out of existence, along with string vests and sideburns.) If you want an effect of perpetual

bed’ to ‘Now air is hushed’. Everything up to ‘wavy bed’ can be read without grammatical strain as part of the poet’s address to Evening, but ‘Now air is hushed’ shifts to a descriptive passage which really stands on its own and can’t easily be folded into the act of addressing Evening. It is not clear by what logic the poem slides from the performative to the descriptive. The act of addressing Evening is taken up again in ‘Now teach me, maid composed’, as the poem regains its rhetorical stride

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