One of Brooks’s big arguments in The Well Wrought Urn is that you can’t summarize (or paraphrase) a poem and retain its meaning. The poem says something. Book Source: Digital Library of India Item : Cleanth ioned. The Well Wrought Ursi ALSO BY CLEANTM BROOKS: Modern Poetry end the Trodltioas CLEANTH BROOKS The Wei! Wrought Urn STUDIES IN THE.
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Search the history of over billion web pages on the Internet. I wish to thank the editors of the magazines mentioned and the directors of the Princeton University Press for their courtesy in extending permission for the publi- cation of these materials here. The poem by W. Acknowledgment is also due wroutht Mrs. Yeats for permission to reproduce this poem. Copyright by Cieanth Brooks.
First published in Great Britain Printed in Great Britain by A. Most of the chapters of this book have been published as cleanh rate essays; but I offer it to the reader, not as a miscellaneous collection, but as a book, a book with a defined objective and a deliberate plan. I have attempted to examine, in terms of a common approach, a number of celebrated English poems, taken in chronological order, from the Elizabethan period to the present.
Whether or not the approach is really a common approach, and whether or not the examination reveals that the poems possess some common structural properties, are matters for the reader to determine. Wrouvht last chapter attempts some generalizations upon cleantb properties, and upon the character- istic structure of poetry. There is something to be said, I think, for thus exhibiting the concrete examples on which the generalizations are to be based.
If jrn procedure is frankly part of a strategy for securing con- viction, it also constitutes, I may point out, something of a check on the generalizations made in the final chapter— a means of testing them. I could even hope that, if the worst came to the worst and the account of poetic structure itself had to be re- jected, some of the examples might survive the rejection as in- dependent readings cpeanth the poems concerned.
At all events, the readings represent an honest attempt to work close to specific texts. I am sorry that this must be so. But I would point out that it is pre- cisely our basic concerns w;liich— like the indispensable terms of language— are hardest to define.
The cleqnth view of poetry works very well on some wrpught but when we come to inquire into the essential nature of poetry, it does not work at all— it raises far more problems than it solves. Nevertheless, X have decided to relegate the more wepl parts of this discus- sion to an appendix where they will be available for those readers who are interested, but will intrude as little as possible on the book proper. A more formidable objection to the plan of the book might be that I have taken too little into account the historical back- grounds of the poems I have discussed.
An adequate answer to this charge will have to be furnished by the book itself, but I should like to forestall some misapprehensions, here and now. If literary history has not been emphasized in the pages that follow, it is not because I discount its importance, or because I have failed to take it into account. It wrught rather that I wroughg been anxious to see what residuum, if any, is left after we have re- ferred the poem to its cultural matrix.
The temper of our times is strongly relativistic.
We have had impressed upon us the necessity for reading a poem in terms of its historical context, and that kind of reading has been car- ried on so successfully that some of us have been tempted to feel that it is the only kind of reading possible. We tend to say that every poem is an expression of its age; that we must be careful to ask of it only what its own age asked; that we must judge it only by the canons of its age.
Any attempt to view it sub specie aetemitatis, we feel, must result in illusion. Yet, if poetry exists as poetry in any mean- ingful sense, the attempt must be made. If one consults the typical practice in teaching literature and the behavior of the more popular critics, particularly through the war years, he will find plenty of evi- dence for the truth of this statement.
The Well Wrought Urn
The whole matter bears very definitely on the much adver- tised demise of the Humanities. This book does not claim to how that resuscitation is to be effected. But the question as to whether the critic can make normative Judgments does touch the heart of the matter; so too, the related question as to whether a poem represents anything more universal than the expression of the particular values of its time.
The men whose poems are considered brooka this book evidently Contenti.
The Light Symbolism in Penserosa ‘ 4. The Cose of Miss Arabella Fermor 6. Gray’s Storied Urn clewnth. Wordsworth and the Poradox of the Imoginetien V 8. Yeats’s Great Rooted Biossomer 1. The Heresy of Paraphrase Appendix 1 CriHcitm, History, ond Critical Relativism Appendix 2 The Problem of Belief ond the Prahlem of Cognitfnmi Appendix 3 Texts of Poems Index 3 21 47 62 74 96 The Well Wrought Urn new awareness of the importance of metaphor—if it is actually new, and if its character is really that of a freshened awareness— what this new awareness of metaphor results in when applied to poets other than Donne and his followers is therefore a mat- 21 conscious conceits at all.
He will reject it because to accept it means for him the assumption that the writer was not a fervent poet but a pretematurally cold and self-conscious monster.
Poems are certainly not made by formula and blueprint. One rightly holds suspect a critical interpretation that implies that they are.
The Well Wrought Urn | work by Brooks |
Shakespeare, we may be sure, was no such monster of calculation. But neither, for that matter, was Donne. Certainly, the gen- 1 eral vigor of metaphor in the Elizabethan period— as testified to I by pamphlets, sermons, and plays— should warn us against put- I I 23 The Naked Baba and ihe Cloak of Manliness ting the literature of that period at the mercy of our own per- sonal theories of poetic composition.
For those instances in which Shakespeare most obviously resembles the witty poets occur in the earlier plays or in Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Luctece; and these we are inclined to dismiss as early experi- ments— trial pieces from the Shakespearean workshop.
We de- mand, quite properly, instances from the great style of the later plays. Still, we will do well not to forget the witty examples in the poems and earlier plays. They indicate that Shakespeare is in the beginning not too far removed from Donne, and that, for certain effects at least, he was willing to play with the witty comparison.
Dr, Johnson, in teasing the metaphysical poets for their fanciful conceits on the subject of tears, might well have added instances from Shakespeare. One remembers, for exam- ple, from Venus and Adonis: O, how her eyes and tears did lend and borrow!
Her eyes seen in her tears, tears in her eye; Both crystals, where they view’d each other’s sorrow. Or, that more exquisite instance which Shakespeare, perhaps half-smiling, provided for the King in Love’s Labor’s Lost: So sweet a kiss the golden sun gives not To those pesh morning drops upon the rose, As thy eye-beams, when their fresh rays have smote And they thy glory through my grief will show: But do not love thyself— then thou wilt keep My tears for glasses, and still make me weep.
But Berowne, we know, at the end of the play, foreswears all such Taffeta phrases, silken terms precise, Three-piled hyperboles, spruce affectation.
The weaving was not so simple as that. Coleridge goes on, a few sentences later, to emphasize further “the per- petual activity of attention required on the part of the reader, As his latest champion, I.
I have in mind specifi- cally some such matter as this: And, again, I have in mind some such matter as this: For many readers they are all too evident. The difficulty is not to prove that they exist, but that, on occasion, they may subserve a more imagina- tive unity.
With Shakespeare, the difficulty may well be to prove that the chains exist at ail.
The Well Wrought Urn – Wikipedia
In general, we may say, Shakespeare has made it relatively easy for his admirers to choose what they like and neglect what they like. What he gives on one or another level is usually so magnificent that the reader finds it easy to ignore other levels.
Yet there are passages not easy to ignore and on which even critics with the conventional interests have been forced to com- ment. The comparison is odd, to say the least. Is the babe natural or supernatural— an ordinary, helpless baby, who, as newborn, could not, of course, even toddle, much less stride the blast? Or is it some infant Hercules, quite capable of striding the blast, but, since it is powerful and not helpless, hardly the typical pitiable object?
Shakespeare seems bent upon having it both ways— and, if we read on through the passage— bent upon having the best of both worlds; for he proceeds to give us the option: Or is it possible that Shakespeare could not make up his own mind? Is the pas- sage vague or precise? Loosely or tightly organized?
An even more interesting, and perhaps more disturbing pas- sage in the play is that in which Macbeth describes his discovery of the murder: Here lay Duncan, His silver skin la fd with his golden blood; And his gash’d stabs, look’d like a breach in nature For ruin’s wasteful entrance: The slightness of the similarity, recalling the greatness of the dissimilarity, disgusts us with the attempted comparison.
Yet, in neither case is there any warrant for thinking that Shakespeare was not trying to write as well as he could. Yet it is possible that such passages as these may illustrate another poetic resource, another type of imagery which, even in spite of its apparent violence and complication, Shakespeare could absorb into the total structure of his work.
Furthermore, both this passage and that about the newborn babe, it seems to me, are for more than excrescences, mere extravagances of detail: If this be true, then more is at stake than the merit of the quoted lines taken as lines. The lines as constituting mere details of a larger structure could, of course, be omitted in the acting of the play without seriously damaging the total effect of the tragedy— though this argument obviously cuts two ways.
Whole scenes, and admittedly fine scenes, might also be omitted —have in fact been omitted— without quite destroying the mas- sive structure of the tragedy. I should like to use the passages as convenient points of entry into the larger symbols which dominate the play. They are convenient because, even if we judge them to be faulty, they demonstrate how obsessive for Shakespeare the symbols were— they demonstrate how far the conscious or unconscious symbolism could take him.
As she points out: Perhaps her interest in classifying and cata- loguing the imagery of the plays has obscured for her some of Hie Hokeci Bsilie and She Oeak of Manliness 31 the larger and more important relationships.
At any rate, for reasons to be given below, she has realized only a part of the potentialities of her discovery. Her comment on the clothes imagery reaches its climax with the following paragraphs: And, at the end, when the tyrant is at bay at Dunsinane, and the English troops are advancing, the Scottish lords still have this image in their minds. Caithness sees him as a man vainly trying to fcisten a large garment on him with too small a belt: This imaginative picture of a small, ignoble man encum- bered and degraded by garments unsuited to him, should be put against the view emphasized by some critics no- tably Coleridge and Bradley of the likeness between Mac- beth and Milton’s Satan in grandeur and sublimity.
But he could never be put beside, say, Hamlet or Othello, in nobility of nature; and there is an aspect in which he is but a poor, vain, cruel, treacherous creature, snatching ruthlessly over the dead bodies of kinsman and Mend at place and power he is utterly unfitted to possess. It is worth remembering that it is thus that Shakespeare, with his unshrinking clarity of vision, repeatedly sees him.
Macbeth is uncomfortable in them because he is continually conscious of the fact that they do not belong to him. There is a further point, and it is one of the utmost importance; the oldest symbol for the hypocrite is that of the man who cloaks his true nature under a disguise. Macbeth loathes playing the part of the hypocrite— and actually does not play it too well.