“A Tired and Drained Language”

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From Cleanth Brooks’s “Irony as a Principle of Structure”:

“The modern poet has the task of rehabilitating a tired and drained language so that it can convey meanings once more with force and with exactitude” (90).

I thought Brooks did a really good job writing his essay.  I thought he wrote it at a level which was more easily understandable; he filled it with comparisons, analogues, examples, and some humor which helped to keep the reader interested and on the same page as him. 

However, I’m not sure how much I agree with his comment about modern poets' travails.  He explains of the poet’s audience that they are, “a public corrupted by Hollywood and the Book of the Month Club…a public sophisticated by commercial art” (90).  And I can see what he means about how today’s society has art of all sorts so readily available to its members and this affecting one's perception of literature.  But if this public is a more “sophisticated” one, then shouldn’t they be better able to appreciate what a poet creates.  Yes, a modern day person is assaulted with all sort of language and has all sorts of connotations attached to words, but I wouldn’t say this drains the language.  Doesn’t it just present the poet with new possibilities?  For if a certain word holds certain connotations, by breaking this expected meaning and using it in some new way, doesn’t it jar the audience all the more?  I just think that no matter how used a language is that it will not become unable to “convey meanings…with force and with exactitude.” 

Read more blogs on Brooks’s article. 

3 Comments

Bethany Merryman said:

I like what you say about a modern poem has so many possibilities! They should take advantage of their opportunities!!! Create new literary forces and experiment!

Ellen Einsporn said:

Great points, Greta. I like to think optimistically like you do. Like Bethany said, I like that you view the varying connotations of language over time simply as new opportunities. I also, found this article much easier to read than past ones--it was nice to not have to reread everything five times til I understood it. I still had to reread some, but, if we're staying optimistic, I say that's better than nothing!

james lohr said:

It's sad for me to have to say this, but i was reading a study, forgive me i can't remember who it was by, but this study showed that most adult americans can only read at a 6th grade level. How can we expect the average reader to understand the complex nature of poetry when they have trouble reading anything but the funnies?

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