Sunday, December 14, 2008

Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning

From the author's Preface to the Second Edition (1951): [This book] claims to present, not merely a theory of poetic diction, but a theory of poetry: not merely a theory of poetry, but a theory of knowledge.. . . . . . .Apart from pleasurable entertainment (which should never be forgotten), there are two important functions which poetry is there to perform. One of them is the one I have stressed throughout this book, namely the making of meaning, which gives life to language and makes true knowledge possible. And this it does inasmuch as it is the vehicle of imagination. The other, lying much nearer the surface of life, is to mirror, not necessarily by approving, the characteristic response of the age in which it is written. Now it may happen, and it has been happening increasingly since the eighteenth century, that these two functions conflict. They may even be diametrically opposed to one another. For there may be an age of which the characteristic response is to deny the validity of imagination. And if that happens, a true and sensitive poet will find himself in a dilemma. Though not as well-known as some other members of The Inklings, this book by Owen Barfield remains a classic; I've kept it within easy reach since the early 60s, when I bought it at one of the numerous second-hand bookstores next to the UW campus in Seattle--a great find, highly recommended and back in print (Wesleyan) after so many years of neglect.


  1. Good short recommendation for the book. I like how your blog is including a range of different topics and items. (I hadn't known about "The Inklings." Sounds like a rock band composed of poets and novelists, with, perhaps, an essayist as drummer.)

  2. Wonderful entry. Judging by the Wikipedia article, Barfield did some heavy-duty thinking.

    Meanwhile, when someone denies the validity of the imagination, I smile. And it is definitely not the smile of reason.

  3. Dang it - another book I need to check out.


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