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The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry Paperback – February 23, 1956


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The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry + Seven Types of Ambiguity + S/Z: An Essay
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Product Details

  • Series: Harvest Book
  • Paperback: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (February 23, 1956)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156957051
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156957052
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #148,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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One of the most satisfying books on the rhetoric of poetry that I've read.
Gerard Pacillo
When one compares Understanding Poetry with The Well Wrought Urn, one is struck by an odd pairing of likenesses with differences.
Martin Asiner
Here in one of his major works Brooks reads in his own way ten of the great poems of English Literary history.
Shalom Freedman

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 22, 2002
Format: Paperback
I first read "The Well Wrought Urn" in 1978, when I was a first year grad student. Now I assign it for English majors taking their final undergraduate seminar. "The Well Wrought Urn" is a collection of essays on various poems. The essays were published in various journals in the 1940s. Why is the book still read? It is read because these essays are superb examples of literary criticism at its best: insightful, accessible, graceful, witty. It is read because when one reads a poem, then reads Brooks' essay about it, then reads the poem again, one learns a great deal about how to understand poetry and gain from it meaning and pleasure. Brooks' insights aren't the only valid insights into these poems, but they are good ones. It's not that we read these essays to understand these specific poems, but to understand how to approach any poem. There's a lot of interesting literary criticism available in libraries, though far more is not very interesting or graceful. Few essays, however, are more helpful to students as tools for teaching the technique of literary analysis. Of course, Brooks, as a New Critic, is using a style of literary criticism not presently trendy. Still, the technique of discovering insights about poetry is still the same, no matter what the theory one uses.
The review below this one is worthwhile, but I would suggest that the author misses the joke. What he takes as condescension is a condescension that includes the readers within the circle of initiates. It doesn't scoff at the reader. Thus, it is meant to help English majors think that they are a sort of blessed priesthood who have been initiated into the secrets of the fellowship. (When I was in grad school, that's what I thought we were.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Gerard Pacillo on April 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is the kind of elegantly written criticism that makes one want to take poetry seriously. One finds no rant or cant, no impenetrable jargon. Brooks takes a broad selection of English poems across periods and styles, and analyzes their rhetorical structure. He seeks the essence of poetic thought and offers the notion of "paradox" as a possible key. The usefulness of extra-poetic ideas is not denied, but he rightly insists that a poem's meaning is not reducible to a simple prose statement. If it is so reducible, then the poem may be judged as true or false by the historian, scientist or philosopher. The book also contains several essays of generalization and the texts of most of the scrutinized works. One of the most satisfying books on the rhetoric of poetry that I've read.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
This book, written nearly a half-century ago, has never been out of print. To read it is to see why. With Cleanth Brooks, who taught at Yale for most of his career, you feel as if you are sitting in a seminar with the most brilliant professor you've ever known, one who is also a true gentleman with extraordinary solicitude for his students/readers. He takes you through the poems line by line and helps you to *see* the artistry of the poet at work. And so sparkling is his prose style that the essays are themselves works of art. This book is especially appropriate for students who are just beginning to appreciate poetry.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Martin Asiner on October 9, 2012
Format: Paperback
When one compares Understanding Poetry with The Well Wrought Urn, one is struck by an odd pairing of likenesses with differences. Both seek to advance the acceptance of New Critical tenets by listing a number of well-known poems and analyzing each to determine how the poet focuses attention on the organic unity, which requires the reader to consider how that poet integrates a dozen or so manifestations of language and structure all of which coalesce to produce the one "correct" interpretation. The primary difference does not lie in the many more poems of Understanding Poetry but rather in Brooks' determination to reply to the charges of critics who loudly complained that Brooks had unfairly and unreasonably excluded any reference to disciplines external to the purely literal. For Brooks, these external differences were holdovers from the previous generation's fascination with the historical/biographical school of literary interpretation, a related theory which suggests that facts from the life and times of the poet are crucial in fixing the behind the scenes mixing of form and content as prerequisites to uncovering the meaning. Brooks went to considerable lengths to emphasize that he had no problem with historical/biographical approaches to literature. They had their place in the literary scheme of things but criticism was not one of them. Brooks noted that there was no objective proof that knowing a fact about either the reader or his times revealed anything germane about the text. What historical/biographical criticism did not address were the excellences of a poem. Nor did they explain how the varied elements of New Critical analyses (figurative language, imagery, symbolism, etc) interacted with each other to uncover the meaning.Read more ›
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