- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (October 20, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1405151412
- ISBN-13: 978-1405151412
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.4 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 13 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #265,819 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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"The wit he brings to the task of helping readers read poems will,for some readers (myself included), be a source of pleasure."(Notes and Queries, June 2010)
“From the first page, the reader of How to Read aPoem realises that this, at last, is a book which begins toanswer Adrian Mitchell's charge: 'Most people ignore most poetrybecause most poetry ignores most people'. Eagleton introduceshimself as 'a politically minded literary theorist'. The remarkableachievement of this book is to prove that such a theorist is theonly person who can really show what poetry is for. By a brilliantand scrupulous series of readings - of Yeats and Frost and Audenand Dickinson - framed in a lively account of the function ofcriticism as perhaps only he could expound it, Eagleton shows howliterary theory, seriously understood, is the ground of poeticunderstanding. This will be the indispensable apology for poetry inour time.”
Bernard O'Donoghue, Wadham College, Oxford
"With energy and wit, Eagleton proves once and for all thatclose readers and theoretical readers should be partners ratherthan enemies." John Redmond, Liverpool University
"...lucid and engaging...Eagleton's book 'designed as anintroduction to poetry for students and general readers', is abreath of fresh air." Marjorie Perloff, TLS, Books of theYear
“Eagleton raises many interesting points”Choice
“A how-to book with an agenda. Smart, witty andprovocative ... How to Read a Poem challenges us not only tolook again at poetic form, but also to bring aesthetics back intoour discussions fo what makes a poem worth studying. We may notagree with Eagleton, but we would do well to accept hischallenge."
From the Back Cover
In this witty, accessible book, Terry Eagleton argues that the artof reading poetry is as much in danger of becoming extinct asthatching or clog dancing.
On the whole, students today are not taught how to be sensitiveto language - how to read a poem with due attention to its tone,mood, pitch, pace, rhythm and texture, rather than just to 'what itsays'. To demonstrate how this works in practice, the author takesa wide range of poems from the Renaissance to the present day andsubmits them to brilliantly illuminating close analysis. As one ofthe world's leading literary theorists, Eagleton also summons theaid of such pioneering critics as the Russian Formalists to raisesome provocative general questions:
- What is poetry, and how does it differ from prose?
- Is there a language peculiar to poetry?
- What exactly do we mean by imagery?
Lucid, entertaining and full of insight, How To Read APoem is designed to banish the intimidation that too oftenattends the subject of poetry, and in doing so to bring it into thepersonal possession of the students and the general reader.
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Eagleton's explanation of the Russian Formalists is a model of clarity. In eleven pages he manages to explain the the theory and practice of the school in a way that is interesting and comprehensible to the lay reader while respecting the complexity of the theory. He explains how information flows from deviation from the regular, how words in poems form parts of multiple systems, and how the interaction of those systems, in highlighting similarities and differences, draws the maximum meaning from the words used.
Eagleton then examines content (what a poem says) and form (how it says it). He demonstrates how the elegant form of Grey's 'Elegy in a Church Courtyard' works against its content - the dire situation portrayed, and how the sheer excellence of the form in Yeats' 'Coole Park and Ballylee' transcends the content, the lament for the loss of a society that can produce such excellence. He demonstrates how the form of Derek Mahon's 'Disused Shed in County Wexford' dominates the content, how the poet successfully invokes through form the horror and tragedy of the holocaust while his content uses the merely everyday, an abandoned shed in rural Ireland and mushrooms.
Eagleton then explores the tools of the poet, the sources of a poem's meaning. He outlines how the meaning of a poem is found in its tone, mood and pitch. For example there is no mistaking the tone and pitch intended by George Herbert in his line "I struck the board and cried, 'No more;/ I will abroad!' nor the near whisper suitable for Tennyson's lines 'Be near me when the light is low,/ when the blood creeps, and the nerves prick.' Eagleton finds a more subtle source of poetic meaning in a poem's texture; how a poem weaves its various sounds into palpable patterns, citing Tennyson's 'Lotus Eaters' and its avoidance of sharp consonants in favour of a softer, more sibilant sounds to re-enact the somnolent state of the lotus eaters. He outlines how poets use punctuation to convey meaning, such as the seven line long sentence Yeats uses in 'Coole Park and Ballylee' following immediately by a short one line sentence 'to show that the poet has some breath left in him even after this virtuous display.' He outlines the deep meanings and ambivalence that can be conveyed by grammar, citing the alternative meanings of T.S. Eliot's 'Whispers of Immortality' depending on whether 'leaned' is the past tense of lean or the past participle. He explores how poets use rhyme, explaining how para-rhymes in Wilfrid Owen's 'Insensibility' convey how everything is awry, off-key, out of kilter in the war which the poem describes. Discussing rhythm he points out how the line 'It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way' in Smith's 'Not Waving but Drowning' breaks the established rhythm to give a sense of flurried, disorganised chatter.
All this is conveyed with an evidently deep, though lightly carried, learning and with Eagleton's characteristic wicked sense of humour: "this insensitivity to the texture and rhythm of our speech is essential to our practical lives. There is no point in shouting 'Fire!' in a cinema if the audience are simply going to linger over the delectable contrast between the violently stabbing F and the swooning, long drawn-out vowel.", "They may be having a profound experience for some other reason (perhaps they are...thrusting red-hot needles into an effigy of Donald Trump)."