Summer 1940 • Vol. II No. 3 NonfictionJuly 1, 1940 |

On the Semantics of Poetry

Discussions about poetry incur a double danger. There is the danger of spoiling the poem under discussion by over-analysis, or by inopportune or inappropriate analysis; and there is the danger of losing sight of the poem in an effort to settle something about the poet’s life, about the philosophy espoused, about implicit sociological tendencies, or about clinical effects upon the reader. The first danger can be avoided only by the good sense and good taste of the critic. So long as he keeps his undistracted attention upon the poem itself the delicacy and depth of his appreciation will be the main determinants of critical success, and the achievement of these qualities is a matter of gradual, associative education. The second danger, that of sliding imperceptibly from a discussion of the poem into a discussion of something with which the poem has historical or conceptual or functional connections, is more definite and therefore more remediable. While a good deal of such divagati

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