Practical Criticism

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‘Words in poetry invite us, not to "think about" and judge but to "feel into" or "become" – to realize a complex experience that is given in the words' - F.R. Leavis


The heart is a bloom
Shoots up through the stony ground
There's no room
No space to rent in this town
You're out of luck
And the reason that you had to care
The traffic is stuck
And you're not moving anywhere
If the first two verses of Beautiful Day by U2 (lyrics by Bono) above were to be examined by literary critics, they would most probably be concerned with the meaning and themes inherent in the poem and how well the author is able to put those across with the least ambiguity. No research into the writer's background nor the historical events surrounding the text are necessary, rather the critic should be able to determine the meaning using solely the words on the page. To them, works that communicate their meaning with the highest possible levels of gracefulness and creativity are of the most value. This method of analysis has its roots in the early 20th Century, and is known today as Practical Criticism. Practical criticism is the branch of English Literature that began in the 1920s with a series of experiments by the Cambridge critic I.A. Richards . He gave poems to his students and made sure they were unaware of the authors or when they were written. The exercise led him to believe that critics needed to concentrate solely on the words on the page, and not to include their preconceived beliefs about a literary work and/or its author. His book Practical Criticism (1929) reported and analyzed the results of these experiments. Later critics such as Richards' student William Empson later developed this theory even further, and this had a great impact on the literary movement known as ‘New Criticism'. The proponents of this movement saw poems as intricate works with often complex meanings. Paying close attention to the verbal...
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