Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks on Poetry

The total meaning of the poem resists being reduced to a statement, even a considered and carefully thought-out statement. For poems are not statements at all, but significant dramatizations of a situation, experiences, that are concrete embodiments, not abstractions. Thus, the images, the tone, even the metrical patterning can qualify the meaning significantly. If we come to know a poem well and are asked what it ‘means,’ we may well be hesitant about answering the question with a statement that attempts to paraphrase the total meaning. If we are serious and the question demands a responsible answer, we may have to say: Read the poem. Take time to learn to read it properly. Then read it again.

Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks, Understanding Poetry (4th edition, Heinle & Heinle, 1976), 311.



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