In his first major critical work, Purity of Diction in English Verse Donald Davie distinguishes between 'the language of poetry' and 'the diction of verse'. A diction is a selection, made according to certain rules of propriety, class, etymology, precedent, from the language as a whole. There are poets, he says, who give him the feeling 'that a selection has been made and is continually being made, that words are thrusting at the poem and being fended off from it, that however many poems these poets wrote certain words would never be allowed into the poems, except as a disastrous oversight.
The verse may also be poetry , but it is different in texture, intent and provenance from the kind of poetry which seems as though it might, given a context, admit any word in the language. Davie makes it clear that while Milton has a style , he does not have a diction.
Review: Poetic Occasion from Milton to Wordsworth
We can imagine any word at some stage finding lodging in one of his poems. However, poets who follow Milton closely, like James Thomson and others in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, use a Miltonic diction. They use those words whose use Milton licensed, those words that his style seems to sanction.
Thomson's 'selection of language' is a subset of the selection made by John Milton. Early on, William Wordsworth too used a Miltonic diction.
Early on Milton used a Spenserian diction. If we can reserve the word 'diction' to mean 'a selection from the whole language', it begins to play a more useful part in our discussion of the eighteenth century and of the revolutions against its rules as the century progressed.
A poetry which depends on rules of diction will also evolve rules of decorum and propriety: what range of diction is appropriate to the ballad, the hymn, the lyric, the epic and the satire? Johnson found King Lear's 'Undo this button' a dreadful error of tact: the word 'button' had no place in tragedy. The choice of appropriate diction imparts information and a range of expectations to readers, who knows what poetic area they are in from the first line.
Furthermore, poems can be judged against, as it were, very nearly objective though in origin arbitrary criteria. So long as all those participating in a literary culture, as readers, critics and writers, accept the appropriateness of the criteria, a succinct and expressive poetry can develop. Its expressiveness and succinctness are accessible, of course, only to those familiar with the criteria.
Such consensus might imply a rather narrow literary class: metropolitan for the most part, polite in a special sense, and taking pleasure in the intensity of word-play going on in a few lines which sound to uninitiated us merely rhetorical.
Ebook Poetic Occasion From Milton To Wordsworth (Early Modern Literature In History)
Davie reminds us of what Oliver Goldsmith made of three lines of Thomson: O vale of bliss! O softly swelling hills! On which the power of cultivation lies, And joys to see the wonders of his toil. Such detail as he adduces is characteristic rather than specific.
His reading of the three lines is not unjust. The 'vale of bliss' imports into the eighteenth-century reader's mind the foliage of Spenser, the accents of Comus, even perhaps Milton's Paradise; the personifications are all there in precedents as well. The world of allegory is not far off. There are common meanings to be surmised here, characteristic meanings. Poetry is a social art from which every reader will receive the same meaning, though in different degrees; it cannot be misconstrued.
Achieved poetic diction is a most precise shorthand, if we have the skill and will to decipher it. Not for Keats, however. Writing a century later in Sleep and Poetry , he was categorical, setting up in Queen Anne a Georgian Aunt Sally with haughty eloquence: Ah, dismal-soul'd! The winds of heaven blew, the ocean roll'd Its gathering waves — ye felt it not. Why were ye not awake?
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But ye were dead To things ye knew not of — were closely wed To musty laws lined out with wretched rule And compass vile; so that ye taught a school Of dolts to smooth, inlay, and clip, and fit, Till, like the certain wands of Jacob's wit, Their verses tallied. So why was it so significant that it was worth preserving? We know the exact circumstances in which Wordsworth acquired the notebook. It was purchased, with four others just like it, from a stationers shop in Bristol for just 1 shilling, when the poet and his sister Dorothy were preparing for an extended tour of Germany in in the company of their friend S.
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Coleridge had masterminded the tour. They had heard Goslar was cheap, but the secluded, rough, mountainous region would have reminded Wordsworth too of his native Cumberland. Having practically no German, and with little money to spare, their stay in the city was far from pleasant: Dorothy complains bitterly about rude landlords and shopkeepers who took advantage of the fact that they were foreigners and over-charged for food and accommodation.
While in Hamburg, Wordsworth visited the great poet Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock on no less than three occasions twice with Coleridge in tow.
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They conversed in French about the history of German poetry, blank verse, Rousseau, Kant, Schiller and Wieland; yet, as the notes reveal that he hurriedly set down in DC MS 19, Wordsworth seemed most intent on pressing him for his views on the great English poets. After Coleridge had gone his separate way, the Wordsworths moved to Goslar, where they arrived on 6 October. The winter of was a particularly cold one, and with few acquaintances around, they led a quiet, fairly isolated existence.
There was little to do but to work indoors. Brother and sister started learning German, diligently recording German vocabulary in the Diaries Notebook. William complained about the lack of access to books. Poet, short story writer and critic, John Dolan, was born in Colorado and moved to New Zealand in His first collection of poems Slave was printed in California, while his second collection, Stuck Up , was published in New Zealand.
A wide range of his writing has appeared in local and international journals. Dolan , John is a poet, short story writer and critic.