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Cleanth Brooks - The Language of Paradox


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This presentation is based on Cleanth Brooks's essay "The Language of Paradox,", wherein Cleanth Brooks emphasizes how the language of poetry is different from that of the sciences, claiming that he is interested in our seeing that the paradoxes spring from the very nature of the poet's language: “it is a language in which the connotations play as great a part as the denotations. And I do not mean that the connotations are important as supplying some sort of frill or trimming, something external to the real matter in hand. I mean that the poet does not use a notation at all--as a scientist may properly be said to do so. The poet, within limits, has to make up his language as he goes.”

Published in: Education, Spiritual
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Cleanth Brooks - The Language of Paradox

  1. 1. “The Language of Paradox” in The Well Wrought Urn (1947) Cleanth Brooks (1906 – 1994) Compiled from various web/book resources by Dilip Barad
  2. 2. Questions • Write about Cleanth Brooks’s concept of Paradox and Irony and their importance in poetry as discussed in his essay “The Language of Paradox” in The Well Wrought Urn (1947). • Discuss: “The language of poetry is the language of paradox” Elucidate with reference to Cleanth Brooks’s essay The Language of Paradox. • Analyze Wordsworth’s Wesminister Bridge and Donne’s The Canonization with reference to Cleanth Brooks’s The Language of Paradox.
  3. 3. Paradox: What is it? • In literature, the paradox is a literary device consisting of the anomalous juxtaposition of incongruous ideas for the sake of striking exposition or unexpected insight. • It functions as a method of literary composition - and analysis - which involves examining apparently contradictory statements and drawing conclusions either to reconcile them or to explain their presence.
  4. 4. Cleanth Books – a New Critic • Cleanth Brooks, an active member of the New Critical movement, outlines the use of reading poems through paradox as a method of critical interpretation. • Paradox in poetry means that tension at the surface of a verse can lead to apparent contradictions and hypocrisies.
  5. 5. Connotations and Denotations • In this essay ("The Language of Paradox,"), Cleanth Brooks emphasizes how the language of poetry is different from that of the sciences, claiming that he is interested in our seeing that the paradoxes spring from the very nature of the poet's language: “it is a language in which the connotations play as great a part as the denotations.
  6. 6. Wordsworth’s Composed upon Westminster Bridge EARTH has not anything to show more fair: Dull would he be of soul who could pass by A sight so touching in its majesty: This City now doth, like a garment, wear The beauty of the morning; silent, bare, Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie Open unto the fields, and to the sky; All bright and glittering in the smokeless air. Never did sun more beautifully steep In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill; Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep! The river glideth at his own sweet will: Dear God! the very houses seem asleep; And all that mighty heart is lying still!
  7. 7. Wordsworth’s ‘It is a beauteous eve’ • Brooks illustrates from William Wordsworth's poem “It is a beauteous evening, calm and free.” • He begins by outlining the initial and surface conflict, which is that the speaker is filled with worship, while his female companion does not seem to be. • The paradox, discovered by the poem’s end, is that the girl is more full of worship than the speaker precisely because she is always consumed with sympathy for nature and not - as is the speaker - in tune with nature while immersed in it.
  8. 8. “Composed upon Westminster Bridge,” IT is a beauteous evening, calm and free, The holy time is quiet as a Nun Breathless with adoration; the broad sun Is sinking down in its tranquillity; The gentleness of heaven broods o'er the Sea: Listen! the mighty Being is awake, And doth with his eternal motion make A sound like thunder--everlastingly. Dear Child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here, If thou appear untouched by solemn thought, Thy nature is not therefore less divine: Thou liest in Abraham's bosom all the year; And worship'st at the Temple's inner shrine, God being with thee when we know it not.
  9. 9. Wordsworth’s ‘Westminster Bridge’ • In his reading of Wordsworth's poem, “Composed upon Westminster Bridge,” Brooks contends that the poem offers paradox not in its details, but in the situation which the speaker creates. • Though London is a man-made marvel, and in many respects in opposition to nature, the speaker does not view London as a mechanical and artificial landscape but as a landscape comprised entirely of nature. • Since London was created by man, and man is a part of nature, London is thus too a part of nature. It is this reason that gives the speaker the opportunity to remark upon the beauty of London as he would a natural phenomenon, and, as Brooks points out, can call the houses “sleeping” rather than “dead,” because they too are vivified with the natural spark of life, granted to them by the men that built them.
  10. 10. • John Donne’s The Canonization FOR God's sake hold your tongue, and let me love ; Or chide my palsy, or my gout ; My five gray hairs, or ruin'd fortune flout ; With wealth your state, your mind with arts improve ; Take you a course, get you a place, Observe his Honour, or his Grace ; Or the king's real, or his stamp'd face Contemplate ; what you will, approve, So you will let me love. Alas ! alas ! who's injured by my love? What merchant's ships have my sighs drown'd? Who says my tears have overflow'd his ground? When did my colds a forward spring remove? When did the heats which my veins fill Add one more to the plaguy bill? Soldiers find wars, and lawyers find out still Litigious men, which quarrels move, Though she and I do love. Call's what you will, we are made such by love ; Call her one, me another fly, We're tapers too, and at our own cost die, And we in us find th' eagle and the dove. The phoenix riddle hath more wit By us ; we two being one, are it ; So, to one neutral thing both sexes fit. We die and rise the same, and prove Mysterious by this love. We can die by it, if not live by love, And if unfit for tomb or hearse Our legend be, it will be fit for verse ; And if no piece of chronicle we prove, We'll build in sonnets pretty rooms ; As well a well-wrought urn becomes The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs, And by these hymns, all shall approve Us canonized for love ; And thus invoke us, "You, whom reverend love Made one another's hermitage ; You, to whom love was peace, that now is rage ; Who did the whole world's soul contract, and drove Into the glasses of your eyes ; So made such mirrors, and such spies, That they did all to you epitomize— Countries, towns, courts beg from above A pattern of your love."
  11. 11. Donne’s Canonization • Brooks ends his essay with a reading of John Donne’s poem "The Canonization," which uses a paradox as its underlying metaphor. • Using a charged religious term to describe the speaker’s physical love as saintly, Donne effectively argues that in rejecting the material world and withdrawing to a world of each other, the two lovers are appropriate candidates for canonization. • This seems to parody both love and religion, but in fact it combines them, pairing unlikely circumstances and demonstrating their resulting complex meaning.
  12. 12. Donne’s Canonization • Brooks points also to secondary paradoxes in the poem: the simultaneous duality and singleness of love, and the double and contradictory meanings of “die” in Metaphysical poetry (used here as both sexual union and literal death). • He contends that these several meanings are impossible to convey at the right depth and emotion in any language but that of paradox. • A similar paradox is used in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” when Juliet says “For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch and palm to palm is holy palmer’s kiss.”
  13. 13. Rachana Joshi’s Poem ‘Leaving India’ makes an interesting reading in language of paradox and use of irony
  14. 14. Thus, to conclude, we may say . . . • In The Language of Paradox (The Well Wrought Urn) Brooks shows that paradox was so essential to poetic meaning that paradox was almost identical to poetry. • According to fellow New Critic Leroy Searle, Brooks’ use of paradox emphasized the indeterminate lines between form and content. “The form of the poem uniquely embodies its meaning” and the language of the poem “effects the reconciliation of opposites or contraries.”
  15. 15. Criticism of his viewpoint • R.S. Crane, in his essay "The Critical Monism of Cleanth Brooks," argues strongly against Brooks’ centrality of paradox. For one, Brooks believes that the very structure of poetry is paradox, and ignores the other subtleties of imagination and power that poets bring to their poems. • Brooks simply believed that “’imagination’ reveals itself in the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities.” Brooks, in leaning on the crutch of paradox, only discusses the truth which poetry can reveal, and speaks nothing about the pleasure it can give. • Also, by defining poetry as uniquely having a structure of paradox, Brooks ignores the power of paradox in everyday conversation and discourse, including scientific discourse, which Brooks claimed was opposed to poetry. • Crane claims that, using Brooks’ definition of poetry, the most powerful paradoxical poem in modern history is Einstein’s formula E = mc2, which is a profound paradox in that matter and energy are the same thing. The argument for the centrality of paradox (and irony) becomes a reductio ad absurdum and is therefore void (or at least ineffective) for literary analysis.