AD's English Literature : May 2017

Delight and Utility in Literature

Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.
T. S. Eliot (1888 - 1965)
U.S.-born British poet and playwright.
The Sacred Wood, "Philip Massinger"
Literature is valued in various ways. Some think of ‘pure’ literature or pure poetry. Horace analyses the function of poetry by the terms dulce et utile. (Delight and Utility). Longinus like Plato emphasizes the sublimity in poetry as conducing to the production of feelings of greatness and grandeur. Plato indicates the moral function of poetry. But no critic wants poetry to be homiletic or didactic. Aristotle wants purification of feelings through the structure of a poem or tragedy. Sidney following Scaliger indicates the function of poetry as delightful instruction. The philosopher teaches by precept, the historian by example, but the poet teaches through delight, through exciting the feelings and thrilling the senses. Poetry, according to Sidney conduces to virtue. Wordsworth says: “didacticism is my abhorrence”. But for him, the pleasure of poetry is of an exalted kind. He regards poetry as the most philosophical of all writings. “It is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge, the impassioned expression that is in the countenance of all science”. Poetry divorced from morality is valueless. Poetry is highest music wedded to highest thoughts. Literature transmits feelings and ideas that exalt the mind, quicken the sensibility and widen the vision. Arnold characterizes poetry as criticism of life in terms of truth and beauty. Eliot who is the exponent of the theory of impersonality in poetry posits the moral function of poetry. “Poetry is not a substitute for philosophy or theology or religion, it has its own function. But as this function is not intellectual but emotional, it cannot be defined adequately in intellectual terms. We can say that it provided ‘consolation’, strange consolation, which is provided equally by writers so different as Dante and Shakespeare.” The Waste Land which is the most objective and impersonal of all writings suggests a message through the diagnosis of the decay and deadness of civilization.

Death of Cordelia in the Light of Poetic Justice in William Shakespeare’s "King Lear"

 Poetic justice is a sort of ideal justice, which the poets and critics are expected to impart in apportioning rewards and Punishments to the characters they create. It is an ideal world of justice where crime and punishment exist, bound more of less by a nexus of transcendental mathematics. As an idea, however, it is too bookish and fails to explain the wicked world in which men and women live and die. It thinks more of the world as it should be than the world as it is. The world of daily existence is a world where the wicked prosper and evil thrive while the good is wasted and ignored. Such a world provides stuff for tragedies of Shakespeare who accepts the world as it is and King Lear is no exception to it.

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