Poetic Diction

Poetic Diction by Owen Barfield

Author:Owen Barfield
Title:Poetic Diction; A Study in Meaning
First Published:1928 by Faber & Gwyer Ltd.

Paperback by Wesleyan University Press (1st ed. 1973):


Poetic Diction, first published in 1928, begins by asking why we call a given grouping of words "poetry" and why these arouse "aesthetic imagination" and produce pleasure in a receptive reader. Returning always to this personal experience of poetry, Owen Barfield at the same time seeks objective standards of criticism and a theory of poetic diction in broader philosophical considerations on the relation of world and thought. His profound musings explore concerns fundamental to the understanding and appreciation of poetry, including the nature of metaphor, poetic effect, the difference between verse and prose, and the essence of meaning.

"Among the few poets and teachers of my acquaintance who know Poetic Diction, it has been valued not only as a secret book, but nearly as a sacred one." --Howard Nemerov

"This extraordinary study stands virtually alone in focusing on the mysterious area in poetry between word and meaning. Only the most sensitive and learned guides could lead us through this term incognita. Barfield is such a guide . . . The book has already become a classic." --G. B. Tennyson

description from the back-cover of the book


Owen Barfield was one of the Inklings, and this book greatly impressed C.S. Lewis as well as J.R.R. Tolkien. And regarding Barfield's conception of the ancient semantic unity Tolkien said to Lewis: "It is one of those things, that when you've once seen it there are all sorts of things you can never say again." (The Inklings p. 42). Also this was probably the reason for Tolkien - perhaps somewhat snide - remark:

Max Müller's view of mythology as a 'disease of language' can be abandoned without regret. Mythology is not a disease at all, though it may like all human things become diseased. You might as well say that thinking is a disease of the mind. It would be more near the truth to say that languages, especially modern European languages, are a disease of mythology.
Tree and Leaf: "On Fairy Stories"



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