The Language of Poetry - Glenn W. Most

poetry, literature, literary

Of late a hush seems to have fallen upon the once noisily debated issues of poetic language. Can poetry be distinguished, on the basis of essentially linguistic criteria, from others uses of language? Is there such a thing as a poetic language demonstrably different from the language of prose? Or should we instead suppose that the difference between poetry and other forms of discourse is that poetry basically makes use of the same language as they do, but differently -- and if so, to what extent and in what way or ways? Or is there in the end no clear and certain difference between poetry and other uses of language?

In the 1960s and 1970s there wes widespread agreement, not only in France, that language was the royal road on which best to approach the problem of the nature of poetry; disputes tended to concentrate upon the issue of which kind of theoretical vehicle would outpace the others and arrive first at the goal of all, a precise set of scientific criteria which would ensure unambiguous decisions about whether a sample text was really poetry or not (and perhaps even about whether one text was more poetic than another, and by just how much). This was a period in which publications with titles like Linguistic Structures in Poetry, Structure du langage poetique, Poetik und Linguistik, and "Linguistique et poetique" were frequent, and in which an important and innovative handbook of rhetoric could declare programmatically in its introduction that its goal was that explaining "how and why a text is a text, we mean: what are the procedures of language which characterize literature? ... Therefore we shall postulate that literature is, to begin with, a particular use of language."

Nowadays such declarations and such optimism seem dated, almost quaint. For a number of reasons, the exclusively linguistic approach to poetics no longer commands the attention it once did. It was indeed responsible for some important discoveries, but for none quite as profound and wide-reaching as those it had promised; even in linguistics itself, the greatest successes of structuralism were its earliest ones, in phonology, and the difficulties associated with crossing the border of the sentence have continued to prove troublesome for full linguisti analysis of poetic (as of nonpoetic) texts.

The degree of scientific validity structural linguistics could hope to attain was called into question both by opponents of this movement, such as hermeneuticans and deconstructionists, and by partial allies like Marxixts. Even within linguistics, awareness of the one-sidedness of the initial premises could at best, in the most sophisticated cases, be converted dialectically into a call for their transcendence -- thus the same textbook of rhetoric cited above went on to acknowledge:

In the case of a Jakobson, as in that of the critics and semiologists who inscribe themselves in his wake, this claim for the linguistic character of poetry founds the competence of linguistic science to give an account of those particular linguistic structures which are poetic structures. But we shall see that this linguistic approach finally leads to the recognition of the non-linguistic character of poetry. This amounts to saying that the definiton of poetry as constituting one language among others could not pass for a definitive definition. It is a provisional definiton, a goal on the empirical level, a step on the rational level. Hence out thesis is that the particularities of poetic language are such that they end up disqualifying poetry as a language. But it is precisely demonstrating these particularities that proves the non-linguistic essence of literarariness.


Judul: The Language of Poetry
Penulis: Glenn W. Most
Sumber: New Literary History, Vol. 24 No 3, Textual Interrelations (Summer, 1993), pp. 545-562, The Johs Hopkins University Press

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