[lit-ideas] The Poet's Way With Words

  • From: "" <dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> (Redacted sender "Jlsperanza" for DMARC)
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 16 Sep 2015 13:52:15 -0400

In a message dated 9/16/2015 12:57:24 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
jejunejesuit.geary2@xxxxxxxxx writes:
Was it Macleish who said "a poem shouldn't mean, but be"? I agree whether
'twas he or not. And a poem BE in it's saying, not in what is said --
the said is said in the saying, but the poem is in the how and the now and
the wow of the words.

I think it was Grice, -- no, not the one you know -- the POET.

Oxonian philosophers make a distinction between the 'dictum' -- what Geary
has, rightly, as 'the said" -- and the 'saying'. Then there's the UNSAID,
or implicatum, which is different from the implicating, of course.

The Oxonian poet Owen Barfield's "Speaker meaning" opens with examples of
"felt changes" arising in reading poetry, and discusses how these relate to
general principles of poetic composition.

But Barfield's greater agenda is "a study of meaning" -- as opposed, as
Geary has it, a study of "is".

Using poetic examples, Barfield, however attempts to demonstrate how the
imagination works with words and metaphors to create meaning -- a poem
saying -- the uttering of a poem. What Austin, jocularly, called the

Barfield shows how the imagination of the poet creates new meaning, and how
this same process has been active, throughout human experience, to create
and continuously expand language.

For Barfield this is not just literary criticism, alla Vendler (I mean
Helen, not Zeno).

It is evidence for the evolution of human consciousness.

This, for many readers of poetry, is his real accomplishment: his unique
presentation of "not merely a theory of poetic diction, but a theory of
poetry, and not merely a theory of poetry, but a theory of knowledge".

This theory was developed directly from a close study of the evolution of
words and meaning, starting with the relation between the primitive mind's
myth making capacity, and the formation of words.

Barfield uses numerous examples to demonstrate that words originally had a
unified "concrete and undivided" meaning, which we now distinguish as
several distinct concepts.

For example, the single Greek word "pneuma" (which can be variously
translated as "breath", "spirit", or "wind") reflects, Barfield argues, the
primordial unity of these concepts of air, spirit, wind, and breath, all
included in one "holophrase" (which Barfield rhymes with 'praise').

This Barfield considers not the application of analogy to natural
phenomena, but the discernment of its pre-existence -- or what Geary would have
the 'pre-is'.

This is the perspective Barfield believes is original in the evolution of
consciousness, which was "fighting for its life", as he phrases it, in the
philosophy of Plato, and which, in a regenerate and more sophisticated form,
benefiting from the development of rational thought, needs to be recovered
if consciousness is to continue to evolve, unless it needs not.

Austin, who read Barfield, found his distinctions incomplete, and added
five other things a poet does with words.

There's the PHATIC act.

There's the RHETIC act.

And there's the mere PHONIC act.

While a poet not only engages in a locution, but in an ILLOCUTION, which
becomes a PERLOCUTION in the poem's addressee (which may be identical to the
poet qua utterer).



"I wish to introduce, as a term of art, the verb 'implicate', the related
nouns 'implicature' (cf. 'implying') and 'implicatum' (cf. what is


Barfield, Owen. Speaker's Meaning.
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