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Abstract I try to rejuvenate Cleanth Brooks’s old thesis about the ‘heresy of paraphrase.’ This I do by analysing a couple of well-known poems and by performing. which Mr. Cleanth Brooks has called “the heresy of paraphrase.” What Mr. Bowra does, and does very well, is to give us what the poet talks about in so far as it. “the poem, if it be a true poem, is a simulacrum of reality by being an experience rather than any mere statement about experience or any.

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If that were the case, ‘Mary and John went home’ would have had important connotations different from the original. And just the very Verfremdungseffekt the cleanfh of estrangement of taking this part of Homer and wedding it to a completely different type of discourse, as Pound does at the end of the poem [12]is also not easily captured by a paraphrase. For example, the case of king Oedipus in Sophocles Oedipus Rex.

I try to rejuvenate Cleanth Brooks’s old thesis about the ‘heresy of paraphrase. Defining the concepts Brooks was on the right track, and I want to hersey the remainder of this article to give his thesis a more solid foundation. In this article, I want to discuss the cleanyh whether or not poems can be paraphrased.

Heresy of paraphrase | philosophy |

At the same time, Brooks has correctly shown that a paraphrase does not have to be without worth in helping us to understand a poem. Is it a paraphrase of a novel, everyday discourse in a pre-modern civilisation, a fairy-tale, an epic or a modern poem? Such an interpretation tries to unveil hidden essences of meaning in texts and can in the case of poetry usually be expressed in a few pointed sentences.

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The very idea of tacit knowledge evokes the image of Michael Polanyi, who famously said, ‘We know more than we can tell. The fact that this school of criticism does not exist anymore is perhaps one of the explanations for the fact that the thesis of heresy has not been discussed much in recent years.

The problem is the obvious one that the number of possible depth interpretations is infinite and, mutatis mutandisthe same holds for the number of probers. Contrast this to a paraphrase of a scientific paper or book. The relationship between the intellectual and the non-intellectual elements in a poem is actually far more intimate than the conventional accounts would represent it to be: That evidence we can only get if he can rephrase it.


In actual fact there has never been much systematic discussion about the thesis. The example was inspired by the findings of the Gestalt psychologists. Consider the following lines from Ezra Pound’s ‘Canto I’ [10]which incidentally consists to a large extent of a translation of Homer’s Ulysses: And when we explicate a text we try to make it easier to understand by using a different set of words to say the same thing but in a clearer manner.

The same goes for notoriously unclear notions like those of ‘poetry’ or ‘everyday understanding. Languages Polski Edit links. In the lyrics of the Beatles’ song ‘She loves you,’ the core essential meaning seems to be that A is telling B that B wrongly thinks that his girlfriend does not love him any more, but that is not right, etc.

The Heresy of Paraphrase Revisited

I use ‘rephrase’ and ‘paraphrase’ as synonyms. What he did deny is that a paraphrase can replace a poem or capture its essence. Add to this the importance of metaphors in a host of poems and the difficulties even impossibilities of paraphrasing metaphors, and the thesis of heresy seems quite plausible.

As suggested, my view is that our understanding of a non-rephrasable poem is essentially some kind of tacit know-that. The structure meant is certainly not ‘form’ in the conventional sense in which we think of form paraphrae a kind of envelope which ‘contains’ the ‘content. Meaning as dramatic effect is produced by setting its tensions in motion. In order to qualify as a prober, P must be a sort of a translation of the text with the aid of ‘the translation manual’ of a certain depth interpretation.

Moreover, attempts at a complete paraphrase of poems tend to need metaphors in order to capture their meaning, but these metaphors in their turn stand in need of a paraphrase. Thus, we have strengthened the foundations of Brooks’s original thesis.

This means that if my earlier description of the typical features of poems is correct and Williams’s poem is a typical example of a p. By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. But as I hope to show, it is well parapgrase probing into and decidedly needs rejuvenation.

Heresy of paraphrase

Though many of the aesthetic assumptions of the New Criticism are now challenged or dismissed, the “heresy of paraphrase” is still commonly used to refer to reductive or utilitarian approaches to poetry. Only the anti-heretic can undertake the logical mystery tour of poetic interpretation. Though Brooks applied this heredy to his reading of poetry from many periods, subsequent literary scholars have suggested that the doctrine was shaped by the aesthetics of modernist literature.


This page was last edited on 17 Januaryat A poem that cannot be rephrased cannot be adequately described because a paraphrase seems to be a kind of description of a poem’s main content and possibly also its basic formal features. Add to this the fact that a host of people in our world would flatly deny parzphrase Williams’s text is a poem but rather see it as a piece of everyday discourse, undeservedly called ‘a poem.

A painting which in our eyes would look exactly like “Mona Lisa” but with a moustache would not be a parody in the possible world in question. Therefore, our understanding of it cannot be entirely propositional. So some paraphrasability seems possible, which of course does not prove that there are fully paraphrasable utterances.

The Heresy of Paraphrase

It must be said in all fairness that using a more archaic language in the attempted paraphrase would probably have made it more like the poem itself. So rephrasing a scientific text is probably more rewarding than paraphrasing a poem, a fact that ought to count in favour of the thesis of heresy. This seems plausible because when we translate a text we try to say the same thing in other words, which is tantamount to an attempt to paraphrase it.

Doubleday,p. Whatever is presented as a poem is a poem.

If this is the case, then form and content cannot be separated in any clear-cut manner, brpoks abstracting the content the message from the poem is a risky and none paralhrase rewarding business. September Learn how and when to remove this template message. And if there also were serious logical flaws in my possible world examples, then it would be hard to see how I can uphold my defence.

One of Eliot’s greatest admirers, the New Critic Cleanth Brooks, coined the phrase ‘the heresy of paraphrase.