The “Language of Paradox” is one of the well-known essays, written by a great American critic ‘Cleanth Brooks’. This is the first chapter of Cleanth Brooks’s Book ‘Well-Wrought Urn’. Through this essay, Brooks has shown how the poet conveys his thoughts and ideas by using literary devices like Paradox without employing a direct statement in poetry. According to Cleanth Brooks, Paradox covers all shocking deviations and digressions from common opinions and perceptions. It is not merely a literary device. So he states that.
“The language of poetry is
is the language of Paradox.”
Cleanth Brooks, one of the foremost American Literary critics of the 20th century, spent fifteen years as a professor in the English Department. He was a central architect of the ‘New Criticism’ a critical movement that transformed the teaching of literature in the United States. He profoundly influenced American literary studies and shaped successive generations of students and teachers of literature with his work. Brooks taught at ‘Yale University from 1947 to 1975. Brook’s works included – ‘Literary Criticism: A Short History’ (Cowritten with William K. Wimsatt), ‘A shaping joy: Studies in the Writer’s Craft’, and several books on ‘William Faulkner’. Cleanth Brooks was influenced by modern critics like, ‘T. S. Eliot’, ‘I. A. Richard’, and ‘William Empson’.
Cleanth Brooks asserts that Paradox is the most appropriate and ideal device for poetry in order to convey thoughts as well as emotion. Cleanth Brooks thinks that language employed in science is refined and clear and is free from Paradoxical statements same as Brooks’s opinions that Paradox is the fittest means in poetry.
“The paradox is the language appropriate and inevitable to poetry.”
Brooks has employed three diverse examples from English poetry. He has given an example of William Wordsworth’s poems “It is a Beauteous evening calm and Free” and “Composed upon West Minister Bridge” or John Donne’s famous poem “The Canonization” in order to prove his point of view.
Paradoxes in Wordsworth’s Poetry
Brooks states that the language of William Wordsworth is the language of Paradox. As a romantic poet, William Wordsworth emphasized simplicity of thought and lucidity of expression in poetry. But Cleanth Brooks thinks that Wordsworth’s poem. “It is a Beauteous Evening, calm and free” is pregnant with a Paradoxical statement. The poem begins with the line:
“It is a beauteous evening, calm and free
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration.”
Here the poet has compared a beauteous evening to a nun but it actually has more than one meaning. The poet is filled with a feeling of worship at that holy time of evening but the girl who walks beside him is not in that frame of mind of worship.
According to Cleanth Brooks Wordsworth’s sonnet “lines composed upon Westminster Bridge” has literary significance and beauty only because of the Paradoxical situation. The poem holds richness, not due to the poet’s skillful handling of images and nobility of emotion but because of the paradoxical situation. Brooks finds in Wordsworth’s poem both ‘awe and wonder’ of English Romanticism. According to Brooks, they are the fantastic Paradoxes employed by Wordsworth.
In his famous work “Preface to Lyrical Ballads”, Wordsworth expressed his views that his primary goal was to choose incidents and situations from the life of Rural, rustic, and common life.
Paradoxes in Neoclassical Poets
Neo classic writer like Alexander Pope has also made fine use of Paradoxes along with irony. In his famous work, “Essay on Man” Pope uses Paradoxes.
According to Cleanth Brooks Paradoxes and irony are cradled in the poet’s language in which both connotation and denotation play a vital role. There is a fine blending of irony and Paradoxes in some of William Wordsworth’s poems also the works of William Blake and Thomas Gray are also no exception. Samuel Taylor, Coleridge in his “The Rime of Ancient Mariner” has dexterously used this poetic device.
In the poem, “Canonization” the speaker addresses a silent listener who may be deemed as a sign of the Practical world which considers love as a useless and meaningless affair. The two lovers escape from the convention, rules, and bindings of the secular world. The poet says:
“Or chide my Palsy or my gout,
My five grey hairs or ruined fortune flout.”
The lover in these lines tells the listener that he should not consider his love disease immoral and asks him to confine himself to his other flaws, his palsy, and his approaching old age. The secular friend should not find faults in his love affair because no one is affected by a love affair.
Cleanth Brooks in the conclusion part of the essay states, “I submit that the only way by which the poet could say what “The Canonization” says, is by Paradox”.
Difference between the language of poetry and Science
Cleanth Brooks further differentiates between science and poetry. He thinks that it is the tendency of science to make terms lifeless and direct with the help of denotations. In poetry, the poet brings novelty to terms by deviating from the denotative meaning of terms and their dictionary meaning.
Science makes use of direct expressions which are quite rigid whereas poets hind the message and meaning of their work by employing poetical devices like Paradoxes and irony, the language of poetry cannot be direct. Brooks states that the directness of language is of no use in poetry.
Cleanth Brooks developed a method of analyzing a literary work by embracing T. S. Eliot and I. A. Richards’s method in New Criticism. His work “Understanding Poetry” produced in collaboration with Robert Penn Warren established the Vogue of New Criticism which emphasized close reading of the text. In brief, Cleanth Brooks regarded Paradox as a virtue of poetry, he has shown how literary devices like Paradox, irony, etc. play a vital role in the meaning of the literary text by examining the works of William Wordsworth and John Donne.