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ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014




Too often, the word “analysis” – when used as a tool for literary appreciation – is misunderstood by the teacher and/or student as either equivalent to abstracting moral lessons from the piece under scrutiny (despite the absence of any indication that these could indeed be gleaned), or as a simple attempt at interpretation by the student regardless of whether or not this activity is preceded by recognition and understanding of content-bearing media, literary devices, and the like.

The same student or teacher would, as a result, be prone to equate “appreciation” of literature with “love” for literature, such that the latter invariably becomes an objective of a literature course even in higher education. This objective, of course, cannot be measured conclusively nor can it be achieved within the constraints of a semester’s work because it is hardly observable and it is highly relative to individual sensitivity and attitudinal responses. Furthermore, it does not fall within the purview of the former; as “love for literature” is an effect which is caused by the achievement of valid appreciation, a mode adopted to study literature as a fine art.

These anomalous situations could result into any of the following: 1) analysis would cease to be a tool for appreciation and would become itself an end, therefore, becoming a tedious and mechanical process; 2) literary appreciation would be based on impressions rather than on facts empirically obtained from the text. Therefore, literature would have defaulted on its formative function of helping man fulfill his end – to perfect his rational essence; 3) literature courses would then become entertainment or amusement programmes rather than humanistic disciplines; 4) consequently, unable to compete with superior modes of entertainment, literature courses would become increasingly irrelevant to students in higher education.

An outstanding fact readily observable from the exposition on the nature of appreciation (see preceding entries), is that analysis is a verifiable base for criticism and evaluation of literature. In the absence of this basis, the latter would be unfair and unsubstantial.

How should analysis be understood then, short of taking it as one tedious and mechanical manner of abstracting meaning from a work of art? What is involved in analysis that is consistent to art’s function of defining reality (phenomenological function) and knowledge/truth (epistemological function)?

This process involves the recognition of the elements articulated by the artist in his medium and subject matter-content (unified in the Form) which are responsible for the configuration of a distinctive meaning. In brief, this involves the abstraction of meaning from the work of art as an objective form. This meaning is the proper source and stimulus of the appreciator’s experience of that which is satisfactorily delightful – the experience of beauty which satisfies the aesthetic attitude.

Analysis is ordinarily based on an accepted (because functional and clear to the appreciator) literary theory or a set of principles by which one can understand the nature of a literary form. The literary theory is derived from a liberal reading of representative works in a given form. The reading should result into an understanding of what makes each form succeed as a literary structure engaged in the concretization of an otherwise nebulous and abstract experience.

Each literary form, of course, has elements peculiar to its composition. The elements of fiction would vary from those of poetry. For instance, if one were to analyze a short story, the first element to consider would be the subject matter of the narrative. The appreciator would, of course, come up with this after he has gone through the actions of the story as executed by created characters in a locale where their actions could naturally take place. The determination of the subject matter (usually of human experience which may either be universal or particular) would lead the appreciator to an underlying idea, mood, or attitude. It is this focal point or theme which is being conveyed by the artist in a concretized, structured form. Recognition of the subject matter would lead the appreciator to a study of the characters, setting, and actions of the plot. Since these are determined by the subject matter, the appreciator would have to appreciate these elements in terms of whether or not these three main elements conform to the demands of the same subject matter as used by the artist to couch in concrete form his otherwise abstract aesthetic experience.

In analysis, the reader will have to determine how the elements are used in order to transport the significant experience in his ken. In fact, it is from this activity that he formulates the criteria which he shall use in the criticism of the work’s artistry. For example, he may shape up criteria like the following in order to judge how characterization (a process classified as a function of the author’s technique) has contributed to the achievement of the artistic purpose of concretizing the emotionalized experience (objectified and subjectified):

1) Do the characters follow the logic of the theme?
2) Do they conform to the demands of the subject matter?
3) Do they generate the action thereby advancing the story?
4) Are they plausible or believable characters?
5) Do they, therefore, contribute to the creation of a verisimilitude of the virtual reality being represented?

Analysis in fiction, therefore, involves an understanding of the nature and function of characters, the setting, and the actions vis-a-vis the artistic purpose of creating a verisimilitude out of the subject matter which is the central material for the objectification of the otherwise abstract focal point or theme.


There is a more complicated process involved in poetry, since there is a wider range of language usage. Take a poem, for instance, and analyze it with the end in view of appreciating how its elements (medium and content) are articulated in order to concretize or objectify the poet’s aesthetic response to an experience. Several key concepts and elements are involved in this activity.

I. Levels of Analysis for Poems. Always the first step in poetry appreciation, the abstraction of meaning from formal elements --- articulated medium and distinguishable content --- according to T.S. Eliot, is one of the chief tools of the critic (whose critical occupation is moored in analyzed material). (See T.S. Eliot, “Criticism”, Selected Prose, pg. 19, Faber & Faber, London, 1963, Peregrine Book edited by John Hayward).

A. Sensory-Impressionistic Level of Analysis (Directed at Medium): 1) impressions from the poem as a printed text; 2) impressions from the predominant sounds and other verbal devices. This level of analysis results in the apprehension of mood, atmosphere, movement, tone, emotional content, music, emphasis, and intensity – an “uneducated guess” at the poem’s meaning.

B. Cognitive Level (Directed at Medium + Content. A combination of both creates the form.) 1) Imagery and Symbols – a study of the images suggested by the words. The images are the objective correlatives and elements. They may be classified into images sensed externally or internally. Internal images are sensed through certain association in the imagination; external images are those sensed by the external senses (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, touch, etc.). This level of analysis results in the recognition of a concretized form that presents a “virtual reality.”

C. Associative Level (Directed at Medium + Content). Meaning of objective elements vis-à-vis the created or re-created experience derived from:

a) Contextual elements: 1) reader’s interpretation of the meaning of the images (stock experiences are the bases of interpretation); 2) poetic utterance or point of view of the artist (context or situation which he uses as content of the poem, emotional response he is concretizing, and his point of view through persona/e; 3) verbal and literary significance or words shaping up content;

b) Structural elements – selected details, scale or extension of materials, order or arrangement of structural parts (stanza forms, rhyme, and meter).

The associative level of analysis results in the pinpointing of the “provable” meaning of the poem.

Neglecting a valid analysis is a curious “leap of faith” not unlike a wild guess at what the artist is trying to communicate. Barring an intuitive estimate of his message, the guess would likely miss the “many splendored things” in literary utterance. It would be unfair to the author and a loss to the unsuspecting reader.

(Next: Part 2. The Sensory-Impressionistic Level of Poetry Analysis. Each of these levels will be applied in the actual analysis of sample poems.)

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