My photo
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.

Thursday, May 1, 2014




By Albert B. Casuga


In his LOL Literature in Other Languages blog, Dr. Isagani R. Cruz wonders if there is a language of poetry that "escapes the technical tools employed by linguists." If that poetic language exists, then readers who are not educated in it may find poetry elusive, therefore, "not for everyone." Of course, this defeats the purpose of this literary art (which has always been used from classical to contemporary times to celebrate "epiphanies of experience") as a universal mode of celebratory communication. Is there a language of poetry that enables it to communicate beyond the mother language of second language poets? Dr. Cruz writes:

Language of poetry

Giulio C. Lepschy ends his lecture on "Mother Tongues and Literary Languages" with a brief discussion about what he calls "the language of poetry": "I am not convinced that an Italian native speaker is better qualified than an English Dantist to understand The Divine Comedy or that a native speaker of English is better suited than an Italian Shakespeare scholar to understand Hamlet. The real difficulty seems to lie not in the native language nor in the control we have of the idiom we use for everyday communication (be it a first or a second language) but rather in the nature of poetry. Here, we are touching something that concerns an essential quality of language, but in a sense that escapes the technical tools we employ as linguists. From this viewpoint no one is a native speaker of the language of poetry." (p. 27)

Here is the point where literary critics can start where linguists stop. First of all, there is no question that one does not have to be a native speaker of the natural language/s of a poem in order to read or analyze it, because that would lead to a situation were only Italians can read Dante or the British (or other native English speakers) can read Shakespeare. (Professional literary critics do not read Dante or Shakespeare in translation.)

What is a problem here is the question of the existence of a language of poetry. Those that believe in literary competence clearly also believe in the existence of such a language: the whole point of a literary education is to learn the language of literature. There are those that say, however, that poetry is for everyone, educated or not, literarily competent or not: poetry, after all, antedated literary criticism or even literary education. Nobody today wants to return to the days of Literature (with the capital L) and literature (not capitalized); nobody wants to talk about High Culture and Low Culture. There is an undeniable difference, however, between Dante or Shakespeare and the writers of poems printed on greeting cards or included in blogs. Are we talking about two different languages of poetry, or are these dialects or varieties of the same language? Intriguing question.
Posted by Isagani R. Cruz at 4:27 AM 0 comments Links to this post


Lepschy in the above quotation is right: the nature of poetry demands tools essentially beyond the technical tools of linguists. Therefore, a literarily competent reader of poetry must at least be educated to appreciate these tools and their use in the expression of experience calculated to engender an aesthetic response in the reader as appreciator and in the poet as appreciator and creator.

Although poetry is literature for all appreciators, “educated or not”, an understanding of the language of poetry and its function (viz., social, phenomenological, epistemological, aesthetic, or “charged” medium for ritualistic celebration), will also mean the degree of use and enjoyment of this literary art. The depth and breadth of appreciation depend, a fortiori, upon this “understanding.”

Is there a particular “language of poetry”? Just as there exists a language of literature and “literariness” in literature, poetry utilizes language beyond the essentials of linguistic conventions. The language of poetry depends on its ability to “subjectify an objective experience” so that it appeals universally in whatever language or dialect it is written. Verily, poetry must be for all who derive any and all aesthetic experiences from the art’s presentation. Indeed, literary education’s (pedestrian and academic) goal is to learn and use the language of literature.

Certainly, one does not need to be a mater lingua speaker or reader of a language to understand poetry written in a second language. The literary language of the poem provides the linguistic and literary access to the work of art.

The following Guide Questions in the appreciation of a Poem, its analysis, criticism, and evaluation, illustrate the existence of the “language of poetry”. An ancillary concept is that these processes revolve around the existence of the elements appreciated in the poem to arrive at a gestalt of appreciation. At one time or another, competent literature teachers have posed the following guides to students; these have become practical canons of appreciation.


A. What sensory impressions do you get from the poem as printed text? (Poem on the page)? What impressions do you get from the predominant or outstanding sounds used in the poem? (Sensory impressions refer to those suggestions of significance that you sense
from the way the poem is arranged on the page, and from the sounds that stand out when you read the poem aloud for the first time. These impressions may establish mood, atmosphere, attitudes, feelings, emotions, tones, etcetera.)

B. What is the contextual meaning of the poem? (Are there materials --- words, images, symbols --- used in a dramatic, assertive, or argumentative context or situation?) What is the literal situation given in the poem? (The who, what, when, where, why, and how --- on the surface level). What is the figurative significance, meaning, or suggested meaning of the literal situation (if any)? Summarize the point of the poem by defining the context that concretizes the experience. This is also referred to invariably as the “objective correlative” of a poetic experience being created.

C. What images or symbols – or materials of concretization – are used by the poet? (Primary or Central Image, minor or secondary images, and representational structural parts). What type of images or symbols are these? (Visual, olfactory, gustatory, auditory, kinaesthetic, thermal, visceral, erotic-sensual, synaesthetic). What do they represent or symbolize? What do they mean in terms of the context? How do they help in concretizing the experience (contextual meaning)?

Criticism (Style and Technique)

A. Style. How does the poet’s style (use of language and linguistic devices) serve the artistic purpose of concretizing (objectifying and subjectifying) the emotionalized experience? (The answer to this question depends upon the answers to the following).

1. What type of diction (neutral, formal, informal) is used by the poet? Why does he use this type? How does this type of diction help in objectifying and subjectifying (emotionalizing) the experience? Illustrate (quote from text). Is it the most effective? Why?

2. What sounds or tonal devices (letter sounds or phonemes, organized sounds --- alliteration, consonance, assonance, reversed consonance an assonance, onomatopoeia --- rhyme as a melodic element, and rhythm as a melodic element) are used by the poet to concretize his experience? Why does he use these? How do they help in concretizing the experience? Illustrate (quote from text). Are these the most effective? Why?

3. What rhythm is used by the poet? (Poetic foot – iamb, trochee, anapest, dactyl, spondee, phyrric foot, amphibrach; Poetic Metre – monometre, dimetre, trimetre, tetrametre, pentametre, etc.) Rhythm refers to the measure of the poetic line – combination of foot and metre. To determine this, scan the lines first. (Rule of Thumb: give the strong stress to the content words; i.e., nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs. All other words receive the weak stress or the slack – these are called functionary words). Why does the poet use this rhythm as a structural element? How does this help in concretizing the experience? Is the rhythm necessary and effective? Why?

4. What figures are used by the poet? (Figures of speech, thought, and language). Why does he use these figures? (The Figures of Speech: 1. Comparison: simile, metaphor; 2. Association: synecdoche, metonomy, personification; 3. Objectification: allegory, symbol, parable, apostrophe. The Figures of Thought: 1. Pun; 2. Irony: of statement, or of situation; 3. hyperbole; 4. litotes or understatement; 5. periphrasis; 6. ellipsis; 7. paradox: conceit, oxymoron. The Figures of Language: 1. inversion; 2. balance; 3. antithesis; 4. parallelism; 5. parataxis; 6. hypotaxis.) How is the experience concretized and emotionalized (same thing as saying “objectified” and “subjectified”) by these figures? Are these figures necessary and effective? Why?

B. Technique. How does the technique (manner of presentation) serve the artistic purpose of concretizing and emotionalizing the experience (contextual meaning)?

1. What are the parts (materials used by the poet; i.e., primary or central image or primary structural part; secondary structural parts or minor images; and representational structural parts or associated images) used by the poet? Are they all necessary and effective in the concretization and emotionalization of the experience? Why?

2. What point of view is used by the poet? Why does he use this point of view? (omniscient, protagonist, objective-witness point of view). How does this point of view help in objectifying and subjectifying the experience? Is it the most effective? Why?

3. What stanza form is used by the poet (couplet, tercet, quatrain, quintet, sestet, septet, octet, etc.)? Why does he use this form? How does this form help in the concretization of the experience? Does the length of the poem help in the concretization of the experience? (Rule of Thumb: the lighter the mood, emotion, or experience, the briefer the stanza form; the more serious and somber the experience, the longer the poem and stanza form. This may not apply to the haiku or hokku. When this is not heeded, the poet deliberately does so to project some other meaning which one might find out in the poem’s entire context.)

4. What type of order (chronological, achronological, psychological, logical) is used by the poet? Why does he use this order? How does this order help in concretizing the experience? Is this the most effective order? Why?

Evaluation (Rendering a judgment on the value opf the poem. Aesthetic level.)

1. Does the poem have formal excellence? Is there a distinguishable physical form or virtual reality which you could recognize as valuable and pleasurable because it is artistic? In there artistry in the poem?

2. Is it a good poem? Why? (Does it have the marks of a good poem like universality of theme, imaginative element, emotional element, balance of thought and emotion, emphasis on beauty, sincerity, restraint?) These are particular values peculiar to the genre.

3. Is the poem good literature? Why? (Does it reflect the literary values? i.e., intellectual value, artistry, emotional value peculiar to all art particularly literature.)

4. What is it its value to you? Do you derive aesthetic pleasure from it? Why or not not?

(Pages 47-51) The Aesthetics of Literature by Albert B. Casuga, De La Salle University, 1972)

In subsequent entries, the nature of “appreciation” of literature as a humanistic discipline will start a serialization of my Literary Theory/ies that form the bases for my literary compositions and criticism. The following will form part of this planned serialization: The Theory of Analysis in Literary Appreciation; The Theory of Criticism based on Style and Technique; The Theory of Literary Evaluation as a Culmination of an Empirically-Based Appreciation of Literature.



No comments: