I. A. Richards believes that sometimes the impulses of man respond to a situation in such an organised way that the mind has a unique experience. Poetry is the representation of this experience, this organised and happy play of impulses and a true reader ought to feel the same in his own self. The poet, says Richards, does not tell the literal truth about the real world, but suggests attitudes which represent a proper balance of the nervous system and which are absorbed by the properly qualified reader.
In his Science and Poetry (1926), Richards says that much labour has been done to explain the high place of poetry in human affairs, with, on the whole, few satisfactory or convincing results. The reason is that both a passionate knowledge of poetry and a capacity for dispassionate psychological analysis are required if poetry is to be properly understood and interpreted.
To understand the real nature of poetry, we have to understand clearly “how the mind works in an experience, and what sort of stream of events the experience is.” There are conflicting instincts and desires, or appetencies,as he calls them, in the human mind. Man is often between conflicting pulls from different directions and consequently he suffers from mental uneasiness. The main function of art is to enable human mind to organize itself more quickly and completely than it could do otherwise. In short, art (poetry) is a means whereby we can gain emotional balance, mental equilibrium, peace and rest.
Illustrating his point by an image of a magnetic compass, I. A. Richards says that the systematization of impulses is necessary for the poise and balance. Emotions make experiences, and emotions are better realized and expressed through poetry. The poet does all this with the help of words. Misunderstanding and under-estimation of poetry is mainly due to over estimation of the thought in it. “It is never what a poem says which matters, but what it is. The poet is not writing as a scientist. He uses these words because the interest which the situation calls into play combine to bring them, just in this form, into his consciousness as a means of ordering, controlling, and consolidating the whole experience.”
Q. 298. What, according to I. A. Richards, is the value of
poetry? (Rohlikhand 1993, 1996)
poetry? (Rohlikhand 1993, 1996)
Ans. Richards defines the poem as “the artist’s experience.” He examines poetry as a stimulus-response proposition. The poem can be a communication in the broad sense that it communicates an experience. Some experience must naturally be good and some bad. It is only the good ones that can be said to be valuable. What are they like. It has frequently been emphasized by Richards that an experience results from theplay of impulses. The mind is ever engaged in the unconscious process of reconciling their conflicting claims in such a way that success is obtained for the greater number or mass of them, for the most important and the weightiest set. In the very exercise of this choice the mind unconsciously decided which impulses are valuable for it and should therefore be satisfied U the full, and which not and should therefore be suppressed.
In order to answer the questions—”Of what use is poetry?” “Why and how is it valuable?” Richards develops a general theory of value— general in the sense that it applies to all human activities and not especially to poetry—and then shows how poetry is valuable on the basis of this general standard. Poetry is valuable because it produces man’s moral improvement. Richards seems to support Sidney’s observations about poetry and also Shelley from whom Richards quotes in his Principles of
Literary Criticism “ poetry acts in a divine manner. It awakens and the mind itself by rendering it the receptacle of a thousand unapprehended combinations of thought. Whatever strengthens and purifies the affections, enlarges the imagination, and adds spirit to sense, is useful”. We may look upon Principles of Literary Criticism as an attempt to chisel this doctrine into the marble of positivism.”
I. A. Richards has explained his views on the value of poetry in the chapter ‘Art and Morals’ in Principles of Literary Criticism. He begins, the chapter by saying : “From this excursion let us return to our proper task, the attempt to outline a morality which will change its values as circumstances alter, a morality free from occultism, absolutes and arbitrariness, a morality which will explain, as no morality has yet explained, the place and value of the arts in human affairs. What is good or valuable, we have said, is the exercise of impulses and the satisfaction of their appetencies.” And poetry does this task. Poetry does the reconciliation of impulses.
David Daiches comments : “Poetry,” wrote Shelley, “is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.” This is precisely Richards’ position, though Richards would define “best” and “happiest” in his own way. Whether the psychological humanism on which Richards bases his view of what is good in poetry as in any other human
activity is really adequate to account for the special nature and value of,poetry is argueable. To many of his readers there seems to be a gap between his perceptive, detailed discussion of particular poems and his generalizations about the value of poetry, which are in large measure based on psychological notions which no important contemporary psychologist accepts.”
However, Richards, like Arnold, is of the opinion that poetry is a central means of saving civilization. He concludes the essay Science and Poetry with a general statement which expresses his view very clearly : “It is very probable that the Hindenburg Line to which the defence of our traditions retired as a result of the onslaughts of the last century will be blown up the near future. If this should happen a moral chaos such as man has never experienced may be expected. We shall then be thrown back, as Matthew Arnold foresaw, upon poetry. It is capable of saving us; it is perfectly possible means of overcoming chaos.”
This is Richard’s reply to the attack made on poetry by Thomas Love Peacock in 1820 in the half-serious essay, The Four Ages of Poetry. While the other branches of learning, he had complained, were steadily marching towards a fuller knowledge or reality, poetry by its love of myth and legend was ‘wallowing in the rubbish of departed ignorance.’ Whence he concluded : ‘A poet in our times is a semi-barbarian in a civilized community. He lives in the ways that ate past. His ideas, thoughts, feelings, associations, are all with barbarious manners, obsolete customs, and exploded superstitions. The march of his intellect if like that of a crab, backward.’ Richards’s analysis of poetry, if it is accepted as true, shows how even in this age of scientific enlightenment poetry has a vital role to play in the life of the individual and society. In the mind ordered in the poetic way lies the hope of civilization.