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Monday, February 06, 2012

Irony in New Criticism

Irony as a universal quality of good literature: Twentieth-century critics, notably T. S. Eliot and the “New Critics” I. A. Richards, Cleanth Brooks, and Robert Penn Warren, argued that (as Abrams puts it) “the greatest poems are invulnerable to external irony because they already incorporate the poet’s own ‘ironic’ awareness of opposite and complementary attitudes.”  Irony in this broadest sense entails the avoidance of sentimentality through the incorporation of multiple attitudes in a single work.  Furthermore, New Critics argued that it is precisely the resolution of internal tensions that gives a literary work its strength.  “To His Coy Mistress” is a key example in its blending of witty, grotesque, lyrical, and violent imagery.  “I Knew a Woman” is another key example--a great love poem blending lyricism, bawdy humor, and spiritual mysticism.

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