Yvor Winters - As Critic

As Critic

Winters's critical style was comparable to that of F. R. Leavis, and in the same way he created a school of students (of mixed loyalty). His affiliations and proposed canon, however, were quite different: Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence above any one novel by Henry James, Robert Bridges above T. S. Eliot, Charles Churchill above Alexander Pope, Fulke Greville and George Gascoigne above Sidney and Spenser.

He attacked Romanticism, particularly in American manifestations, and set about Emerson's reputation as that of a sacred cow. (Ironically, his first book of poems, Diadems and Fagots, takes its title from one of Emerson's poems.) In this he was probably influenced by Irving Babbitt. Winters was sometimes and questionably associated with the New Criticism, largely because John Crowe Ransom devoted a chapter to him in his book by the same name. He bestowed the sobriquet "the cool master" on the American poet Wallace Stevens. (See the entries for Wallace Stevens, Harmonium, and Floral Decorations for Bananas.)

Winters is known for his argument attacking the "fallacy of imitative form:" "To say that a poet is justified in employing a disintegrating form in order to express a feeling of disintegration, is merely a sophistical justification for bad poetry, akin to the Whitmanian notion that one must write loose and sprawling poetry to "express" the loose and sprawling American continent. In fact, all feeling, if one gives oneself (that is, one's form) up to it, is a way of disintegration; poetic form is by definition a means to arrest the disintegration and order the feeling; and in so far as any poetry tends toward the formless, it fails to be expressive of anything." (Primitivism and Decadence: A Study of American Experimental Poetry, 1937).

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