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How do I do formalist criticism of "Spring and All" by William Carlos Williams, and how...

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ssdude2004 | Student, Undergraduate | Honors

Posted August 27, 2010 at 12:54 AM via web

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How do I do formalist criticism of "Spring and All" by William Carlos Williams, and how can it be related to subject and theme?

Poem:

http://people.virginia.edu/~sfr/enam312/2004/wcwspring.html

 

Instructions: Formalist criticism involves a close reading of the poem and a step-by-step analysis of the elements of the poem. Because this is not intended to be a long essay, you might want to limit your discussion of formal elements in some way, such as discussing a poem’s metaphors and similes, its rhyme and meter, or some other element that allows you to critically approach the poem’s subject and theme. Make sure this essay has a clearly stated thesis or argument and is grammatically correct and logically developed.

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted August 28, 2010 at 6:20 AM (Answer #1)

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In formalist literary criticism, the important thing is the process by which the work is created. Formalism doesn't engage in evaluating the work in terms of truth or morality. On the other hand, one of the goals of formalism is to evaluate the structure of the text. Formalist critic Viktor Schlovsky said that a work, like a poem, is "equal to the sum of processes used in it." Therefore, fomal criticism is an objective examination of literary style and technique in order to explain as well as evaluate the text's structure.

In William's "Spring and All," two very prominent structural elements, which can be related to a discussion of subject and theme, are his use of enjambment and closely related line-end punctuation. Enjambment is used by a poet to carry an idea or expression of a thought from one live to the next. Williams has only scattered instances in which he does not use enjambment in "Spring and All," thereby making enjambment a primary structural element.

There are also no end-stops (periods) in the poem, not even one on the last line, though there is one line-end comma in "They enter the new world naked,". A striking stylistic technique in punctuation is Williams' use of dashes. Often dashes in poems indicate a pause longer than a period, thus they are often related to rhythm instead of to meaning, whereas in prose, dashes are used to interject explanatory information that is closely related to meaning. A question can be raised as to how Williams is using the dashes: Are they rhytmic or integral to meaning? These examinations are examples of that which will lead to explanations and evaluations of the structure of "Spring and All" and that can be further related to subject and meaning.

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