I. A. Richards Essay - Critical Essays

Richards, I(vor) A(rmstrong) (Vol. 14)

Introduction

Richards, I(vor) A(rmstrong) 1893–1979

Richards, an English critic, poet, playwright, editor, and semanticist, was one of the most influential figures in modern literary criticism. His theories uniting the principles of science and literature are fundamental precepts of formalist criticism. He also had a continuing interest in language and semantic theory which he explored in several books and essays. It was after a long career devoted to the exegesis of literature that Richards began to write poetry. His subtly rendered verse evidences his finely honed critical sense and his delight in the power and pleasure of the written word. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 41-44, rev. ed.; obituary, Vols. 89-92.)

Robert Lowell

Goodbye Earth [Richards' first book of poetry] was begun when [he] was nearly sixty. It bristles with the difficulties of "mere mechanism," and is unique in not providing [an] exhibit of failure….

Richards writing poetry is not much like the usual good critic. He doesn't wave a heavy baton, castigate the indulgences of the age, or try to build classical and exemplary models of rightness. He doesn't steel himself, entrench, and give an impression of unbelievable toils met. He is willing to be conventional, casual, and innocent, if he can be ingenious and himself. Though worlds apart from the slovenly, egotistical sprawl of the Bohemian, he glories in ingenuity. (p. 77)

[His...

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James Dickey

The poems [in The Screens and Other Poems] are about how the soul acts without appearing to, how it influences without seeming to, how it changes and doesn't change, how it makes us who we are without our ever knowing who we are. These are delicate themes, vastly complicated and perhaps impossible of solution, but Richards does very well by them, according his vast knowledge of semantics and the difficult interchanges between words, selves, and things to his subjects in poems which are really more like verse essays: speculative, logical, and refreshingly open-minded in the midst of their intelligent discourse-like approach. They are not by any means the work of a born poet, but rather the productions of a...

(The entire section is 629 words.)

Frank Kermode

[Internal Colloquies] collects all Richards's verse. In one preface here reprinted he argues that there should be no discernible relation between a poet's practice and his critical theory; and although his poems (and their notes) do reflect some of his theoretical interests they are on the whole very unexpected in other ways. There is a dryness, a cerebral quality (often quite playful), which somehow lacks the tone of modernity as well as all sensuous appeal. The material is modern enough—meditations on grammar, on Wittgenstein—but the manner is Victorian. This is not simply a matter of archaism, though there's quite a lot of it. There's something about the solemn or mock-solemn teasing out of thoughts in...

(The entire section is 478 words.)

Richmond Lattimore

I. A. Richards is a learned poet, a formal poet, a witty poet, and a philosophical poet. One thinks mechanically of "metaphysical," but I think Richards is more advanced in metaphysics (or at least epistemology, I have trouble telling which from which) than any metaphysical poet I can think of. His erudition ranges easily from the Bible and Plato through Shakespeare and Milton to Whitehead and Wittgenstein. His own philosophy and critical theory speak for themselves where he has expounded them in prose, but they live in the poetry, to which he came last. For he is the most distinguished of beginners (a published poet only since 1958) who makes many poets acclaimed as masters seem like beginners incompetent in their...

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Bernard F. Dick

That I. A. Richards was the progenitor of the New Criticism is now fairly well established; for the doubters [Complementaries: Uncollected Essays] will make it clear that as early as 1919, Richards thought of emotion as entering a work of art through a vehicle, a term that is now part of the critical vocabulary. These essays are important for another reason: they reveal an awesomely rational mind that is not afraid of schemata, equations or distinctions (art versus science, verifiable belief versus imaginative assent, the suggestion of poetry versus the coercion of prose). It is a mind much like Aristotle's, which also reveled in classifications and divisions … and as a result accomplished the primary task of...

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Helen Vendler

[I. A. Richards' poetry] is a poetry of speculation, taking as its subject states of mind and feeling experienced in the later years of a long life. Richards is gnomic, epigrammatic, and conclusively inconclusive: "What," "Whence," "Whither," and "Why" are the cardinal points of his compass of interrogation. "What do, what should, I want?" one poem inquires; "Why re-awaken?" asks another; "Whereto? Wherefrom?" echoes a third, thinking about Frost's two diverging roads. The persistence of questioning betrays Richards' conviction that query is still a viable form of thought…. One of Richards' best known "early" poems, reprinted [in New and Selected Poems], was called, in a very satisfying chiasmus, "Harvard...

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D. Rogers

I. A. Richards's poems are not easily read, but they repay reading. [New and Selected Poems] is his fourth book of poems and includes selections from the first three as well as a selection of recent work.

I do not think Richards has written better than in Goodbye Earth (1958). In "The Solitary Daffodil" the poet is beckoned from "committee doodled day" by "the cocktail roar." The flower welcomes him "And almost opened me a door / Through which I may still step to be / In Recollected Company." The "almost" prevents any identification with Wordsworth and underlines his modernity. To me "Lighting Fires in Snow" is a more perceptive comment on poetry than the recent "Ars Poetica." Fires are...

(The entire section is 237 words.)