Obituaries And Tributes
Herbert Mitgang (obituary date 12 May 1994)
SOURCE: An obituary in The New York Times, May 12, 1994, p. B14.
[Mitgang is an American journalist, nonfiction writer, and critic. In the following obituary, he provides an overview of Brooks's life and career.]
Cleanth Brooks, an educator, author and eminent Southern literary critic who helped spread the principles of the New Criticism movement throughout American universities, died on Tuesday at his home in New Haven. He was 87.
The cause was cancer of the esophagus, said the Beecher & Bennett funeral home in Hamden, Conn.
Mr. Brooks was the Gray Professor Emeritus of Rhetoric at Yale University, where he had been a member of the English faculty since 1947. He retired in 1975.
The New Critics advocated close reading of literary texts and detailed analysis, concentrating on semantics, meter, imagery, metaphor and symbol as well as references to history, biography and cultural background. In addition to Mr. Brooks, the main advocates of this approach were I. A. Richards, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, R. P. Blackmur, Kenneth Burke and Robert Penn Warren.
Mr. Brooks's book Understanding Poetry (1938), written with Warren was considered a foundation stone of the New Criticism. The movement which had developed in the 1920's was continued in a 1941 book by Ransom called The New Criticism. In it, Ransom criticized other critics, including Richards, T. S. Eliot and Yvors Winters. The New Critics did not always agree with one another and by the 1960's, the movement lost its momentum.
Mr. Brooks, however, remained a "major influence," said David Marshall, the chairman of Yale's English department. "In the Yale English curriculum today, a basic course on major poets is still structured around a 'close' reading, which was the defining feature of the New Criticism," he said.
In the course of a distinguished writing and teaching career, Mr. Brooks also was a professor at Louisiana State University (1932–47) and, with Warren, edited The Southern Review from 1935–41. In addition, he taught at the University of Texas, the University of Michigan and the University of California at Los Angeles.
From 1964–66, he was cultural attaché at the United States Embassy in London. He was also affiliated with the Library of Congress as a Jefferson Lecturer and as a member of the library's council of scholars.
Mr. Brooks was the author of Modern Poetry and the Tradition (1939), The Well Wrought Urn (1947), The Hidden God (1963), The Language of the American South (1985) and several books on William Faulkner, including William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country (1963), William Faulkner: First Encounters (1983) and Firm Beliefs of William Faulkner (1987). With Warren, he also wrote Modern Rhetoric (1950).
Last year, he established the Cleanth Brooks graduate fellowships in the...
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