(Arthur) Yvor Winters 1900–1968
(Also Ivor Winters) American critic, poet, short story writer, and editor.
Winters's prominence as a critic is based largely on his analyses of poetry. Although he was generally associated with the New Critics, whose critical methods adhered to close readings of a text, Winters was concerned with the functional relationship between content and form. He proposed that poetry should evoke a rational and moral observation of human experiences. Throughout his criticism, Winters expounded upon the importance of morality in literature. To the dismay of his professional colleagues, he often praised minor poets that met his criterion over more established writers. Because of Winters's insistence on absolute values and ethics in poetry, some critics found his doctrines rigid and dogmatic. However, his critical theories have been regarded highly for their clarity and force.
In Primitivism and Decadence (1937), Winters introduced the principles and concepts he was to follow throughout his career. He argued that rhythm and meter induce emotion in poetry and he believed that a poem's success lies in its ability to elicit strong moral impact through a balance of rhythm, emotion, and motivation. He extended his theories in Maule's Curse (1938), a study of obscurantism in the works of such nineteenth-century poets as Jones Very, Edgar Allen Poe, Emily Dickinson, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. In his best-known work, In Defense of Reason (1947), which combines Primitivism and Decadence, Maule's Curse, and The Anatomy of Nonsense (1943), Winters examines the roles of didacticism, hedonism, and romanticism in literature. The book provoked diverse reactions among critics, many of whom contended that Winters failed to attack the issues most pertinent to his theories. Some felt that his metrical analyses were too ambiguous for a full comprehension of the literary function of poetry. However, the book helped solidify Winters's reputation as a significant literary scholar.
Winters published several volumes of his own poetry that were well received. His early verse, like the poems of H. D. and Ezra Pound, is experimental and imagistic. Much of his early poetry contained naturalistic themes and subjects which reviewers found rich in emotional intensity and perceptual power. His later poems shifted away from free verse toward the classical tradition which he championed in his criticism. These poems concentrate on more philosophical subjects. Among Winters's important volumes of poetry are The Immobile Wind (1921), The Magpie's Shadow (1922), and Collected Poems (1952).
(See also CLC, Vols. 4, 8; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 11-12, Vols. 25-28, rev. ed. [obituary]; and Contemporary Authors Permanent Series, Vol. 1.)