Tension in Poetry By Allen Tate Semi

Tension in Poetry
By Allen Tate
Seminar Presented by:
Haider Jabr Mihsin
Allen Tate
Allen Tate (1899- )is one of the youngest
New critics. He belongs to the Southern group of
American critics. He is also a great poet . Tate
scienticism and distinguishes
between scienticism and literary discourse .
He gives importance to the formal qualities of
a work of art . Reactionary Essays on Poetry ,
Ideas , and Reason in Madness are well known
collections of Essays and reviews by Tate .
About the Essay
Tension in poetry has been taken from Tate`s
The Man of Letters in the Modern World,
Selected Essays . The essay deals with tension
as the life of a poem . It reveals Tate`s view
that a good poem is the one in which the
extension and the intension are in a state of
tension. In other words , a good poem has a
combination of both extensive or denotative
and intensive or connotative meanings .
The essay is divided into three parts . Part 1 •
deals with the fallacy of communication in
poetry. Tate explains his point with some
examples . Part II , Tate defines tension in
poetry and explains its importance in poetry
with a few examples . In part III, he gives his
final example of the significance of tension in
poetry .
Fallacy of Communication in
In the first part of the essay, Tate attacks the fallacy of •
communication in poetry. He also attack the companion
fallacy of mere denotation in poetry. Richards remarks that
mass language is the medium of communication. Its uses
are less interested in bringing to formal order the effective
state than in arousing it. Tate illustrates the point with
some examples. The first example is “Justice Denied in
Massachusetts”, a poem by Miss Millay. In the poem, how
Massachusetts could cause a general desiccation is not
made clear. The poem has mass language and it arouses an
effective state the poem is praised by those who share the
feelings with the poet. However, for those who do not
share the feelings, the poem proves to be obscure. Here
comes the fallacy of communication .
Another example of such obscurity is found in the poem “The Vine” •
by James Thomson. The language here appeals to an affective state.
It does not have coherent meaning either literal or implied. The
more closely one examines the lyric, the more obscure it becomes.
The imagery does not add anything to the general idea of the poem
The wine of love is music
And the feast of love is song
When love sits down to banquet •
Love sits long
Sits long and rises drunken •
But not with the feast and the wine •
He reeleth with his own heart •
That great rich Vine. •
One more example is Cowley`s Hymn: To Light. •
This is a metaphysical poem and does not have
any qualities in common Thomson`s The Vine.
Nor amidst all these Triumphs does thou scorn •
The humble glow-worm to adorn, •
And with those living spangle gild, •
(O greatness without Pride)the Bushes of the Field. •
The violet, spring little Infant, stands, •
Girt in thy purple Swaddling – bands: •
On the fair Tulip thou dost dote; •
Thou cloathst it in a gay and party-colored Coat. •
Of these poems, equally bad poetry is found •
in Thomson`s The Vine and Cowley`s Hymn: To
Light. However, Cowley`s failure is more. The
negative superiority of the poem lies in a
firmer use of language . There is no appeal to
an affective state . There are uncontrolled
distortions. The poem lacks imagination or
tension . The Vine is a failure in denotation,
while Hymn: To Light is a failure in
connotation .
Tate calls these poems absurd. This is because •
good poetry is a unity of all the meanings from
the furthest extremes of intension and extension.
The readers recognition of the action of this
unified meaning is the gift of experience, culture
and humanism . The powers of discrimination
here are not deductive powers but total human
powers .
They have special application to
poetry which is a single experience of medium .
Thus certain kind of poetry suffers from the
fallacy of communication .
Definition of Tension in Poetry
Tate has invented the term Tension by •
chopping off the prefixes “in” and “ex” from
the two terms “intension” and “extension”.
Here, extension refers to extensive or logical
or denotative meaning in poetry . On the
other hand, “intension” refers to the intensive
or connotative or suggestive meaning of
poetry . A successful poem is the one in which
these two meanings are in a state of tension.
Tate calls tension is the life of the poem .
Tate says that the meanings selected by the readers •
along the line between the extremes of intensive and
extensive vary according to the personal interest. The
Platonist will tend to stay very close to the extension
end .he might decide that Marvell`s To His Coy Mistress
recommends immoral behavior to young men. It would
of course, one true meaning of the poem . However,
the full tension of the poem will not allow the readers
to entertain it exclusively . The poem has the intensive
meaning too. These meaning are sensuality (extensive )
and asceticism or spirituality (intensive) .
Then Tate gives an other example of Donne`s •
love lyric A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning.
He quotes the lines which contain the gold
conceit. Here, the souls of the lovers and their
unity is compared with uniqueness of gold.
The not spatial soul is contradicted with a
spatial image (gold). However, the denotation
of the gold contains the full meaning of the
passage . Extension and intension are one
here . And they enrich each other .

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