Foremost theorist of the New Criticism, W. K. Wimsatt, inherits from the Romantics the desire to differentiate poetry from prose on essentialist rather than formal grounds. In I. A. Richards, a new antithesis between the symbolic or referential use of language and its emotive use replaces the old one of prose and poetry. Wimsatt also recognizes two kingdoms of discourse, but for him, a formal or functional difference—the complementary distribution of the logical and counterlogical figures—confirms that poetry and prose really do differ: “the difference between prose and verse is the difference between homoeoteleuton and rhyme.” Neither prose nor poetry, however, observes the divide between logical and counterlogical figures with anything like the regularity claimed by Wimsatt. Examples of rhyme in prose and homoeoteleuton in verse weaken his case, as does the example of John Milton's enjambed blank verse, with the sense variously drawn out, which emulates the periodic syntax of Milton's own prose. The attempt to differentiate the logical language of prose from the emotive, counterlogical language of poetry, which the New Critics silently adopt from the Romantics, fails, and, historically, the project of finding the essential difference gives way to Roman Jakobson's notion of the poetic function, dominant in poetry but available to prose as well.
Harris Friedberg; Prose and Poetry: Wimsatt's Verbal Icon and the Romantic Poetics of New Criticism. Poetics Today 1 March 2005; 26 (1): 1–37. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-26-1-1
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