Throughout his career as critic and teacher, I. A. Richards (1893–1979) was involved in various conversations about poetry: those with his students in the course Practical Criticism, which he pioneered at Cambridge in 1925 and which is still being taught today; those of his students and colleagues in the years 1925–28 with the poetic texts he gave them, generated in an experimental procedure and published in part in his book Practical Criticism; and those with students at Harvard University during the years 1944–63. The challenge for us in this present essay is to integrate these varied cognitive literary studies into our own response to Richards, specifically through the empirical study of poetic texts within the tradition of the Gestalt school of psychology. In the first section, we discuss the poem as a gestalt, which stands behind Richards's presentation of the real reader's “poetic experience” in his Principles of Literary Criticism. We exemplify this by developing a particular technique, used by Richards to teach poetry at Harvard, into an empirical study of the haiku form of poetry. In the second section, we explicate Richards's own empirical study of John Donne's “Holy Sonnet 7,” originally presented in Practical Criticism, which is a good example of the renaissance in Donne criticism at the beginning of the twentieth century. Richards's experimental technique is discussed in relation to what was then contemporary experimental psychology. We then compare Richards's study with various subsequent replications, including our own, presented here. In the third section, we try to update Richards's experimental technique of obtaining written protocols to one of obtaining online verbal protocols in response to Donne's poem “The Bait.” The move from reading this poem to its empirical study highlights our integration of the different lines of thought within cognitive literary studies.

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