Poetry: A note on Ontology by John Crowe Ransom

Ransom main idea hare in the essay poetry: A Note on Ontology is to assert the ontological status of poetry. Ransom divides poetry in to two broad groups. One groups that talk about things.

Another group that talks about idea. And the third group comes out of blending of these two qualities. Physical poetry, Platonic poetry and Metaphysical are the names for these groups respectively.

Physical poetry: The physical poetry uses physical things/ objects. The poets are concerned with material and surface appearance but not an idea. It is concrete form of poetry. Language is plain literal and scientific. It is the poetry of things. They present not the ideas but the things. But the things are represented in language. Physical poetry is pure poetry because it has visual context. It is too realistic, and it does not maintain interest.

Platonic poetry: Platonic poetry deals with ideas not with objects. So Platonic poetry does not concern with real poetry. Ransom says that the Romantic and Victorian poems are Platonic. Platonic poetry's main aim is to express ideas, Philosophy truth and morality. Ode on a Grecian Urn by Keats is an example of Platonic poetry. It destroys images. So it is abstract. It is too idealistic. But Ransom is against both Platonic and Physical poetry. Out of the blending of these two poetic qualities, the third form of poetry comes, which he calls Metaphysical poetry.

Metaphysical Poetry: Ransom favors Metaphysical poetry. In Metaphysical poetry there is fusion of reason and feeling, heats and mind, emotion and intellect. Ransom found the intelligence in using conceits in Metaphysical poetry. Conceit is a type of indirect metaphor which uses farfetched images. In the 17 the century the poets like John Donne and Cowley used conceit to expose both the physical and platonic aspect.

Criticism as Pure Speculation

Ransom views that criticism is pure speculation or assumption. Firstly he talks about two types of criticism, physiological and moral criticism. Psychological criticism pretends to be scientific but it fails. Moral criticism tends to prescribe rules and ideology. Both of these forms of criticism go beyond the text. They disregard the text as self sufficient and unified whole. Ransom as a new critic denounces biographical, psychological and moral criticism. He says that to make criticism, text is self sufficient. There is no need to point out the historical background and personal impression, since the text is autonomous.

For Ransom, ontological criticism is the best kind of criticism, which tells the essence to find the being of the text/ poem. By ontological criticism, we mean criticism based up on the ontology of text. It is believed that text has its own ontology, that is, its own existence.     In any poem there is interaction between structure and texture. Therefore, structure and texture are two main elements for critic since structure is a central logic in a text. There is a ‘paraphrasable core’ in a text that is structure. By ‘paraphrasable core’, we mean the core element of any work of art, which is subject to paraphrase. What remains, when texture of a work of art is deleted is ‘paraphrasable core’.

Texture is local details, which refers to meter, assonance, rhyme, metaphor and other linguistic devices. Ransom’s ontological criticism accepts that a text has its own essence , which is sufficient in itself for interpretation. This model of criticism does not allow the critic to go beyond the text.

Ransom also talks about two types of discourses, poetic and scientific. Poetic discourse is democratic but not authoritative. Here, author’s voice is dominant. Free interpretation is possible in poetic discourse. As a result there is no single meaning. Since there is irony and ambiguities in poetry each reader interprets them differently and multiple meaning come. But, scientific discourse is authoritative, where there is absolute meaning. As a pure new critic he does not believe in single meaning. Ransom disregards the way of critics to criticize the text based on already existing mode. He says if some conventions are repeated, there would be no progress in literature, and so good critic should possess innovation, experiment and new techniques.

Summing up Ransom believes that poetry has both texture and paraphrasable core but separation between them is impossible. There should be merge of texture and structure (paraphrasable core) that makes poetry as ontological being.