poetic diction

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A term used to mean language and usage peculiar to poetry, which came into prominence with Wordsworth's discussion in his preface (1800) to the Lyrical Ballads, in which he claims to have taken pains to avoid ‘what is usually called poetic diction’. Wordsworth implies that there should be no such thing as ‘language and usage peculiar to poetry’, and illustrates his point by attacking a sonnet by Gray. Gray himself had declared (1742, letter to West) that ‘the language of the age is never the language of poetry’. Wordsworth's attack on neo‐classicism, archaisms, abstractions, personifications, etc., was both forceful and revolutionary, although his views were later repudiated by Coleridge; moreover, although poetry became less stilted in its language, its vocabulary remained on the whole distinctive throughout the Romantic and Victorian periods. Clare is a rare and isolated example of a poet capable of resisting conventional notions of ‘poetic diction’; it was not until the 20th cent. and the advent of Modernism in the works of Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Pound, and others that another major attempt to enlarge the poetic vocabulary and bring it closer to ordinary speech was made.

Subjects: Literature.

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