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Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning

4.29  ·  Rating Details ·  207 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
Poetic Diction, first published in 1928, begins by asking why we call a given grouping of words "poetry" and why these arouse "aesthetic imagination" and produce pleasure in a receptive reader. Returning always to this personal experience of poetry, Owen Barfield at the same time seeks objective standards of criticism and a theory of poetic diction in broader philosophical ...more
Paperback, 238 pages
Published December 1st 1984 by Wesleyan (first published 1928)
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John Pillar
Mar 12, 2009 John Pillar rated it really liked it
This was definitely new territory for me. I came away from reading it with a greater appreciation for the role of the poet in expanding language and meaning. I'll leave it to other reviewers who may be better versed in literature and philosophy to comment on the technical details of the book.

One thing I found interesting was that while extolling the virtue of the poetic, Barfield did not denigrate the need for the prosaic.
Tommy Grooms
Dec 30, 2013 Tommy Grooms rated it really liked it
A difficult book, written for those of a classical education that as a practical matter doesn't exist anymore. It made me wish I had the means (or, more honestly, the patience) to learn and appreciate languages that function differently than my own. I found it necessary to stop midway through and read from the beginning in order to grasp the key concepts, and I hope I'll be forgiven for not tackling the appendices.

That difficulty is the only thing keeping this from a five-star review. Otherwise
Feb 26, 2013 Kenneth rated it it was amazing
A few days ago I finished reading Owen Barfield’s POETIC DICTION (1928). He was a friend of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Not as well known as they, Barfield wrote mainly criticism and philosophical speculations. POETIC DICTION has been consistently reprinted and remains influential. Agreeing with Emerson’s “Nature,” Barfield argues that all language is in essence metaphorical, even scientific prose. He locates the poetic in the metaphorical use of language to create new perceptions of reali ...more
Douglas Wilson
Jan 25, 2009 Douglas Wilson rated it really liked it
Really fine.
Dave Maddock
Jan 14, 2015 Dave Maddock rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: criticism, inklings
This is a difficult book to review. Its arguments are complex, broad in scope and application, and ironically reductive. On the face of it, it is a meditation on a line from Emerson--"Language is fossil poetry" (from "The Poet")--that is taken so far to the extreme that it breaks.

Most of what I have to say is criticism of Barfield which might give the impression that I hated the book. In fact, I quite liked it. The ideas have great appeal. The real shame is that he overreaches so far that I can
Dec 01, 2012 Jeremy rated it really liked it
Assigned for Dr. Ralph Wood's Oxford Christians course at Baylor (2014). Some really great things in here, but not an accessible book. Here's Barfield's assessment of the book, 46 years after its publication: "If the book does anything, it erects a structure of thought on the basis of a felt difference between what it calls 'the Prosaic' and 'the Poetic'. Corollary thereto is a further distinction drawn between two kinds of poetry, or of the Poetic itself, and further the conception that that di ...more
Dan'l Danehy-oakes
Dec 03, 2016 Dan'l Danehy-oakes rated it really liked it
This is quite a difficult book for me to review, because I'm not really sure what to make of it. I suspect it will take at least one more reading before it really sinks in.

Actually, it is quite possible that Barfield himself wrote an excellent review, as part of is Preface to the book's second edition (1951 - the original being from 1928):
...[T]his book grew out of two empirical observations, first, that poetry reacts on the meanings of the words that it employs, and, secondly, that there appear
Nov 15, 2007 Carl rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fans of the inklings and those interested in philosophy of language
Don't have this fresh in my mind as it's been a while since I read this, but I think Barfield's work is interesting not only as a key to the thought of the Inklings, but as a philosophical/literary perspective parallel to but a bit off from mainstream 20th century thought. I feel like there are a lot of resonances with hermeneutic phenomenology, and hope to explore that further. For example, Barfield's ideas about metaphor seem to me very similar to Dreyfus' account of Heidegger's own work:
"On t
Michael Fitzpatrick
Jul 22, 2011 Michael Fitzpatrick rated it it was amazing
Owen Barfield has truly written a philosophical and literary masterpiece. "Poetic Diction" begins with a phenomenological analysis of poetry, and why it affects us the way it does. But it quickly expands into an exploration of how we know things, and the shape of reality as a whole. Barfield critiques the works of Locke, Kant and Hume, and provides a basis for understanding meaning as a description of our relationship with reality. Poetry becomes a description of this experience, about how our p ...more
Ben McFarland
Oct 08, 2013 Ben McFarland rated it it was amazing
I have pretty positive reactions to most books. A few I even think, when I put them down, that maybe someday I'll read them again. But very rarely have I ever felt like reading a book again as soon as I put it down. Poetic Diction is that book. I found this book by researching J.R.R. Tolkien, who was influenced by Owen Barfield's ideas, especially this book. Then I kept seeing Barfield's name and I found out that lots of people were deeply influenced by his thinking (and not just his close frien ...more
This is my second time to read this. I enjoyed it a lot more my second time through. I'm reading it because I have reread The Lord of the Rings 14 times, The Hobbit 8 times, The silmarillion 6 to 8 times, and all of the volumes of The History of Middle-earth, and other things by Tolkien between 1 and 3 times. I have read literary criticisms of Tolkien's work. So, I'm reading the other Inklings. I read a fair amount of C.S. Lewis. I don't really like Charles Williams. I am enjoying Own Barfield. ...more
Josiah DeGraaf
Dec 11, 2015 Josiah DeGraaf rated it liked it
This was a fascinating little book that made me think a lot about different topics that I hadn't thought about all that much before. Because this field of literary studies is a relatively new field for me, I'm not sure how much I agree with his ideas (they all seemed to be pretty good ideas when I read it; but the first person to speak always sounds right until the second begins to speak), but they definitely provoked me to reflect on this more. I didn't read all of this book as thoroughly as I ...more
Nov 30, 2011 Robert rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
According to Barfield, language has preserved the inner history of human beings and reveals the evolution of consciousness. Embedded in our subconscious is the memory of when language was more of an archetype symbolic expression, which is why poetry excites the aesthetic imagination and has the potential of producing a felt change in consciousness.

Barfield also attempts to heal the subject / object split that has occurred through the evolution of consciousness by providing a participatory epist
Philip Morgan
Mar 23, 2008 Philip Morgan rated it really liked it
I think this book kind of fucked me up in the head. In trying to trace back to when I stopped believing and acting as if words mean the same thing to everybody, I think I find the headwaters of that belief in Barfield's writings and this book in particular. Or maybe I'm just a Gen-Xer with a heightened awareness of the role of stories and filters and worldviews.

In any event, Barfield lays out an sequence of interesting examples of how words have danced with meaning, and how that dance has change
Jan 11, 2017 Bill rated it it was amazing
I really loved this book. Fair warning, Barfield's writing can be dense in places (particularly the Appendices) but the central thesis is enormously compelling and I look forward to finding further exploration of it. Hopefully in other authors as well as other examples of Barfield's work. I should also not that I came to "Poetic Diction" out of my general interest in the Inklings and a desire to get a solid "feel" for how Barfield's though fit's within their conversation. The book is helpful in ...more
Adam Ross
Feb 05, 2009 Adam Ross rated it liked it
This was an interesting, though highly dry book. It loses you occasionally, because Barfield is carrying on philological debates with men nobody's heard of today, but in his time were apparently influential. He argues that all language is inherently poetic, and that poetry and metaphor are the centers of language. The more "poetic" is our education, the more we are changed and transformed for the better.
This is one of the books that I read every year, because it contains so much and each time I read it I learned something you and understand a bit more. If you want to understand the nature of language, and particular, "poetic diction", this is the classic that influenced both CS Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.
Justin Bailey
Sep 13, 2012 Justin Bailey rated it it was amazing
Why is it that poetic language somehow feels truer and more meaningful than literal descriptions? Using etymology, Barfield argues that language holds within it a "history of consciousness" and that poetic language moves us by affecting in us a "felt change of consciousness", allowing us to participate more fully in the Meaning with which the world is dripping.

A brilliant book.
Sep 19, 2016 Lauren rated it it was ok
*2.5 stars*

There is much that Barfield assumes his audience knows, and therefore does not explain. I needed a copy annotated by a philologist of the time. Without notes, he talks just over my head and I can tell it's probably brilliant, but I can't quite make out why.
Mar 04, 2013 Philip rated it it was amazing
It will probably take the rest of my life to understand this book, not because Barfield doesn't write clearly or logically but because his intellect is so giant. Extremely thought-provoking book about language and how we make meaning.
Difficult but interesting.
James Prothero
Brilliant, though I found it wound through realms of language theory that I was unfamiliar with. The central concept rings true. Language IS fossilized metaphor.
Dec 23, 2014 Meirizka rated it really liked it
George Marshall
Sep 27, 2015 George Marshall rated it it was amazing
Thouroughly enjoyed, though it is not an easy read. I know some reading I want to do, and I may find time to read again with that additional context.
Apr 11, 2012 Joel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This book is a narrow shaft providing a glimpse into a world that went underground: metaphor and poetry as a key to a human construction of meaning in the universe.
Jim Owen
Apr 30, 2013 Jim Owen rated it really liked it
Shelves: theology
Very pleased with this text. I have read it and I am now outlining it. He is no C. S. Lewis, but with a little rereading, he is clear and his discussion is valuable.
Jean Rossner
Jean Rossner rated it it was amazing
Jul 02, 2007
Jerry rated it liked it
Sep 26, 2011
Brad Kuhn
Brad Kuhn rated it really liked it
Mar 07, 2013
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Arthur Owen Barfield was a British philosopher, author, poet, and critic.

Barfield was born in London. He was educated at Highgate School and Wadham College, Oxford and in 1920 received a first class degree in English language and literature. After finishing his B. Litt., which became his third book Poetic Diction, he was a dedicated poet and author for over ten years. After 1934 his profession was
More about Owen Barfield...

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