This text is reproduced solely for the limited academic use of students in Webster University MNGT 5590.

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Although the full text of the article is reproduced here, the class reading is an excerpt as indicated in the text.


“Burke on Form” Burke, Kenneth. Counter-Statement. Los Altos, CA: Hermes Publications, 1953, 29-44, 123-138.


[29] It is not until the fourth scene of the first act that Hamlet confronts the ghost of his father. As soon as the situation has been made clear, the audience has been consciously or unconsciously, waiting for this ghost to appear, while in the fourth scene this moment has been definitely promised. For earlier in the play Hamlet had arranged to come to the platform at night with Horatio to meet the ghost, and it is now night, he is with Horatio and Marcellus, and they are standing on the platform. Hamlet asks Horatio the hour.

“Hor. I think it lacks of twelve.

Mar. No. it is struck.

Hor. Indeed? I heard it not: then it draws near the season

Wherein the spirit held his wont to walk”


Promptly hereafter there is a sound off-stage. “A flourish of trumpets, and ordnance shot off within.” Hamlet’s friends have established the hour as twelve. It is time for the ghost. Sounds off-stage, and of course it is not the ghost. It is, rather, the sound of the king’s carousal, for the king “keeps wassail.” A tricky, and useful, detail. We have been waiting for a ghost, and get, startlingly, a blare of trumpets. And, once the trumpets are silent, we feel how desolate are these three men waiting for a ghost, on a bare “platform,” feel it by this sudden juxtaposition of an imagined scene of lights and merriment. But the trumpets announcing a carousal have suggested a subject of conversation. In the darkness Hamlet discusses the excessive drinking of his countrymen. [30] He points out that it tends to harm their reputation abroad, since, he argues, this one showy vice makes their virtues “in the general censure take corruption” And for this reason, although he himself is a native of this place, he does not approve of the custom. Indeed, there in the gloom he talking very intelligently on these matters, and Horatio answers, “Look, my Lord, it comes.” All this time we had been waiting for a ghost, and it comes at the one moment which was not pointing towards it. This ghost, so assiduously prepared for, is yet a surprise. And now that the ghost has come, we are waiting for something further. Program: speech from Hamlet. Hamlet must confront the ghost. Here again Shakespeare can feed well upon the use of contrast for his effects. Hamlet has just been talking in a sober, rather argumentative manner—but now the floodgates unloosed:

“Angels and ministers of grace defend us!

Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damn’d,

Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell…


and the transition from the matter-of-fact to the grandiose, the full-throated and full-voweled, is a second burst of trumpets, perhaps even more effective than the first, since it is the rich fulfilment of a promise. Yet this satisfaction in turn becomes an allurement, an itch for further developments. At first desiring solely to see Hamlet confront the ghost, we now want Hamlet to learn from the ghost the details of the murder—which are, however, with shrewdness and husbandry, reserved for “Scene V—Another Part of the Platform.”

I have gone into this scene at some length, since it illustrates so perfectly the relationship between psychology and form, and so aptly indicates how the one is to be defined in [31] terms of the other. That is, the psychology here is not the psychology of the hero, but the psychology of the audience. And by that distinction, form would be the psychology of the audience. Or, seen from another angle, form is the creation of an appetite in the mind of the auditor, and the adequate satisfying of that appetite. This satisfaction—so complicated is the human mechanism—at times involves a temporary set of frustrations, but in the end these frustrations prove to be simply a more involved kind of satisfaction, and furthermore serve to make the satisfaction of fulfilment more intense. If, in a work of art, the poet says something, let us say, about a meeting, writes in such a way that we desire to observe that meeting, and then, if he places that meeting before us—that is form. While obviously, that is also the psychology of the audience, since it involves desires and their appeasements.

The seeming breach between form and subject matter, between technique and psychology, which has taken place in the last century is the result, it seems to me, of scientific criteria being unconsciously introduced into matters of purely aesthetic judgment. The flourishing of science has been so vigorous that we have not yet had time to make a spiritual readjustment adequate to the changes in our resources of material and knowledge. There are disorders of the social system which are caused solely by our undigested wealth (the basic disorder being, perhaps, the phenomenon of overproduction: to remedy this, instead of having all workers employed on half time, we have half working full time and the other half idle, so that whereas overproduction could be the greatest reward of applied science, it has been, up to now, the most menacing condition our modem civilization has had to face). It would be absurd to suppose that such social disorders would not be paralleled by disorders of culture and taste, especially since science is so pronouncedly a spiritual [32] factor. So that we are, owing to the sudden wealth science has thrown upon us, all nouveaux riches in matters of culture and most poignantly in that field where lack of native firmness is most readily exposed, in matters of aesthetic judgement.

One of the most striking derangements of taste which science has temporarily thrown upon us involves the under standing of psychology in art. Psychology has become a body of information (which is precisely what psychology in science should be, or must be). And similarly, in art, we tend to look for psychology as the purveying of information. Thus, a contemporary writer has objected to Joyce’s Ulysses on the ground that there are more psychoanalytic data available in Freud. (How much more drastically he might, by the same system, have destroyed Homer’s Odyssey!) To his objection it was answered that one might, similarly, denounce Cezanne’s trees in favor of state forestry bulletins. Yet are not Cezanne’s landscapes themselves tainted with the psychology of information? Has he not, by perception, pointed out how one object lies against another, indicated what takes place between two colors (which is the psychology of science, and is less successful in the medium of art than in that of science, since in art such processes are at best implicit, whereas in science they are so readily made explicit)? Is Cezanne not, to that extent, a state forestry bulletin, except that he tells what goes on in the eye instead of on the tree? And do not the true values of his work lie elsewhere and precisely in what I distinguish as the psychology of form?

Thus, the great influx of information has led the artist also to lay his emphasis on the giving of information—with the result that art tends more and more to substitute the psychology of the hero (the subject) for the psychology of the audience. Under such an attitude, when form is preserved [33] it is preserved as an annex, a luxury, or, as some feel, a downright affectation. It remains, though sluggish, like the human appendix, for occasional demands are still made upon it; but its true vigor is gone, since it is no longer organically required. Proposition: The hypertrophy of the psychology of information is accompanied by the corresponding atrophy of the psychology of form.

In information, the matter is intrinsically interesting. And by intrinsically interesting I do not necessarily mean intrinsically valuable, as witness the intrinsic interest of backyard gossip or the most casual newspaper items. In art, at least the art of the great ages (Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Racine) the matter is interesting by means of an extrinsic use, a function. Consider, for instance, the speech of Mark Antony, the “Brutus is an honourable man.” Imagine in the same place a very competently developed thesis on human conduct, with statistics, intelligence tests, definitions; imagine it as the finest thing of the sort ever written, and as really being at the roots of an understanding of Brutus. Obviously, the play would simply stop until Antony had finished. For in the case of Antony’s speech, the value lies in the fact that his words are shaping the future of the audience’s desires, not the desires of the Roman populace, but the desires of the pit. This is the psychology of form as distinguished from the psychology of information.

The distinction is, of course, absolutely true only in its non-existent extremes. Hamlet’s advice to the players, for instance, has little of the quality which distinguishes Antony’s speech. It is, rather, intrinsically interesting, although one could very easily prove how the play would benefit by some such delay at this point, and that anything which made this delay possible without violating the consistency of the subject would have, in this, its formal justification. It would, furthermore, be absurd to rule intrinsic interest out [34] of literature. I wish simply to have it restored to its properly minor position, seen as merely one out of many possible elements of style. Goethe’s prose, often poorly imagined, or neutral, in its line-for-line texture, especially in the treatment of romantic episode—perhaps he felt that the romantic episode in itself was enough?—is strengthened into a style possessing affirmative virtues by his rich use of aphorism. But this is, after all, but one of many possible facets of appeal. In some places, notably in Wilhelm Meister’s Lehr jahre when Wilhelm’s friends disclose the documents they have been collecting about his life unbeknown to him, the aphorisms are almost rousing in their efficacy, since they involve the story. But as a rule the appeal of aphorism is intrinsic: that is, it satisfies without being functionally related to the context.[1] . . . Also, to return to the matter of Hamlet, it must be observed that the style in this passage is no mere “information-giving” style; in its alacrity, its development, it really makes this one fragment into a kind of miniature plot.

One reason why music can stand repetition so much more sturdily than correspondingly good prose is that music, of all the arts, is by its nature least suited to the psychology of information, and has remained closer to the psychology of form. Here form cannot atrophy. Every dissonant chord cries for its solution, and whether the musician resolves or refuses to resolve this dissonance into the chord which the body cries for, he is dealing in human appetites. Correspondingly good prose, however, more prone to the temptations [35] of pure information, cannot so much bear repetition since the aesthetic value of information is lost once that information is imparted. If one returns to such a work again it is purely because, in the chaos of modem life, he has been able to forget it. With a desire, on the other hand, its recovery is as agreeable as its discovery. One can memorize the dialogue between Hamlet and Guildenstern, where Hamlet gives Guildenstern the pipe to play on. For, once the speech is known, its repetition adds a new element to compensate for the loss of novelty. We cannot take a recurrent pleasure in the new (in information) but we can in the natural (in form). Already, at the moment when Hamlet is holding out the pipe to Guildenstern and asking him to play upon it, we “gloat over” Hamlet’s triumphal descent upon Guildenstern, when, after Guildenstern has, under increasing embarrassment, protested three times that he cannot play the instrument, Hamlet launches the retort for which all this was preparation:

“Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me. You would play upon me, you would seem to know my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass; and there is much music, excellent voice, in this little organ, yet cannot you make it speak. ‘Sblood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, you cannot play upon me”[2] In the opening lines we hear the promise of the close, and thus feel the emotional curve even more keenly than at first [36] reading. Whereas in most modern art this element is under-emphasized. It gives us the gossip of a plot, a plot which too, often has for its value the mere fact that we do not know its outcome.[3]        

Music, then, fitted less than any other art for imparting information, deals minutely in frustrations and fulfillments of desire,[4] and for that reason more often gives those curves of emotion which, because they are natural, can bear repetition without loss. It is for this reason that music, like folk tales, is most capable of lulling us to sleep. A lullaby is a melody which comes quickly to rest, where the obstacles are easily overcome—and this is precisely the parallel to those waking dreams of struggle and conquest which (especially during childhood) we permit ourselves when falling asleep or when trying to induce sleep. Folk tales are just such waking dreams. Thus it is right that art should be called a “waking dream.” The only difficulty with this definition (indicated by Charles Baudouin in his Psychoanalysis and Aesthetics, a very valuable study of Verhaeren) is that today we understand it to mean art as a waking dream for the artist. Modern criticism, and Psychoanalysis in particular, is too prone to define the essence of art ‘in terms of the artist’s weaknesses. It is, rather, the audience which dreams, while the artist oversees the conditions which determine this dream. He is the manipulator of blood, brains, heart, and bowels which, while we sleep, dictate the mould of our [37] desires. This is, of course, the real meaning of artistic felicity—an exaltation at the correctness of the procedure, so that we enjoy the steady march of doom in a Racinian tragedy with exactly the same equipment as that which produces our delight with Benedick’s “Peace! I’ll stop your mouth. (Kisses her)” which terminates the imbroglio of Much Ado About Nothing.

The methods of maintaining interest which are most natural to the psychology of information (as it is applied to works of pure art) are surprise and suspense. The method most natural to the psychology of form is eloquence. For this reason the great ages of Aeschylus, Shakespeare, and Racine, dealing as they did with material which was more or less a matter of common knowledge so that the broad outlines of the plot were known in advance (while it is the broad outlines which are usually exploited to secure surprise and suspense) developed formal excellence, or eloquence, as the basis of appeal in their work.

Not that there is any difference in kind between the classic method and the method of the cheapest contemporary melodrama. The drama, more than any other form, must never lose sight of its audience: here the failure to satisfy the proper requirements is most disastrous. And since certain contemporary work is successful, it follows that rudimentary laws of composition are being complied with. The distinction is one of intensity rather than of kind. The contemporary audience hears the lines of a play or novel with the same equipment as it brings to reading the lines of its daily paper. It is content to have facts placed before it in some more or less adequate sequence. Eloquence is the minimizing of this interest in fact, per se, so that the “more or less adequate sequence” of their presentation must be relied on to a much greater extent. Thus, those elements of surprise and suspense are subtilized, carried down into the writing of [38] a line or a sentence, until in all its smallest details the work bristles with disclosures, contrasts, restatements with a difference, ellipses, images, aphorism, volume, sound-values, in short all that complex wealth of minutiae which in their line-for-line aspect we call style and in their broader outlines we call form.

As a striking instance of a modern play with potentialities in which the intensity of eloquence is missing, I might cite a recent success, Capek’s R.U.R. Here, in melodrama which was often astonishing in the rightness of its technical procedure, when the author was finished he had written nothing but the scenario for a play by Shakespeare. It was a play in which the author produced time and again the opportunity, the demand, for eloquence, only to move on. (At other times, the most successful moments, he utilized the modern discovery of silence, with moments wherein words could not possibly serve but to detract from the effect: this we might call the “flowering” of information.) The Adam and Eve scene of the last act, a “commission” which the Shakespeare of the comedies would have loved to fill, was in the verbal barrenness of Capek’s play something shameless to the point of blushing. The Robot, turned human, prompted by the dawn of love to see his first sunrise, hear bird-call, and forced merely to say “Oh, see the sunrise,” or “Hear the pretty birds”—here one could do nothing but wring his hands at the absence of that aesthetic mould which produced the overslung “speeches” of Romeo and Juliet.

Suspense is the concern over the possible outcome of some specific detail of plot rather than for general qualities. Thus, “Will A marry B or C?” is suspense. In Macbeth, the turn from the murder scene to the porter scene is a much less literal channel of development. Here the presence of one quality calls forth the demand for another, rather than one tangible incident of plot awaking an interest in some other [39] possible tangible incident of plot. To illustrate more fully, if an author managed over a certain number of his pages to produce a feeling of sultriness, or oppression, in the reader, this would unconsciously awaken in the reader the desire for a cold, fresh northwind—and thus some aspect of a northwind would be effective if called forth by some aspect of stuffiness. A good example of this is to be found in a contemporary poem, T S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, where the vulgar, oppressively trivial conversation in the public house calls forth in the poet a memory of a line from Shakespeare. These slobs in a public house, after a desolately low-visioned conversation, are now forced by closing time to leave the saloon. They say goodnight. And suddenly the poet, feeling his release, drops into another good-night, a good-night with, desinvolture, a good-night out of what was, within the conditions of the poem at least, a graceful and irrecoverable past.

           “Well that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon,

And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot--[at this point the bartender interrupts: it is closing time]

“Goonight Bill. Goonight Lou. Goonight May. Goonight. Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight.

Good-night, ladies, good-night, sweet ladies, good-night, good-night”


There is much more to be said on these lines, which I have shortened somewhat in quotation to make my issue clearer. But I simply wish to point out here that this transition is a bold juxtaposition of one quality created by another, an association in ideas which, if not logical, is nevertheless emotionally natural. In the case of Macbeth, similarly, it would [40] be absurd to say that the audience, after the murder scene, wants a porter scene. But the audience does want the quality which this porter particularizes. The dramatist might, conceivably, have introduced some entirely different character or event in this place, provided only that the event produced the same quality of relationship and contrast (grotesque seriousness followed by grotesque buffoonery).... One of the most beautiful and satisfactory “forms” of this sort is to be found in Baudelaire’s Femmes Damnees, where the poet, after describing the business of a Lesbian seduction, turns to the full oratory of his apostrophe:

Descendez, descendez, lamentables victimes,

Descendez le chemin de l’enfer eternel. . . 


while the stylistic efficacy of this transition contains a richness which transcends all moral (or unmoral) sophistication: the efficacy of appropriateness, of exactly the natural curve in treatment. Here is morality even for the godless, since it is a morality of art, being justified, if for no other reason, by its paralleling of that staleness, that disquieting loss of purpose, which must have followed the procedure of the two characters, the femmes damnees themselves, a remorse which, perhaps only physical in its origin, nevertheless becomes psychic.[5]

But to return, we have made three terms synonymous: form, psychology, and eloquence. And eloquence thereby becomes the essence of art, while pity, tragedy, sweetness, humor, in short all the emotions which we experience in life proper, as non-artists, are simply the material on which [41] eloquence may feed. The arousing of pity, for instance, is not the central purpose of art, although it may be an adjunct of artistic effectiveness. One can feel pity much more keenly at the sight of some actual misfortune—and it would be a great mistake to see art merely as a weak representation of some actual experience.[6] That artists today are content to write under such an aesthetic accounts in part for the inferior position which art holds in the community. Art, at least in the great periods when it has flowered, was the conversion, or transcendence, of emotion into eloquence, and was thus a factor added to life. I am reminded of St. Augustine’s caricature of the theatre: that whereas we do not dare to wish people unhappy, we do want to feel sorry for them, and therefore turn to plays so that we can feel sorry although no real misery is involved. One might apply the parallel interpretation to the modern delight in happy endings, and say that we turn to art to indulge our humanitarianism in a well-wishing which we do not permit ourselves towards our actual neighbors. Surely the catharsis of art is more complicated than this, and more reputable.

Eloquence itself, as I hope to have established in the instance from Hamlet which I have analyzed, is no mere plaster added to a framework of more stable qualities. Eloquence is simply the end of art, and is thus its essence. Even the poorest art is eloquent, but in a poor way, with less intensity, until this, aspect is obscured by others fattening upon its leanness. Eloquence is not showiness; it is, rather, the result of that desire in the artist to make a work perfect by adapting it in every minute detail to the racial appetites. [42] The distinction between the psychology of information and the psychology of form involves a definition of aesthetic truth. It is here precisely, to combat the deflection which the strength of science has caused to our tastes, that we must examine the essential breach between scientific and artistic truth. Truth in art is not the discovery of facts, not an addition to human knowledge in the scientific sense of the word.[7] It is, rather, the exercise of human propriety, the formulation of symbols which rigidify our sense of poise and rhythm. Artistic truth is the externalization of taste.[8] I sometimes wonder, for instance, whether the “artificial” [43] speech of John Lyly might perhaps be “truer” than the revelations of Dostoevsky. Certainly at its best, in its feeling for a statement which returns upon itself, which attempts the systole to a diastole, it could be much truer than Dostoevsky.[9] And if it is not, it fails not through a mistake of Lyly’s aesthetic but because Lyly was a man poor in character, whereas Dostoevsky was rich and complex. When Swift, making the women of Brobdingnag enormous, deduces from this discrepancy between their size and Gulliver’s that Gulliver could sit astride their nipples, he has written something which is aesthetically true, which is, if I may be pardoned, profoundly “proper,” as correct in its Euclidean deduction as any corollary in geometry. Given the companions of Ulysses in the cave of Polyphemus, it is true that they would escape clinging to the bellies of the herd let out to pasture. St. Ambrose, detailing the habits of God’s creatures, and drawing from them moral maxims for the good of mankind, St. Ambrose in his limping natural history rich in scientific inaccuracies that are at the very heart of emotional rightness, St. Ambrose writes “Of night-birds, especially of the nightingale which hatches her eggs by song; of the owl, the bat, and the cock at cock-crow; in what wise these may apply to the guidance of our habits, ” and in the sheer rightness of that program there is the truth of art.

In introducing this talk of night birds, after many pages devoted to other of God’s creatures, he says,”What now! While we have been talking, you will notice how the birds of night have already started fluttering about you, and, in this same fact of warning us to leave off with our discussion, suggest thereby a further topic”—and this seems to me to contain the best wisdom of which the human [44] frame is capable, an address, a discourse, which can make material life seem blatant almost to the point of despair. And when the cock crows, and the thief abandons his traps, and the sun lights up, and we are in every way called back to God by the well-meaning admonition of this bird, here the very blindnesses of religion become the deepest truths of art.

[Class reading ends. However, find one more definition of form in the section that follows.]






[123] THE PRESENT essay attempts to define the principles underlying the appeal of literature. By literature we mean written or spoken words. Primarily we are concerned with literature as art, that is, literature designed for the express purpose of arousing emotions. But sometimes literature so designed fails to arouse emotions and—words said purely by way of explanation may have an unintended emotional effect of considerable magnitude. A discussion of effectiveness in literature should be able to include unintended effects as well as intended ones. Also, such a discussion will be diagnostic rather than hortatory: it will be more concerned with how effects are, produced than with what effects should be produced.

As far as possible, we shall proceed simply by definition and example. We propose: to analyze the five aspects of form (The Nature of Form); to show how these forms are implicit in subject-matter (The Individuation of Forms); to discuss subject-matter and forms as combined in the Symbol (Patterns of Experience); to distinguish between the scientific formulation of experience and the poet’s formulation of experience (Ritual); and to consider the problems of literary excellence (Permanence, Universality, Perfection). Then, having completed our Lexicon, we propose to examine certain critical issues of the past and of the present, testing our terms as equipment for the discussion of these issues.

[124] 1. Form in literature is an arousing and fulfillment of desires. A work has form in so far as one part of it leads a reader to anticipate another part, to be gratified by the sequence. The five aspects of form may be discussed as progressive form (subdivided into syllogistic and. qualitative progression), repetitive form, conventional form, and minor or incidental forms.

2. Syllogistic progression is the form of a perfectly conducted argument, advancing step by step. It is the form of a mystery story, where everything falls together, as in a story of ratiocination by Poe. It is the form of a demonstration in Euclid. To go from A to E through stages B, C, and D is to obtain such form. We call it syllogistic because, given certain things, certain things must follow, the premises forcing the conclusion. In so far as the audience, from its acquaintance with the premises, feels the rightness of the conclusion, the work is formal. The arrows of our desires are turned in a certain direction, and the plot follows the direction of the arrows. The peripety, or reversal of the situation, discussed, by Aristotle, is obviously one of the keenest manifestations of syllogistic progression. In the course of a single scene, the poet reverses the audience’s expectations--as in the third act of Julius Caesar, where Brutus’ speech before the mob prepares us for his exoneration, but the speech of Antony immediately after prepares us for his downfall.

3. Qualitative progression, the other aspect of progressive form, is subtler. Instead of one incident in the plot preparing us for some other possible incident of plot (as Macbeth’s murder of Duncan prepares us for the dying of Macbeth). [125] the presence of one quality prepares us for the introduction of another (the grotesque seriousness of the murder scene preparing us for the grotesque buffoonery of the porter scene). In T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, the step from “Ta ta. Goonight. Goonight” to. “Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies” is a qualitative progression. In Malcolm Cowley’s sonnet Mine No. 6 there is a similar kind of qualitative progression, as we turn from the octave’s description of a dismal landscape (“the blackened stumps, the ulcerated hill”) to the sestet’s “Beauty, perfection, I have loved you fiercely.” Such progressions are qualitative rather than syllogistic as they lack the pronounced anticipatory nature of the syllogistic progression. We are prepared less to demand a certain qualitative progression than to recognize its rightness after the event. We are put into a state of mind which another state of mind can appropriately follow.

4. Reptitive form is the consistent maintaining of a principle under new guises. It is restatement of the same thing in different ways. Thus, in so far as each detail of Gulliver’s life among the Lilliputians is a new exemplification of the discrepancy in size between Gulliver and the Lilliputians, Swift is using repetitive form. A succession of images, each of them regiving the same lyric mood; a character repeating his identity, his “number’ under changing situations; the sustaining of an attitude, as in satire; the rhythmic regularity of blank verse; the rhyme scheme of terza rima—these are all aspects of repetitive form. By a varying number of details, the reader is led to feel more or less consciously the principle underlying them--he then requires that this principle be observed in the giving of further details. Repetitive form, the restatement of a theme by new details, is basic to any work of art, or to any other kind of orientation, for that matter. It is our only method of “talking on the subject.”

[126] 5. Conventional form involves to some degree the appeal of form as form. Progressive, repetitive, and minor forms, may be effective even though the reader has no awareness of their formality. But when a form appeals as form, we designate it as conventional form. Any form can become conventional, and be sought for itself—whether it be as complex the Greek tragedy or as compact as the Sonnet. The invocation to the Muses; the theophany in a play of Euripedes; the processional and recessional of the Episcopalian choir; the ensemble before the front drop at the close of a burlesque show; the exordium in Greek-Roman oratory; the Sapphic ode; the triolet—these are all examples of conventional forms having varying degrees of validity today. Perhaps even the Jew and the Irishman of the Broadway stage are an instance of repetitive form grown into conventional form. Poets who write beginnings as beginnings and endings as endings show the appeal of conventional form. Thus, in Milton’s Lycidas we start distinctly with the sense of introduction (“Yet once more, 0 ye laurels, and once more…”) and the poem is brought to its dextrous gliding close by the stanza, clearly’ an ending: “And now the sun had dropped behind the hills, and now had dropped into the western bay…” But Mother Goose, throwing formal appeal into relief through “nonsense, offers us the clearest instance of conventional form, a”pure” beginning and “pure” end:

   “I’ll tell you a story of Jack O’Norey

                                                And now my story’s begun;

                                                Ill tell you another about his brother

                                                And now my story is done”


We might note, in conventional form, the element of “categorical expectancy.” That is, whereas the anticipations and gratification of progressive and repetitive form arise during [127] the process of reading, the expectations of conventional form may be anterior to the reading. If one sets out to read a sonnet, regardless of what the sonnet is to say he makes certain formal demands to which the poem must acquiesce. And similarly, the final Beethoven rejoicing of a Beethoven finale becomes a “categorical expectation” of the symphony. The audience “awaits” it before the first bar of the music has been played. And one may, even before opening a novel, look forward to an opening passage which will proclaim itself an opening.

6. Minor or incidental forms. When analyzing a work of any length, we may find it bristling with minor or incidental forms such as metaphor, paradox, disclosure, reversal, contraction, expansion, bathos, apostrophe, series, chiasmus—which can be discussed as formal events in themselves. Their effect partially depends upon their function in the whole, yet they manifest sufficient evidences of episodic distinctness to bear consideration apart from their context. Thus a paradox, by carrying an argument one step forward, may have its use as progressive form; and by its continuation of a certain theme may have its use as repetitive form--yet it may be so formally complete in itself that the reader will memorize it as an event valid apart from its setting. A monologue by Shakespeare can be detached from its context and recited with enjoyment because, however integrally it contributes to the whole of which it is a part, it is also an independent curve of plot enclosed by its own beginning and end. The incident of Hamlet’s offering the pipes to Guildenstern is a perfect instance of minor form. Euripides, when bringing a messenger upon the stage, would write him a speech which, in its obedience to the rhetorical laws of the times, was a separate miniature form. Edmund Burke sought to give each paragraph a structure as a paragraph, making it a growth, [128] yet so confining it to one aspect of his subject that the closing sentence of the paragraph could serve as the logical complement to the opening one. Frequently, in the novel, an individual chapter is distinguished by its progress as a chapter, and not solely by its function in the whole. The Elizabethan drama generally has a profusion of minor forms.

7. Iinterrelation of forms. Progressive, repetitive, and conventional and minor forms necessarily overlap. A specific event in the plot will not be exclusively classifiable under one head--as it should not, since in so organic a thing as work of art we could not expect to find any principle functioning in isolation from the others. Should we call the aphoristic couplet of the age of Pope repetitive form or conventional form? A closing scene may be syllogistic in that its particular events mark the dramatic conclusion of the dramatic premises; qualitative in that it exemplifies some mood made desirable by the preceding matter; repetitive in that the characters once again proclaim their identity; conventional in that it has about it something categorically terminal, as a farewell or death; and minor or incidental in that it contains a speech displaying a structural rise, development,” and fall independently of its context. Perhaps the lines, in Othello, beginning “Soft you, a word or two before you go,” and ending “Seized by the throat the uncircumcised dog and smote him thus (stabs himself)” well exemplify the vigorous presence of all five aspects of form, as this suicide is the logical outcome of his predicament (syllogistic progression); it fits the general mood of gloomy forebodings which has fallen upon us (qualitative progression); the speech has about it that impetuosity and picturesqueness we have learned to associate with Othello (repetitive form); it is very decidedly a conclusion (conventional form), and in its development it is a tiny plot in itself (minor form). The close of the Odyssey [129] strongly combines syllogistic and qualitative progression. Ulysses’ vengeance upon the suitors is the logical outcome of their conduct during his absence--and by the time it occurs, the reader is so incensed with them that he exults vindictively in their destruction. In most cases, we can find some aspects of form predominant, with others tenuous to the point of imperceptibility. Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale” is a striking instance, of repetitive form; its successive stanzas take up various aspects of the mood, the status evanescentiae, almost as schematically as a lawyer’s brief; but of syllogistic form there is barely a trace.... As, in musical theory, one chord is capable of various analyses, so in literature the appeal of one event may be explained by various principles. The important thing is not to confine the explanation to one principle, but to formulate sufficient principles to make an explanation possible. However, though the five aspects of form can merge into one another, or can be present in varying degrees, no other terms should be required in an analysis of formal functionings.

8. Conflict of forms. If the various formal principles can intermingle, they can also conflict. An artist may create a character which, by the logic of the fiction, should be destroyed; but he may also have made this character so appealing that the audience wholly desires the character’s salvation. Here would be a conflict between syllogistic and qualitative progression. Or he may depict a wicked character who, if the plot is to work correctly, must suddenly “reform,” thereby violating repetitive form in the interests of syllogistic progression. To give a maximum sense of reality he may, like Stendhal, attempt to make sentences totally imperceptible as sentences, attempt to make the reader slip over them with no other feeling than their continuity (major progression here involving the atrophy of minor forms). Or conventional [130] form may interfere with repetitive form (as when the drama, in developing from feudal to bourgeois subjects, chose “humbler” themes and characters, yet long retained the ceremonial diction of the earlier dignified period); and conversely, if we today were to attempt regaining some of these” earlier ceremonial effects, by writing a play entirely in a ceremonial style, we should be using the appeal of repetitive form, but we should risk violating a contemporary canon of conventional form, since the non-ceremonial, the domestic” dialogue, is now categorically expected.

9. Rhythm, Rhyme. Rhythm and rhyme ‘being formal, their appeal is to be explained within the terms already given. Rhyme usually accentuates the repetitive. principle of art (in so far as one rhyme determines our expectation of another, and in so far as the rhyme-scheme in one stanza determines our expectation of its continuance in another). Its appeal is the appeal of progressive form in so far as the poet gets his effects by first establishing, and then altering, a rhyme-scheme. In the ballade, triolet, etc it can appeal as conventional form.

That verse rhythm can be largely explained as repetitive form is obvious, blank verse for instance being the constant recurrence of iambs with changing vowel and consonantal combinations (it is repetitive form in that it very distinctly sets up and gratifies a constancy of expectations; the reader “comes to rely” upon the rhythmic design after sufficient “coordinates of direction” have been received by him; the regularity of the design establishes conditions of response in the body, and the continuance of the design becomes an “obedience” to these same conditions). Rhythm appeals as conventional form in so far as specific awareness of the rhythmic pattern is involved in our enjoyment (as when the Sapphic meter is used in English, or when we turn from a [131] pentameter sonnet in English to a hexameter sonnet in French). It can sometimes be said to appeal by qualitative progression, as when the poet, having established a pronounced rhythmic pattern, introduces a variant. Such a variant appeals as qualitative progression to the extent that it provides a “relief from the monotony” of its regular surroundings, to the extent that its appeal depends upon the previous establishment of the constant out of which it arises. Rhythm can also appeal as minor form; a peculiarity of the rhythm, for instance, may strikingly reinforce an incidental image (as with the use of spondees when the poet is speaking of something heavy).

In the matter of prose rhythms, the nature of the expectancy is much vaguer. In general the rhythmic unit is larger and more complex than the individual metric foot, often being the group of “scrambled” syllables between two caesuras. Though the constants of prose rhythm permit a greater range of metric variation than verse rhythms (that is, though in prose much of the metric variability is felt as belonging to the constant rather than to the variation), a prose stylist does definitely restrict the rhythmic expectations of the reader, as anyone can readily observe by turning from a page of Sir Thomas Browne to a page of Carlyle. However, one must also recall Professor George Saintsbury’s distinction: “As the essence of verse--meter is its identity (at least in equivalence) and recurrence, so the essence of prose--rhythm lies in variety and divergence,”or again: “Variety of foot arrangement, without definite equivalence, appears to be as much the secret of prose rhythm as uniformity of value, with equivalence or without it, appears to be that of poetic meter:” The only thing that seems lacking in this distinction between verse rhythms and prose rhythms is a statement of some principle by which the variety in prose rhythms is guided. Perhaps the principle is a principle of logic. An intellectual [132] factor is more strongly involved in the appreciation of prose rhythm than of verse rhythm, as grammatical and ideational relationships figure prominently in the determination prose balances (a prose balance being the rhythmic differentiation of units which have an intellectual correspondence, parallelism or antithesis). Thus, to take from Sir Thomas Browne a typical “prose event” (we choose a very simple example from a writer who could afford us many complex ones): the series “pride, vain-glory, and madding vices” is made up of three units which are intellectually equivalent, but their ideational equality coexists with total syllabic asymmetry (the first a monosyllable, the second an amphibrach, the third dochmiac—or one, three, and five syllables, though, it is true that in verse scansion the words “and madding vices” would not ordinarily be considered as constituting, a

Single-foot). It is also worth noting, as an example of the “intellectual” rhythms in prose, that the third noun is accompanied by an adjective, the second has an adjective engrafted upon it, and the first stands alone; also, the third differs from the other two in number. To consider a slightly more complex example: “Even Scylla, / that thought himself safe in his urn, / could not prevent revenging tongues, / and stones thrown at his monument.” Here many complexities of asymmetric balance may, be noted: contrast between long subject and short verb; contrast between short verb and long object; the two grammatical components of the subject (noun and clause) are unequal in value, whereas the two main grammatical components of the object (“tongues” and “stones”) are equal in value; the modifier in the subject is a clause, whereas the modifiers of the object are participial adjectives; of these two participial adjectives, one (“revenging”) ‘is active, precedes its noun, and is of three syllables, but the other (“thrown”) is passive, follows its noun, and is monosyllabic; and whereas”revenging” is an unmodified modi [133] fier, “thrown” is accompanied by the phrase “at his monument.” We might further note that the interval from the beginning to the first caesura (“Even Scylla”) greatly contrasts in length with the interval between the first and second caesura (“that thought himself safe in his urn”). In two notable respects the third and fourth intervals are surely inferior as prose to the first two. Their iambic quality is concealed with difficulty; there is more than a hint of homoeotelcuton (“prevent”—“monument”) which is only suppressed by our placing the caesura at “tongues” and rigorously avoiding the slightest pause after “prevent” The placing of the caesura after “tongues’ however, has the further advantage of putting “tongues” and “stones” in different intervals, thus once more giving us the asymmetrical by rhythmically separating the logically joined. We do not imply that one consciously notes such a multitude of dissimilar balances, any more than one consciously notes the complexity of muscular tensions involved in walking—but as there is an undeniable complexity of muscular tensions involved in walking, so there is a multitude of dissimilar balances involved in expert prose. And we are trying to indicate that the rhythmic variations of prose are not haphazard, that their “planfulness” (conscious or unconscious) arises from the fact that the differentiations are based upon logical groupings. That is, by logically relating one part of a sentence to another part of the sentence, the prose writer is led to a formal differentiation of the two related parts (or sometimes, which is au fond the same thing, he is led to a pronounced parallelism in the treatment of the related parts). The logical grouping of one part with another serves as the guide to the formal treatment of both (as “planful” differentiation can arise only out of a sense of correspondence). The logical groupings upon which the rhythmic differentiations are based will differ with the individual, not only as to the ways in which 134] he, conceives a sentence’s relationships, but also as number--and much of the “individuality” in a particular prose style could be traced to the number and nature of the author’s logical groupings. Some writers, who seek “conversational” rather than “written” effects, apparently conceive of the sentence as a totality; they ignore its internal relationships almost entirely, preferring to make each sentence as homogeneous as a piece of string. By such avoidance of logical grouping they do undeniably obtain a simple fluency which, if one can delight in it sufficiently, makes every page of Johnson a mass of absurdities--but their sentences are, as sentences, uneventful. The “written” effects of prose seem to stress the progressive rather than the repetitive principle of form, since one part of the sentence is differentiated on the basis of another part (the formal identity of one part awakens in us a response whereby we can be pleased by a formal alteration in another part). But “conversational” rhythm, which is generally experienced “in the lump;” as a pervasive monotone rather than as a group of marked internal structures, is like—verse—more closely allied to the repetitive principle. The “conversational” is thus seen to fall halfway between verse rhythm and prose rhythm, sharing something of both but lacking the pronounced characteristics of either.

So much for prose rhythm regardless of its subject matter. We must also recognize the “secondary” aspect of rhythms whereby they can often be explained “at one remove.” Thus .a tumultuous character would constantly restate his identity by the use of tumultuous speech (repetitive form), and the rhythm, in so far as it became tumultuous out of sympathy, with its subject, would share the repetitive form of the subject. Similarly, it may be discussed as conventional or minor form (as when the author marshals his more aggressive images to mark an ending, and parallels this with a [135] kindred increase in the aggression of his rhythms). In a remote way, all such rhythmic effects may be described as a kind of “onomatopoetic parallelism” since their rhythmic identity would be explainable by the formal nature of the theme to which they are accommodated.

10. “Significant form.” Though admitting the onomatopoetic correspondence” between form and theme, we must question a quasi-mystical attempt to explain all formal quality as “onomatopoetic” (that is, as an adaptation of sound and rhythm to the peculiarities of the sense). In most cases we find formal designs or contrivances which impart emphasis regardless of their subject. Whatever the theme may be, they add saliency to this theme, the same design serving to make dismalness more dismal or gladness gladder.  Thus, if a poet is writing in a quick meter, he may stress one point in his imagery as well as another by the use of spondees; or he may gain emphasis by injecting a burst of tonal saliency, as the aggressive repetition of a certain vowel, into an otherwise harmonious context. In either case the emphasis is gained though there be no discernible onomatopoetic correspondence between the form and the theme (the formal saliency being merely a kind of subtler italics, a mechanism for placing emphasis wherever one chooses, or such “absolute” stressing as comes of pounding the table with one’s fist to emphasize either this remark or that). To realize that there is such absolute stressing, one has but to consider the great variety of emotions which can be intensified by climactic arrangement, such arrangement thus being a mere “coefficient of power” which can heighten the saliency of the emotion regardless of what emotion it may be.

As illustration, let us trace one formal contrivance through. a set of diverse effects, as it is used in Wilde, Wordsworth, and Racine, and as it appeared by chance in actual life. [136] Beginning with the last, we may recall a conversation between two children, a boy and a girl. The boy’s mind was one subject; the girl’s turned to many subjects, with the result that the two of them were talking at cross-purposes. Pointing to a field beyond the road, the boy asked: “Whose field is that?” The girl answered: “That is Mr. Murdock’s field “—and went on to tell how many children he had, when she had last seen these children, which of them she preferred, but the boy interrupted: “What, does he do with the field?” He usually plants the field in rye, she explained; why, only the other day he drove up with a wagon carrying a plough, one of his sons was with him, they left the wagon at the gate, the two of them unloaded the plough, they hitched the—but the boy interrupted severely: “Does the field go all the way over to the brook?” The conversation continued in this vein, always at cross-purposes, and growing increasingly humorous to eavesdroppers as its formal principle was inexorably continued. Note in Salome, however, this mechanism serving to produce a very different effect:

“SALOME: (to Iokanaan) ... Suffer me to kiss thy mouth.

“Iokanaan: Never! daughter of Babylon! Daughter Sodom! Never!

“ SALOME: I will kiss thy mouth, Iokanaan....

“THE YOUNG SYRIAN: ... Look not at this man, look not’, at him. I cannot endure it.... Princess, do not speak these things.

“SALOME: I will kiss thy mouth, Iokanaan”


And as the Young Syrian in despair slays himself and dead at her feet, she continues: “Suffer me, to kiss thy month, lokanaan.” [137] Turning now to Wordsworth’s “We Are Seven”:

“‘You say that two at Conway dwell,

And two are gone to sea,

Yet ye are seven. I pray you tell,

Sweet maid, how this may be.’


“Then did the little Maid reply,

‘Seven boys and girls are we;

Two of us in the churchyard lie,

Beneath the churchyard tree”’


The poet argues with her: there were seven in all, two are now dead—so it follows that there are only five. But when he has made his point,

    “‘How many are you, then, said I,

      ‘If they two are in heaven?’

      Quick was the little Maid’s reply,

      ‘O Master! we are seven”’


Humor, sournoiserie, sentiment we may now turn to Racine, where we find this talking at cross purposes employed to produce a very poignant tragic irony. Agamemnon has secretly arranged to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, on the altar; he is telling her so, but haltingly and cryptically, confessing and concealing at once; she does not grasp the meaning of his words but feels their ominousness. She has heard she says, that Calchas is planning a sacrifice to appease the gods. Agamemnon exclaims: Would that he could turn these gods from their outrageous demands (his words referring to the oracle which requires her death, as the audience knows, but Iphigenia does not). Will the offering take place soon? she asks Sooner than Agamemnon wishes.—Will [138] she be allowed to be present?--Alas! says Agamemnon,-You say no more, says lphigenia.—“You will be there, my daughter”—the conflict in meanings being heightened by. the fact that each of Agamemnon’s non sequitur rejoinders rhymes with lphigenia’s question:

“Iphigenie: Perisse le Troyen auteur de nos alarmes!

AGAMEMNON: Sa perte a » ses vainqueurs coutera bien des larmes.

Iphigenie: Les dieux deignent surtout prendre soin de vos jours!

AGAMEMNON: Les dieux depuis un temps me sont cruels et sourds.

Iphigenie: Calchas, dit on, prepare un pompeux sacrifice?

AGAMEMNON Puisse je auparavant flechir leur injustice!

Iphigenie: L’offrirat on bientot?

AGAMEMNON: Plus tot que je ne veux.

Iphigenie: Me serat il permis de me joindre a’ vos veux? Verrat on a’ I’autel votre heureuse famille?


Iphigenie: Vous vous taisez!

AGAMEMNON: Vous y serez, ma fille.


     Perhaps the line, “Hurry up please, it’s time,” in the public house scene of The Waste Land, as it is repeated and unanswered, could illustrate the use of this formal contrivance for still another effect.

[1] Similarly, the epigram of Racine is "pure art," because it usually serves to formulate or clarify some situation within the play itself. In Goethe the epigram is most often of independent validity, as in Die Wahlverwandtschaften, where the ideas of Ottilie's diary are obviously carried over bodily from the author's notebook. In Shakespeare we have the union of extrinsic and intrinsic epigram, the epigram growing out of its context and yet valuable independent of its context

[2] One might indicate still further appropriateness here. As Hamlet finishes his speech, Polonius enters, and Hamlet turns to him, "God bless you, sir!" Thus, the plot is continued (for Polonius is always the promise of action) and a full stop is avoided: the embarrassment laid upon Rosencranz and Guildenstern is not laid upon the audience.

[3] Yet modern music has gone far in the attempt to renounce this aspect of itself. Its dissonances become static, demanding no particular resolution. And whereas an unfinished modulation by a classic musician occasions positive dissatisfaction, the refusal to resolve a dissonance in modern music does not dissatisfy us, but irritates or stimulates. Thus, "energy" takes the place of style.

[4] Suspense is the least complex kind of anticipation the least complex kind of fulfillment.

[5] As another aspect of the same subject, I could cite many examples from the fairy tale. Consider, for instance, when the hero is to spend the night in a bewitched castle. Obviously, as darkness descends, weird adventures must befall him. His bed rides him through the castle; two halves of a man challenge him to a game of ninepins played with thighbones and skulls. Or entirely different incidents may serve instead of these. The quality comes first, the particularization follows.

[6] Could not the Greek public’s resistance to Euripides be accounted for in the fact that he, of the three great writers of Greek tragedy, betrayed his art, was guilty of aesthetic impiety, in that he paid more attention to the arousing of emotion per se than to the sublimation of emotion into eloquence?

[7] One of the most striking examples of the encroachment of scientific truth into art is the doctrine of "truth by distortion," whereby one aspect of an object is suppressed the better to emphasize some other aspect; this is, obviously, an attempt to indicate by art some fact of knowledge to make some implicit aspect of an object as explicit as one can by means of the comparatively dumb method of art (dumb, that is, as compared to the perfect case with which science can indicate its discoveries). Yet science has already made discoveries in the realm

of this "factual truth," this "truth by distortion" which must put shame an artist who relies on such matter for his effects. Consider, for instance the motion picture of a man vaulting. By photographing this process very rapidly, and running the reel very slowly, one has upon the screen the most striking set of factual truths to aid in our understanding of an athlete vaulting. Here, at our leisure, we can observe the contortions of four legs, a head and a butt. This squirming thing we saw upon the screen showed up an infinity of factual truths anent the balances of an athlete vaulting. We can, from this, observe the marvelous system of balancing which the body provides for itself in the adjustments of movement. Yet, so far as the aesthetic truth is concerned, this on the screen was not an athlete, but a squirming thing, a horror, displaying every fact of vaulting except the exhilaration of the act itself.

[8] The procedure of science involves the elimination of taste, employing as a substitute the corrective norm of the pragmatic test, the empirical experiment, which is entirely intellectual. Those who oppose the "intellectualism" of critics like Matthew Arnold are involved in an hilarious blunder for Arnold's entire approach to the appreciation of art is through delicacies of taste intensified to the extent almost of squeamishness.

[9] As for instance, the "conceit of Endyinion's awakening, when he forgets his own name, yet recalls that of his beloved