Sunday Book-Thought 107

Judging a poem is like judging a pudding or a machine. One demands that it work. It is only because an artifact works that we infer the intention of an artificer. ‘A poem should not mean but be.’ A poem can be only through its meaning – since its medium is words – yet it is, simply is, in the sense that we have no excuse for inquiring what part is intended or meant. Poetry is a feat of style by which a complex of meaning is handled all at once. Poetry succeeds because all or most of what is said or implied is relevant; what is irrelevant has been excluded, like lumps from pudding and ‘bugs’ from machinery. In this respect poetry differs from practical messages, which are successful if and only if we correctly infer the intention. They are more abstract than poetry.
W. K. Wimsatt, Jr. and M. C. Beardsley, ‘The Intentional Fallacy’, The Sewanee Review, 54.3 (1946), pp. 468-488 (pp. 469-470).

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