tension in poetry by allen tate seminar presented by haider jabr mihsin l.
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Tension in Poetry By Allen Tate Seminar Presented by: Haider Jabr Mihsin. Allen Tate . Allen Tate (1899- )is one of the youngest

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allen tate
Allen Tate

Allen Tate (1899- )is one of the youngest

New critics. He belongs to the Southern group of American critics. He is also a great poet . Tate opposes scienticism and distinguishes between scienticism and literary discourse . He gives importance to the formal qualities of a work of art . Reactionary Essays on Poetry , Ideas , and Reason in Madness are well known collections of Essays and reviews by Tate .

about the essay
About the Essay

Tension in poetry has been taken from Tate`s

The Man of Letters in the Modern World, Selected Essays . The essay deals with tension as the life of a poem . It reveals Tate`s view that a good poem is the one in which the extension and the intension are in a state of tension. In other words , a good poem has a combination of both extensive or denotative and intensive or connotative meanings .


The essay is divided into three parts . Part 1 deals with the fallacy of communication in poetry. Tate explains his point with some examples . Part II , Tate defines tension in poetry and explains its importance in poetry with a few examples . In part III, he gives his final example of the significance of tension in poetry .

fallacy of communication in poetry
Fallacy of Communication in Poetry
  • In the first part of the essay, Tate attacks the fallacy of communication in poetry. He also attack the companion fallacy of mere denotation in poetry. Richards remarks that mass language is the medium of communication. Its uses are less interested in bringing to formal order the effective state than in arousing it. Tate illustrates the point with some examples. The first example is “Justice Denied in Massachusetts”, a poem by Miss Millay. In the poem, how Massachusetts could cause a general desiccation is not made clear. The poem has mass language and it arouses an effective state the poem is praised by those who share the feelings with the poet. However, for those who do not share the feelings, the poem proves to be obscure. Here comes the fallacy of communication .

Another example of such obscurity is found in the poem “The Vine” by James Thomson. The language here appeals to an affective state. It does not have coherent meaning either literal or implied. The more closely one examines the lyric, the more obscure it becomes. The imagery does not add anything to the general idea of the poem .

  • The wine of love is music
  • And the feast of love is song
  • When love sits down to banquet

Love sits long

  • Sits long and rises drunken
  • But not with the feast and the wine
  • He reeleth with his own heart
  • That great rich Vine.

One more example is Cowley`s Hymn: To Light. This is a metaphysical poem and does not have any qualities in common Thomson`s The Vine.

  • Nor amidst all these Triumphs does thou scorn
  • The humble glow-worm to adorn,
  • And with those living spangle gild,
  • (O greatness without Pride)the Bushes of the Field.
  • Again:
  • The violet, spring little Infant, stands,
  • Girt in thy purple Swaddling – bands:
  • On the fair Tulip thou dost dote;
  • Thou cloathst it in a gay and party-colored Coat.

Of these poems, equally bad poetry is found in Thomson`s The Vine and Cowley`s Hymn: To Light. However, Cowley`s failure is more. The negative superiority of the poem lies in a firmer use of language . There is no appeal to an affective state . There are uncontrolled distortions. The poem lacks imagination or tension . The Vine is a failure in denotation, while Hymn: To Light is a failure in connotation .


Tate calls these poems absurd. This is because good poetry is a unity of all the meanings from the furthest extremes of intension and extension. The readers recognition of the action of this unified meaning is the gift of experience, culture and humanism . The powers of discrimination here are not deductive powers but total human powers . They have special application to poetry which is a single experience of medium . Thus certain kind of poetry suffers from the fallacy of communication .

definition of tension in poetry
Definition of Tension in Poetry
  • Tate has invented the term Tension by chopping off the prefixes “in” and “ex” from the two terms “intension” and “extension”. Here, extension refers to extensive or logical or denotative meaning in poetry . On the other hand, “intension” refers to the intensive or connotative or suggestive meaning of poetry . A successful poem is the one in which these two meanings are in a state of tension. Tate calls tension is the life of the poem .

Tate says that the meanings selected by the readers along the line between the extremes of intensive and extensive vary according to the personal interest. The Platonist will tend to stay very close to the extension end .he might decide that Marvell`s To His Coy Mistress recommends immoral behavior to young men. It would of course, one true meaning of the poem . However, the full tension of the poem will not allow the readers to entertain it exclusively . The poem has the intensive meaning too. These meaning are sensuality (extensive ) and asceticism or spirituality (intensive) .


Then Tate gives an other example of Donne`s love lyric A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning. He quotes the lines which contain the gold conceit. Here, the souls of the lovers and their unity is compared with uniqueness of gold. The not spatial soul is contradicted with a spatial image (gold). However, the denotation of the gold contains the full meaning of the passage . Extension and intension are one here . And they enrich each other .