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The Art of Poetry

How to Read a Poem

Shira Wolosky

Publication Date - September 2008

ISBN: 9780195371185

248 pages
5 1/2 X 8 1/4 inches

In Stock

A highly accessible and comprehensive introduction to the fundamentals of poetry


In The Art of Poetry, Shira Wolosky provides a dazzling introduction to an art whose emphasis on verbal music, wordplay, and dodging the merely literal makes it at once the most beguiling and most challenging of literary forms.

A uniquely comprehensive, step-by-step introduction to poetic form, The Art of Poetry moves progressively from smaller units such as the word, line, and image, to larger features such as verse forms and voice. In fourteen engaging, beautifully written chapters, Wolosky explores in depth how poetry does what it does while offering brilliant readings of some of the finest lyric poetry in the English and American traditions. Both readers new to poetry and poetry veterans will be moved and enlightened as Wolosky interprets work by William Shakespeare, John Donne, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, and others. The book includes a superb two-chapter discussion of the sonnet's form and history, and represents the first poetry guide to introduce gender as a basic element of analysis.

In contrast to many existing guides, which focus on selected formal aspects like metrics or present definitions and examples in a handbook format, The Art of Poetry covers the full landscape of poetry's subtle art while showing readers how to comprehend a poetic text in all its dimensions. Other special features include Wolosky's consideration of historical background for the developments she discusses, and the way her book is designed to acquaint or reacquaint readers with the core of the lyric tradition in English.

Lively, accessible, and original, The Art of Poetry will be a rich source of inspiration for students, general readers, and those who teach poetry.


  • A highly accessible and comprehensive introduction to the fundamentals of poetry

About the Author(s)

Shira Wolosky is Professor of English and American Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


"The project itself is both coherent and concise, relying on close readings of short, post-medieval poems...to introduce concepts of diction, syntax, metre, and rhyme. At its best, the book shows that clarity of discussion need not sell short depth of analysis, or complexity of awareness, and it is an excellent starting-point for any serious consideration of form in poetry, of what poetry does to language and what language is always ready to do to poetry."--Peter McDonald, Poetry Review

"The Art of Poetry is both a superb technical manual and an authentic guide to the art of reading poetry. With brilliance and extraordinary lucidity, Wolosky illuminates such essential matters as metaphor, poetic voice, and the crucial relation of rhetoric to poetic meaning. I cannot imagine a more useful and distinguished book of this kind." --Harold Bloom, Yale University

"Wolosky has written the best basic treatment I know of the art of poetry. Wolosky structures the book brilliantly, and makes the process of learning about textual virtuosity and semantic complexity a joy. She builds her explications from the ground up (or from the surface down), always with attention to what it means to make a student get into a poem step by step. I have learned a great deal from this work, though I've been teaching poetry for twenty years. This is a genuinely important book, and I predict it will become in short time a standard text for teaching poetry."--Sacvan Bercovitch, Harvard University

"Here is a generous Art of Poetry for the modern English-speaking world. How tellingly Shira Wolosky moves from matters of taxonomy to those of technique, from the rudiments of poetic form to the resonance of poetic voice and point of view--from praxis to theory and back, from literary history to the experience of the literature itself. For at every step the author supports her claims with readings of individuals poems that are close and adept, eloquent and acute. This book is a welcome gift, an arresting vade mecum for student and teacher, reader and writer alike."--Robert Fagles, Princeton University

"Shira Wolosky's comprehensive and lucid practical introduction to what makes poems poetic also provides a sophisticated and informative look at theoretical poetics in all its aspects. Its annotated bibliography alone will give interested readers of all sorts a good sense of what scholars, critics, and linguists have had to say about poetry during the twentieth century. It is rare that an elementary study can also be as useful for advanced students and teachers of poetry as this well-worked-out exposition, clearly written and free of pseudotheoretical jargon."-- John Hollander, Yale University

Table of Contents

    1. Word Choice
    2. Syntax and the Poetic Line
    3. Images: Simile and Metaphor
    4. Metaphor and the Sonnet
    5. The Sonnet
    6. Poetic Conventions
    7. More Verse Forms
    8. Personification
    9. Poetic Voice
    10. Gender and Poetic Voice
    11. Poetic Rhythm: Metric
    12. Poetic Rhythm: Sound and Rhyme
    13. Rhetoric: More Tropes
    14. Incomplete Figures and the Art of Reading
    Bibliographical Backgrounds
    Index of Poems
    Index of Poets
    Index of Terms and Topics