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December 1, 1961

Poet and critic I. A. Richards, professor of English at Harvard University and influential proponent of in the “New Criticism,” read from and commented on his own poetry. A former lecturer in English and moral sciences at his Alma Mater, Magdalene College at Cambridge, Richards had early on advocated a “practical criticism” based on semantics and unannotated “close reading” of texts, grounded in such works as The Meaning of Meaning (1923; with C. K. Ogden), Principles of Literary Criticism (1924) and Practical Criticism (1929). He had spoken twice before at Vassar, comparing, in 1941, passages from Dryden’s “To the Pious Memory of the accomplished young Lady, Mistress Anne Killigrew” and “An Anatomy of the World, the First Anniversary,” by John Donne and answering the question, “What is general education?” in 1947 by describing his course at Harvard based solely on the Iliad, certain books of the Old Testament and the philosophy and writings of Plato.

Turning to the writing of poetry in the last decades of his life, Richards’s prompted a writer in The Miscellany News to approach his reading with caution. “When a critic and teacher as influential as Dr. Richards,” she wrote, “publishes his own poetry for the first time quite late in life there is bound to be a great deal of interest in seeing how he has ‘practiced what he preached.’” The event, however, held no discord. “His reading,” she observed, “was highly personal, and his comments witty, so that from the beginning the audience had a sense of informality which seems to be so helpful when poetry is read, since appreciatioin can involve a personal understanging as well as a grasp of what is said…. Dr. Richards indicated at the end of his reading that his theme had been ‘personal identity.’ He described poetry as a ‘spirit-calming ceremony’ which operates in the ‘silences’ of a poem.”

The Miscllany News

The Years