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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(1) The totality of artistic, aesthetic, and stylistic qualities that determine the uniqueness of a particular literary phenomenon (or more rarely, a cinematic or dramatic work), its internal structure, and the specific system of its components and their interrelationship. For example, in this sense, one may refer to the poetics of motion pictures, the drama, or the novel; the poetics of romanticism; the poetics of A. S. Pushkin; or the poetics of L. N. Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

(2) One of the disciplines of literary theory and criticism. In this sense, poetics includes not only the study of the common, persistent elements whose interrelationship gives rise to creative literature, literary genres, and individual literary works but also the definition of the laws governing the interlocking and evolution of these elements and the general structural and typological patterns of the development of literature as a system. Poetics also includes the description and classification of historically persistent literary forms and formations and the discovery of the laws of their historical functioning and evolution. (For example, poetics studies lyric poetry, drama, the novel, and the fable—forms that developed in the course of many periods that differed in their social and cultural and historical backgrounds.)

As a discipline of literary theory and criticism, poetics covers a broad range of problems, from questions of literary language and style to questions of the specific laws of the structure and development of literary types and genres, as well as problems in the development of literature as a whole. Thus, on the one hand, poetics touches directly on stylistics and the study of verse, which are considered subdivisions of poetics by a number of theorists. On the other hand, poetics is closely related to aesthetics and literary theory, which provide it with basic principles and a methodological foundation. Poetics depends on continual interaction with the history of literature and with literary criticism, which provide it with data and receive from it theoretical criteria and guidelines for the classification and analysis of works, as well as for the definition of their links with tradition, their originality, and their artistic value.

Poetics may be subdivided into general poetics, which deals with common patterns and elements in literature as a whole, and specialized poetics, which concentrates on a specific genre, writer, or work. General poetics has a theoretical branch (the study of literature as a system, its elements, and their interconnections) and a historical branch (the study of the development and succession of literary forms). To some extent, the division of poetics into theoretical (synchronic) and historical (dia-chronic) branches is artificial. All poetical forms are the product of historical evolution and are therefore changeable and mobile, although their changeability varies. At some levels of literary development there may be quantitative changes, and at other levels, substantive transformations. However, the usefulness of the division of poetics into theoretical and historical branches depends on the subject, and from a scholarly point of view, the division is justified.

As a result of the development of a variety of specialized fields of poetics, as well as general poetics, descriptive (or descriptive functional) poetics has sometimes been treated as a special field in recent decades. Its aim is the detailed description of a particular aspect of the structure of a literary work and the construction of a simplified, “formalized” blueprint of a work or a theoretical “model” of a literary genre. However, some literary theorists and critics (most often the structuralists) forget that blueprints and models do not provide an adequate conception of the work as a whole, living organism.

It is possible to make a provisional distinction between “mac-ropoetics” and “micropoetics.” Macropoetics deals with concepts of literature as a system, with categories of type and genre, and with ideas about the composition of a narrative or dramatic work (especially the larger forms—novels and plays). Micropoetics studies the elements of literary language and verse, including the expressive meaning of a particular choice of words or the meaning of the grammatical structure of a sentence, the role of symmetry, the musical element, and artistic repetitions as a rhythm-forming factor in the structure of verse and prose. It also studies the “minor” and even “miniature” phenomena of literary form, which are especially important in analyzing verse genres and lyrical prose.

Western Europe. Historically, poetics is the oldest field of literary theory and criticism. In the course of their development, almost all of the national literatures (folklores) established their own “poetics” during antiquity and the Middle Ages. At this stage, poetics was a compilation of the traditional “rules” of versification, a “catalog” of the images, metaphors, genres, poetical forms, and means of developing a theme that had been favored by the masters and their successors. Thus, poetics constituted a “memory” of the national literature that transmitted artistic experience, as well as a textbook of instructions for future generations of young poets or bards. All systems of poetics were normative, orienting the reader toward following established poetical norms, or poetical canons, sanctified by centuries of tradition. Of the European treatises that have survived, Aristotle’s Poetics (fourth century B.C.) is the first attempt at a systematic poetics that differs substantially from the normative poetics that were common in both previous and succeeding periods. Rejecting the tendency toward naïvely following tradition, Aristotle attempted to arrive at a critical understanding of the development of ancient Greek literature, particularly the epos and the tragedy, by defining the common and persistent elements in various genres, the unique character of each genre, and the internal structural principles of literary types and categories. Aristotle emphasized that the principle of depiction (Greek, mimesis, “imitation”) underlies the relationship of all the arts to reality, which is refracted differently by each art form, depending on the specific character of its artistic language. Aristotle was the first to provide a theoretical definition of the three basic literary genres (the epos, lyric poetry, and drama) and to establish the concept of the literary plot. His classification of tropes (metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche) is still of importance, as is his definition of a number of other resources of poetic speech.

In contrast to Aristotle’s poetics, Horace’s treatise in verse, The Art of Poetry (Ars Poetica), is a classic example of normative poetics. Horace intended to direct Roman literature to new approaches that might help it to overcome patriarchal traditions and become a “grand style.” Thus, his treatise, like Aristotle’s, gained importance throughout Europe during the Renaissance and, to an even greater degree, in the 17th and 18th centuries. Both classical treatises directly influenced the authors of the first European normative treatises on poetics, from J. C. Scaliger (1561) to N. Boileau, whose treatise in verse, The Art of Poetry (1674), became the poetical canon of classicism.

Until the 18th century, poetics dealt primarily with the verse genres, and only the “high” ones. Of the prose genres, poetics focused on high oratory, for the study of which the specialized discipline of rhetoric developed. Although it accumulated a great deal of information for the classification and description of many phenomena of literary language, rhetoric adopted a normative, dogmatic approach that relied on analogies.

The first attempts at a theoretical analysis of the character of literary prose genres (the novel, for example) were not associated with the formal discipline of poetics. In their struggle with classicism, Enlightenment thinkers such as G. E. Lessing and D. Diderot made the first attack on the dogmatism of traditional poetics. Of even greater significance was the penetration of poetics by historical ideas associated in the West with G. Vico and J. G. von Herder, who asserted the idea of the interrelationship of the developmental laws of language, folklore, and literature— laws that are historically changeable as human society develops and as its material and intellectual culture evolves. Herder, Goethe, and later, the romantics expanded poetics to include folklore and the prose genres, laying the foundation for a broad understanding of poetics as a philosophical doctrine of the universal forms of the evolution and development of poetry and literature. This doctrine was systematized by Hegel on the basis of the idealist dialectic in the third volume of his Lectures on Aesthetics (1838).

In the West, Hegel’s dialectical, idealist, philosophical aesthetics gave way in the second half of the 19th century to positivism (W. Scherer), and in the 20th century to numerous schools of poetics, including “psychological,” formalist (O. Wal-zel), existential (E. Staiger), “psycho-analytical,” ritual mythological, and structural poetics (R. Jakobson and R. Barthes). All of these schools of poetics accumulated a considerable number of observations and fragmentary ideas. However, as a result of their metaphysical and, in many cases, antihistorical methodology, they did not provide a fundamentally correct solution to basic problems. They subordinated poetics to conclusions that were one-sided from a theoretical standpoint and, especially in the 20th century, to the practice of narrow, and in some cases, modernistic literary schools and trends.

Russia and the USSR. The oldest extant poetics treatise known in ancient Rus’ is the essay “About Images,” by the Byzantine writer Georgios Choiroboscos. It is part of the Izbor-niki Sviatoslava (1073), a collection of manuscripts. In the late 17th and early 18th centuries a number of school “poetics” (piitikt) for the study of poetry and rhetoric appeared in Russia and the Ukraine (for example, F. Prokopovich’s De arte poetica, 1705; published in Latin, 1786). In the 18th century, M. V. Lomonosov and V. K. Trediakovskii played a major role in the development of scholarly poetics in Russia, as did A. Kh. Vos-tokov in the early 19th century. Of great value for poetics are critical essays on literature by A. S. Pushkin, N. V. Gogol, I. S. Turgenev, F. M. Dostoevsky, L. N. Tolstoy, A. P. Chekhov, and other classical writers, as well as the theoretical ideas of N. I. Nadezhdin, V. G. Belinskii (The Division of Poetry Into Types and Categories, 1841), and N. A. Dobroliubov. These writers laid the foundation for the emergence of poetics as a special scholarly discipline in Russia in the second half of the 19th century, under the leadership of A. A. Potebnia and A. N. Veselovskii, the founder of historical poetics.

After the October Revolution of 1917 a number of questions in poetics, especially problems of versification, poetic language, and plot development, were intensively studied on a formalistic basis by the Society for the Study of the Theory of Poetic Language (OPOIaZ) and on a linguistic basis by V. V. Vinogradov. Psychological poetics, which was based on Potebnia’s work, was developed by A. I. Beletskii. Other schools developed under the leadership of V. M. Zhirmunskii and M. M. Bakhtin.

In their struggle with the “formalist method” in the 1920’s and 1930’s, Marxist theorists such as V. M. Friche frequently set the goal of creating a “sociological poetics.” The necessary prerequisites for the further development of poetics within Marxism were created by the elaboration of the aesthetic legacy of K. Marx and V. I. Lenin in the 1930’s and in the 1960’s through 1970’s, as well as by the elaboration of the philosophical principles of the theory of reflection and the development of the Marxist doctrine of the relationship between content and form. The works and aesthetic judgments of Soviet writers, including Gorky and Mayakovsky, gave a strong impetus to the further development of Marxist poetics. The philosophical and aesthetic ideas of Marxism are serving as the basis for working out the problems of poetics in a number of other socialist countries (Bulgaria, Hungary, the German Democratic Republic, and Poland).

The range of problems covered by contemporary poetics has expanded, owing to the growing complexity of the internal structure of literature in the 20th century, the advent of numerous “nontraditional” forms and techniques, and the entrance into the mainstream of human culture of the literatures of various peoples, countries, and periods with dissimilar cultural and historical traditions. Topical problems include the relationship between the author’s viewpoint and the perspective of particular characters, the image of the narrator, and the analysis of artistic time and space. Other trends in contemporary Soviet poetics include the study of the internal patterns and principles of different literary systems (D. S. Likhachev, N. I. Konrad); the poetics of literary genres, methods, and schools; the poetics of contemporary literature; and the poetics of composition, of literary language and verse, and of particular literary works. Scholars who are trying to use semiotic and structural methods represent a distinctive trend in Soviet poetics.


Aristotle. Ob iskusstve poezii. Moscow, 1957.
Horace. “Poslanie k Pizonam.” Poln. sobr. sock Moscow-Leningrad, 1936.
Boileau, N. Poeticheskoe iskusstvo. Moscow, 1957.
Hegel. Estetika, vol. 3. Moscow, 1971. Chapter 3.
Belinskii, V. G. Razdelenie poezii na rody i vidy. Poln. sobr. soch, vol. 5. Moscow-Leningrad, 1954.
Veselovskii, A. N. Istoricheskaia poetika. Leningrad, 1940.
Potebnia, A. A. Estetika i poetika. Moscow, 1976.
Zhirmunskii, V. M. Voprosy teorii literatury. Leningrad, 1928.
Tynianov, lu. M. Problema stikhotvornogo iazyka. Moscow, 1965.
Tomashevskii, B. V. Teoriia literatury: Poetika, 6th ed. Moscow-Leningrad, 1931.
Shklovskii, B. V. Khudozhestvennaia proza: Razmyshleniia i razbory. Moscow, 1961.
Khrapchenko, M. B. “O razrabotke poetiki i stilistiki.” Izv. AN SSR: Otdelenie literatury i iazyka, 1961, vol. 20, issue 5.
Teoriia literatury [vols. 1–3]. Moscow, 1962–65.
Bakhtin, M. M. Problemy poetiki Dostoevskogo, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1972.
Vinogradov, V. V. Stilistika, teoriia poeticheskoi rechi, poetika. Moscow, 1963.
Likhachev, D. S. Poetika drevnerusskoi literatury, 2nd ed. Leningrad, 1971.
Lotman, lu. M. Struktura khudozhestvennogo teksta. Moscow, 1970.
Fridlender, G. M. Poetika russkogo realizma. Leningrad, 1971.
Issledovaniia po poetike i stilistike. Leningrad, 1972.
Scherer, W. Poetik. Berlin, 1888.
Kayser, W. Das sprachliche Kunstwerk, 12th ed. Bern-Munich, 1967.
Staiger, E. Grundbegriffe der Poetik, 8th ed. Zü rich, 1968.
Wellek, R., and A. Warren. Theory of Literature, 3rd ed., New York, 1963.
Poetics: Poetika. Warsaw-Paris-The Hague, 1961.
Jakobson, R. Questions de poétique. Paris, 1973.
Markwardt, B. Geschichte der deutschen Poetik, vols. 1–5. Berlin-Leipzig, 1937–67.
Poetica. Munich, 1967—.
Poetics. The Hague-Paris, 1971—.
La Poétique. Paris, 1970—.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
Thus, although in a very cursory and imperfect manner, I have endeavored to convey to you my conception of the Poetic Principle.
Recencies Series: Research and Recovery in Twentieth-Century American Poetics
The Transmutation of Love and Avant-Garde Poetics. Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alaba ma Press.
Johnson, Kimberly, Made Flesh: Sacrament and Poetics in Post-Reformation England, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014; cloth; pp.
William Baker's paper applies cognitive poetics to a reading of Harold Pinter's poetry, and by focusing on "meaning, affect, perceived qualities, and versification," he discusses the difference between traditional scansion of metre, sound and rhythm, and different modes of hearing speech sounds and their thematic meaning.
According to The Routledge Dictionary of Literary Terms, in modern usage poetics refers to "the general theory of literature" (Childs and Fowler 179) and its purpose is to identify the literariness or the "essence" of literature.
Sounding/Silence: Martin Heidegger and the Limits of Poetics. New York: Fordham University Press, 2013.
The Transfer and Circulation of Modern Poetics across the Atlantic.
Award-nominated author Neal McLeod (who grew up Cree on the James Smith Reserve in Saskatchewan and teaches indigenous studies at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario) edits Indigenous Poetics in Canada, an intensely scholarly anthology of essays by a diversity of experts in indigenous literature.
Musica naturalis; speculative music theory and poetics, from Saint Augustine to the late Middle Ages in France.
In other words, class becomes a lively space for conversation about poetics, about our lived practices in the natural world and in human community, and about our play and our beliefs.