Dealing with poetry is frequently problematic for the university teacher and student: although undergraduates are usually responsive to discussions about drama and prose, poetry often silences the classroom. Unless a poem provides references easily applicable to their own lives, many students feel they can’t relate to the piece and are stymied. In particular, allegorical poetry produces tensions among the desire to find the meanings of the poet’s symbolism, the fear of voicing a "wrong" interpretation, and a natural objection to perceived restrictions on interpretive freedom.
Poetry, Symbol, and Allegory eases that dilemma by providing a historical overview of theories of interpretation as they apply to symbol and allegory in poetry, thereby reclaiming valuable and useful methods of analyzing poems. Beginning with Plato and Aristotle, Simon Brittan moves from classical theory to the lesser-known medieval exegetical theories of such notables as Augustine, Aquinas, and Origen; addresses theory pertaining to Renaissance Italy and Dante, English theory of the Middle Ages, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the Romantic period; and concludes by weighing the poetry of T. E. Hulme, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound on the larger historical scale of literary theory. By acknowledging interpretive theories of the past, Brittan provides a proper historical frame of reference in which today’s student can better understand figurative language in poetry.