© 2019

Difficulty in Poetry

A Stylistic Model


Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xvi
  2. Davide Castiglione
    Pages 1-9
  3. Theorising Poetic Difficulty

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 11-11
    2. Davide Castiglione
      Pages 13-64
    3. Davide Castiglione
      Pages 95-166
  4. Analysing Poetic Difficulty

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 167-167
    2. Davide Castiglione
      Pages 169-196
    3. Davide Castiglione
      Pages 197-221
    4. Davide Castiglione
      Pages 223-278
    5. Davide Castiglione
      Pages 279-336
    6. Davide Castiglione
      Pages 337-365
  5. Back Matter
    Pages 367-386

About this book


This book theoretically defines and linguistically analyses the popular notion that poetry is ‘difficult’ - hard to read, hard to understand, hard to engage with. It is the first work to offer a stylistic and cognitive model that sheds new light on the mechanisms of difficulty, as well as on its range of potential effects. Its eight chapters are organised into two thematic parts. The first traces the history of difficulty, surveys its main scholarly traditions, addresses related themes – from elitism to obscurity, from abstraction to intentionality – and introduces a wide array of analytical tools from literary theory and cognitive psychology. These tools are then consistently applied in the second part, which includes several extended analyses of poems by canonical modernists such as Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens and Hart Crane, alongside those of postmodernist innovators such as Geoffrey Hill, Susan Howe and Charles Bernstein, among others. This innovative work will provide fresh insights and approaches for scholars of stylistics, literary studies, cognitive poetics and psychology. 


stylistics of poetry cognitive poetics 21st century Anglo-American poetry modernist poetry postmodernist poems linguistic indicators of difficulty relevance theory Language processing literary comprehension literary communication pragmatics elitism obscurity Pluralism intentionality abstraction philosophy of language

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Department of English PhilologyVilnius UniversityVilniusLithuania

About the authors

Davide Castiglione is a lecturer in the Department of English Philology at Vilnius University, Lithuania. Author of two poetry collections, and a specialist in the poetics and stylistics of poetry, his research has been published in the Journal of Literary Semantics and in Language and Literature.

Bibliographic information


“Castiglione’s work is a triumph of clarity and rigour in a field all too often plagued by vagueness. His comprehensive account of prior approaches to poetic difficulty is both respectful and critical. He then demonstrates, via experiments and clear exposition, how we can investigate a complex literary phenomenon such as poetic difficulty without sacrificing scientific standards.” (Lesley Jeffries, Professor of English Language and Linguistics, University of Huddersfield, UK)