Cambridge students rated famous poets lower than the unknown ones in a blind test

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John F
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Re: Cambridge students rated famous poets lower than the unknown ones in a blind test

Post by John F » Sun Apr 23, 2017 2:14 am

That's very old news. I.A. Richards's "Practical Criticism" is nearly a century old and reflects the perceptions and tastes of English college undergraduates in Richards's courses in literature, mostly English majors but others not, many generations ago. But the book still has much to teach us about how to read poetry and how not to read it, as distinct from straightforward expository prose.

One of Richards's telling examples is D.H. Lawrence's short poem "Piano." Here it is:

Piano
By D. H. Lawrence

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

Many of Richards's students thought the poem sentimental, a celebration of those Sunday evenings of hymn-singing in the "cosy parlour," and disapproved of it. But that's not so - to the contrary. They were ignoring the unmistakable signs that the speaker's response is involuntary and unwanted: "insidious mastery," "betrays," "in spite of myself," and "my manhood is cast down." Far from being sentimental, the speaker or persona in the poem (maybe Lawrence, maybe not) deplores the sentimental feelings that have been involuntarily and irrelevantly evoked in him. In short, most of the students misread the poem.

The thing is, Richards chose this and other poems in his experiment because a careless or naïve reading was very likely to cause just such misunderstanding. Often the student responses merely reflected whether they liked what the poem was saying, without considering the attitude of the poem's persona. Richards concludes, "The most impressive and disturbing fact brought out by this experiment is that a large proportion of average-to-good (and in some cases, certainly, devoted) readers of poetry frequently and repeatedly fail to understand it... They fail to make out its prose sense, its plain, overt meaning, as a set of ordinary, intelligible English sentences, taken quite apart from any further poetic significance. And equally they misapprehend its feeling, its tone, and its intention." This is only the first of many failings which Richards's experiment brought into the open. I doubt whether 21st-century readers read poetry much better.

Of course Simkin doesn't care about all that. He develops a cockamamie "mathematical theory of fame" which is irrelevant to Richards's experiment and the responses of his students, and also to the literary merit or otherwise of the poems Richards put before them. For example, G.A. Studdert Kennedy was very famous indeed in the 1920s, though all but forgotten today and rightly so; he was an army chaplain ("padre") during World War I noted for religious poems in flagrant imitation of Rudyard Kipling's "Barrack-Room Ballads" ("rough rhymes"). To a present-day reader, the students' approval must be baffling.

Richards says his tabulations of the students' votes (the first 3 columns in Simkin's table don't say much: "No reliance should be placed in them and they are intended only as an indication of the voting. In any case, since the reasons for liking and disliking the poems are so various, no numerical estimate could have much significance." Even less so today! Yet Simkin appears to believe they are highly significant; he observes that "the fame [of the poet] decreases as the rating increases." But the rating is as of ca. 1925 and the fame is as of ca. 2017. If any conclusion can be drawn, it has to be that tastes have changed. Which isn't in the least surprising.

For those who would like to read "Practical Criticism," it's available for free download here:

https://archive.org/details/practicalcritici030142mbp
John Francis

jserraglio
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Re: Cambridge students rated famous poets lower than the unknown ones in a blind test

Post by jserraglio » Sun Apr 23, 2017 7:21 am

Controversial? could be. Cockamamie? probably not. Simkin's question fascinates: How are blind approval ratings related to measures of fame?
https://www.technologyreview.com/s/4242 ... tract-art/ Abstract artists are only 4 per cent better than child artists, according to a controversial new way of evaluating paintings
https://arxiv.org/abs/1106.1915 Hawley-Dolan and Winner had asked the art students to compare paintings by abstract artists with paintings made by a child or by an animal. In 67% of the cases, art students said that the painting by a renowned artist is better. I compare this with the winning probability of the chessplayers of different ratings. I conclude that the great artists score on the level of class D amateurs.
BTW, aren't the author of the article and the poster one-and-the-same?

John F
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Re: Cambridge students rated famous poets lower than the unknown ones in a blind test

Post by John F » Sun Apr 23, 2017 9:07 am

Of course they are. Simkin has been singing variations on this song for years, though heaven knows why he thinks the Classical Music Guide is the right place to sing it. He's certainly received no encouragement here.

You may find it interesting or even controversial "how blind approval ratings relate to measures of fame," but there's really nothing controversial about it. We know very well that fame and quality are no guarantees of each other, or else Patricia Neal would have been the most famous film actress of the '50s and Marilyn Monroe an unknown. And if the question were interesting, I've just shown conclusively that Simkin's cockamamie approach (I say it again) can't possibly answer it. The number of hits in Google this week is no measure of a poet's fame at the time of Richards's experiment, as I've already said, and whether people in 1925 approved of certain poems is no measure of how much they would do so today, as I've also said. Citing an article about abstract art is even less relevant to questions about non-abstract poems in English.
John Francis

jserraglio
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Re: Cambridge students rated famous poets lower than the unknown ones in a blind test

Post by jserraglio » Sun Apr 23, 2017 9:30 am

John F wrote:
Sun Apr 23, 2017 9:07 am
Simkin has been singing variations on this song for years, though heaven knows why he thinks the Classical Music Guide is the right place to sing it. He's certainly received no encouragement here.
Whoever a poster may be, he deserves better than to be answered in a highhanded tone. Heaven only knows why you think the Classical Music Guide is the right place to adopt it.

Simkin
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Re: Cambridge students rated famous poets lower than the unknown ones in a blind test

Post by Simkin » Tue Apr 25, 2017 12:45 am

jserraglio wrote:
Sun Apr 23, 2017 9:30 am
Whoever a poster may be, he deserves better than to be answered in a highhanded tone. Heaven only knows why you think the Classical Music Guide is the right place to adopt it.
In this article you can find a dismissive review of a poor piano performance written in a highhanded tone. Then a laudatory review by the same critic of a great performance. The only problem is that it is the same recording released under different names.

Simkin
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Re: Cambridge students rated famous poets lower than the unknown ones in a blind test

Post by Simkin » Thu May 18, 2017 2:03 pm

John F wrote:
Sun Apr 23, 2017 2:14 am
That's very old news.
A suppressed one. Here is what Wikipedia says about the experiment
As an instructor of English literature at Cambridge University, Richards tested the critical-thinking abilities of his pupils; he removed authorial and contextual information from thirteen poems, one by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807– 82), and assigned the literary interpretations to undergraduate students in order to ascertain the likely impediments to an adequate response to a literary text. That experiment in pedagogical approach — critical reading without contexts — demonstrated the variety and the depth of the possible textual misreadings that might be committed, by university student and layman reader alike.
John F wrote:
Sun Apr 23, 2017 2:14 am
For example, G.A. Studdert Kennedy was very famous indeed in the 1920s, though all but forgotten today and rightly so; he was an army chaplain ("padre") during World War I noted for religious poems in flagrant imitation of Rudyard Kipling's "Barrack-Room Ballads" ("rough rhymes"). To a present-day reader, the students' approval must be baffling.
Not sure what to make out of it. You disdain warriors? There have been many more warriors in Cambridge in those days than today. This may explain higher ratings.

John F
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Re: Cambridge students rated famous poets lower than the unknown ones in a blind test

Post by John F » Thu May 18, 2017 2:53 pm

simkin wrote:You disdain warriors? There have been many more warriors in Cambridge in those days than today. This may explain higher ratings.
Where did you get that idea? I don't "disdain warriors," I served in the U.S. Army for four years, all of them overseas. As for the undergraduate population at Cambridge University in 1925, the Great War had ended six years earlier and it's a safe inference that very few of the students were past or present military men, though their fathers may have been.

Besides which, it's quite irrelevant. Richards was not testing his students' patriotism or social attitudes but their ability to judge the quality of certain poems or even to understand their plain prose meaning. In general, they failed the test, and their approval of Studdert Kennedy's doggerel compared with Lawrence's now classic poem is a good case in point.
John Francis

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Re: Cambridge students rated famous poets lower than the unknown ones in a blind test

Post by Simkin » Sat May 20, 2017 3:55 pm

John F wrote:
Thu May 18, 2017 2:53 pm
I served in the U.S. Army for four years, all of them overseas.
Probably as a dentist or something.
John F wrote:
Thu May 18, 2017 2:53 pm
As for the undergraduate population at Cambridge University in 1925, the Great War had ended six years earlier and it's a safe inference that very few of the students were past or present military men, though their fathers may have been.
I was talking about members of warrior class.
John F wrote:
Thu May 18, 2017 2:53 pm
Besides which, it's quite irrelevant. Richards was not testing his students' patriotism or social attitudes but their ability to judge the quality of certain poems
When people don't like somebody for his views they can slander the quality of his poems just for that.

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