Revisiting Close Reading

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  • Title: Revisiting Close Reading: A New Formalist Analysis of William Butler Yeats’s “Nineteen Hundred Nineteen”
  • Author(s): Khaled Besbes
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: New Directions in the Humanities
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of Literary Humanities
  • Keywords: New Formalism, Form, History, Close Reading, Rhetoric, Reference, Yeats
  • Volume: 17
  • Issue: 2
  • Year: 2019
  • ISSN: 2327-7912 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2327-8676 (Online)
  • DOI:
  • Citation: Besbes, Khaled . 2019. "Revisiting Close Reading: A New Formalist Analysis of William Butler Yeats’s “Nineteen Hundred Nineteen”." The International Journal of Literary Humanities 17 (2): 1-12. doi:10.18848/2327-7912/CGP/v17i02/1-12.
  • Extent: 12 pages


This article is an application of New Formalist criticism to the study of W. B. Yeats’s poem “Nineteen Hundred Nineteen.” It is written in the conviction that now more than ever, it is important to recognize the historicity of literary form as a rudimentary paradigm in any theorized or illustrative account of literature. Within the domain of literary criticism, debates about form have broadly been orchestrated by two polarized views: one is textualist and is largely concerned with the form and language of the literary artifact; the other is historicist, referential, or contextual and is largely concerned with the thematics and historicity of the literary text. Less polarized positions that address form while championing historicity—like new historicism and late twentieth-century Marxism—have not been explicit or systematic enough to anchor form in its socio-historical grounding. We had to wait until the first decade of the third millennium to witness a methodical attempt to re-inscribe literary form in its socio-historical determinants at the hands of New Formalists, whose critical approach are explicated and illustrated in this article. After reviewing the available literature, defining New Formalism, and sorting out the New Formalist analytical paradigms, the author uses these paradigms to study Yeats’s “Nineteen Hundred Nineteen” by conducting a close reading of this poem with a focus on the relationship between rhetoric and reference, aesthetics and politics, form and history, form and reader, as well as literary text and literary tradition in this lyrical work.