The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures

The Charles Eliot Norton Professorship in Poetry was endowed in 1925 by C.C. Stillman (Harvard 1898). Incumbents are in residence through their tenure of the Chair, and deliver at least six lectures. The term “poetry” is interpreted in the broadest sense, including all poetic expression in language, music, or fine arts.

Previous holders of the Chair include Gilbert Murray (1926–27), T. S. Eliot (1932–33), Igor Stravinsky (1939–40), Paul Hindemith (1949–50), Ben Shahn (1956–57), Leonard Bernstein (1972–73), Frank Stella (1982–84), John Cage (1988–89), and Luciano Berio (1992–93).

Below is a list of in-print works in this collection, presented in series order or publication order as applicable.

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Cover: The Witness of Poetry

The Witness of Poetry

Milosz, Czeslaw

A Nobel laureate reflects upon poetry’s testimony to the events of our tumultuous time.

Cover: In Defence of the Imagination

In Defence of the Imagination

Gardner, Helen

Helen Gardner, a vigorous and eloquent champion of traditional literary values, feels that these values have been subverted by some of the ablest of modern academics and by prevalent tendencies in criticism and teaching today. Here she counters those trends and affirms the values she has found in a life devoted to the study of literature.

Cover: The Use of Poetry and Use of Criticism: Studies in the Relation of Criticism to Poetry in England

The Use of Poetry and Use of Criticism: Studies in the Relation of Criticism to Poetry in England

Eliot, T. S.

The 1932–33 Norton Lectures are among the best and most important of T. S. Eliot’s critical writings. Tracing the rise of literary self-consciousness from the Elizabethan period to his own day, Eliot does not simply examine the relation of criticism to poetry, but invites us to “start with the supposition that we do not know what poetry is, or what it does or ought to do, or of what use it is; and try to find out, in examining the relation of poetry to criticism, what the use of both of them is.”

Cover: Working Space

Working Space

Stella, Frank

Here is a rare opportunity to view painting through the discerning eyes of one of the world’s foremost abstract painters. Frank Stella uses the crisis of representational art in sixteenth-century Italy to illuminate the crisis of abstraction in our time. Professionals, students, collectors and all lovers of art will find Stella’s non-traditional evaluations of the masters’ work controversial and his fresh concepts wonderfully provocative.

Cover: I-VI


Cage, John

There have never been lectures like these: delivered at Harvard in 1988–89 as the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, they were more like performances, as the audience heard them. John Cage calls them “mesostics,” a literary form generated by chance (in this case computerized I-Ching chance) operations. Using the computer as an oracle in conjunction with a large source text, he happens upon ideas, which produce more ideas. Chance, and not Cage, makes the choices and central decisions. Such a form is rooted, Cage tells us in his introduction, in the belief that “all answers answer all questions.”

Cover: Ruin the Sacred Truths: Poetry and Belief from the Bible to the Present

Ruin the Sacred Truths: Poetry and Belief from the Bible to the Present

Bloom, Harold

Harold Bloom surveys with majestic view the literature of the West from the Old Testament to Samuel Beckett. In so doing, he uncovers the truth that all our attempts to call any strong work more sacred than another are merely political and social formulations.

Cover: Six Walks in the Fictional Woods

Six Walks in the Fictional Woods

Eco, Umberto

In this exhilarating book, we accompany Umberto Eco as he explores the intricacies of fictional form and method. Using examples ranging from fairy tales and Flaubert, Poe and Mickey Spillane, Eco draws us in by means of a novelist’s techniques, making us his collaborators in the creation of his text and in the investigation of some of fiction’s most basic mechanisms.

Cover: The Romantic Generation

The Romantic Generation

Rosen, Charles

What Charles Rosen’s celebrated book The Classical Style did for music of the Classical period, The Romantic Generation does for the Romantic era. An exhilarating exploration of the musical language, forms, and styles of the Romantic period, it captures the spirit that enlivened a generation of composers and musicians, and in doing so it conveys the very sense of Romantic music.

Cover: Other Traditions

Other Traditions

Ashbery, John

One of the greatest living poets in English here explores the work of six writers he often finds himself reading “in order to get started” when writing. Among those whom John Ashbery reads at such times are John Clare, Thomas Lovell Beddoes, Raymond Roussel, John Wheelwright, Laura Riding, and David Schubert. Less familiar than some, under Ashbery’s scrutiny these poets emerge as the powerful but private and somewhat wild voices whose eccentricity has kept them from the mainstream—and whose vision merits Ashbery’s efforts, and our own, to read them well.

Cover: This Craft of Verse

This Craft of Verse

Borges, Jorge Luis
Mihailescu, Calin-Andrei

This Craft of Verse captures the cadences, candor, wit, and remarkable erudition of one of the most extraordinary and enduring literary voices of the twentieth century. It stands as a deeply personal yet far-reaching introduction to the pleasures of the word, and as a first-hand testimony to the life of literature.

Cover: The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at Harvard

The Unanswered Question: Six Talks at Harvard

Bernstein, Leonard

Leonard Bernstein’s Norton Lectures on the future course of music drew cheers from his Harvard audiences and television viewers. In the re-creation of his talks, the author considers music ranging from Hindu ragas through Mozart and Ravel to Copland, Shoenberg, and Stravinsky.

Cover: i: six nonlectures

i: six nonlectures

cummings, e. e.

The author begins his “nonlectures” with the warning “I haven’t the remotest intention of posing as a lecturer.” These talks contain selections from the poetry of Wordsworth, Donne, Shakespeare, Dante, and others, including e. e. cummings. Together, they form a good introduction to his work.

Cover: The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance

The Secular Scripture: A Study of the Structure of Romance

Frye, Northrop

Northrop Frye discerns in the innumerable romantic narratives of the Western tradition an imaginative universe stretching from an idyllic world to a demonic one, and a pattern of action taking the form of a cyclical descent into and ascent out of the demonic realm. Romance as a whole is thus seen as forming an integrated vision of the world, a “secular scripture” whose hero is man, paralleling the sacred scripture whose hero is God.

Cover: Space, Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition, Fifth Revised and Enlarged Edition

Space, Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition, Fifth Revised and Enlarged Edition

Giedion, Sigfried

A classic work, first published in 1941, translated into half a dozen languages, and now in a fifth edition, Space, Time and Architecture is an the unparalleled work on the shaping of our architectural environment. The discussions of leading architects—Wright, Gropius, Le Corbusier, Van der Rohe, Aalto, Utzon, Sert, Tange, and Maki—are accompanied by over 500 illustrations.

Cover: The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative

The Genesis of Secrecy: On the Interpretation of Narrative

Kermode, Frank

Drawing on the venerable tradition of biblical interpretation, Frank Kermode examines some enigmatic passages and episodes in the gospels. From his reading come ideas about what makes interpretation possible—and often impossible. He considers ways in which narratives acquire opacity, and he asks whether there are methods of distinguishing all possible meaning from a central meaning which gives the story its structure.

Cover: The Shape of Content

The Shape of Content

Shahn, Ben

Cover: Sincerity and Authenticity

Sincerity and Authenticity

Trilling, Lionel

“Now and then,” writes Lionel Trilling, “it is possible to observe the moral life in process of revising itself.” In this new book he is concerned with such a mutation: the process by which the arduous enterprise of sincerity, of being true to one’s self, came to occupy a place of supreme importance in the moral life—and the further shift which finds that place now usurped by the darker and still more strenuous modern ideal of authenticity.

Cover: Lessons of the Masters

Lessons of the Masters

Steiner, George

When we talk about education today, we tend to avoid the rhetoric of “mastery,” with its erotic and inegalitarian overtones. But the charged personal encounter between master and disciple is precisely what interests George Steiner in this book, a sustained reflection on the infinitely complex and subtle interplay of power, trust, and passions in the most profound sorts of pedagogy.

Cover: Bathers, Bodies, Beauty: The Visceral Eye

Bathers, Bodies, Beauty: The Visceral Eye

Nochlin, Linda

Linda Nochlin explores the contradictions and dissonances that mark experience as well as art. Her book confronts the issues posed in representations of the body in the art of impressionists, modern masters, and contemporary realists and post-modernists. In many ways a personal book, Bathers, Bodies, Beauty brings to bear a lifetime of looking at, teaching, talking about, wrestling with, loving, and hating art to reveal and complicate the visceral experience of art.

Cover: Remembering the Future

Remembering the Future

Berio, Luciano

In Remembering the Future, Luciano Berio shares with us some musical experiences that “invite us to revise or suspend our relation with the past and to rediscover it as part of a future trajectory.” His scintillating meditation on music and the ways of experiencing it reflects the composer’s profound understanding of the history and contemporary practice of his art. Berio’s tone is conversational, often playful, punctuated by arresting aphorisms.

Cover: Children of the Mire: Modern Poetry from Romanticism to the Avant-Garde, New and Enlarged Edition

Children of the Mire: Modern Poetry from Romanticism to the Avant-Garde, New and Enlarged Edition

Paz, Octavio
Phillips, Rachel

Octavio Paz launches a far-ranging excursion into the “incestuous and tempestuous” relations between modern poetry and the modern epoch. He explores the opposite meanings that the word “modern” has held for poets and philosophers, artists, and scientists, and offers a critique of our era’s attitude toward the concept of time, affirming that we are at the “twilight of the idea of the future.”

Cover: The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist

The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist

Pamuk, Orhan
Dikbaş, Nazim

What happens within us when we read a novel? And how does a novel create its unique effects, so distinct from those of a painting, a film, or a poem? In this inspired, thoughtful, deeply personal book, Orhan Pamuk takes us into the worlds of the writer and the reader, revealing their intimate connections.

Cover: The Compelling Image: Nature and Style in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Painting

The Compelling Image: Nature and Style in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Painting

Cahill, James

With a graceful authority, James Cahill explores the radiant painting of that tumultuous era when the collapse of the Ming Dynasty and the Manchu conquest of China dramatically changed the lives and thinking of artists and intellectuals. Over 250 illustrations, including twelve color plates, are drawn from collections in the United States, Europe, Japan, and China.

Cover: Six Drawing Lessons

Six Drawing Lessons

Kentridge, William

Art, William Kentridge says, is its own form of knowledge. It does not simply supplement the real world, and cannot be purely understood in the rational terms of academic disciplines. The studio is where linear thinking is abandoned and the material processes of the eye, the hand, the charcoal and paper become themselves the guides of creativity.

Cover: Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons

Poetics of Music in the Form of Six Lessons

Stravinsky, Igor
Knodel, Arthur
Dahl, Ingolf

One of the greatest of contemporary composers has here set down in delightfully personal fashion his general ideas about music and some accounts of his own experience as a composer. Every concert-goer and lover of music will take keen pleasure in his notes about the essential features of music, the process of musical composition, inspiration, musical types, and musical execution.

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