Brooks' Irony as a Principle of Structure
A major figure of New Criticism, Cleanth Brooks argues in this essay Irony as a Principle of Structure, that irony serves as one of the major tools by which meaning can be embedded in a poetic text. Brooks repeatedly asserts that the entirety of a poem must be considered in order to discover its meaning, and that irony often functions as a significant part of a poem's fundamental structure. The essay points out that Brooks explains that unexpected contradictions in a text often function as the site of irony that can be used successfully in uncovering deeper layers of meaning in the poem. Reading poetry in the casual way that we approach language and speech in our daily lives is not conducive to a deep understanding of the text. According to Brooks' critical sensibility, the consideration of the complex contradictions and paradoxes that can emerge from even the most seemingly innocent pairing of conflicting images can be the key to the core meaning of the text.
One problem that I have with the argument that Brooks sets forth in this essay is that the whole notion of irony connotes a degree of authorial intention. It seems to me that there has to be a specific, traceable intent in order for the reader to detect and respond to the presence of irony.