When Wimsatt and Beardsley lay out their axioms on intention in a poem, they say, “The words of a poem, as Professor Stoll has remarked, come out of a head not out of a bat” (Wimsatt and Beardsley 3). Taken at face value, this statement is hard to interpret because of the baffling phrase “out of a bat.” The Oxford English Dictionary leads to two possible idioms that could be at use in Stoll’s phrase “out of a bat.” Either he could be referencing the American idiom “right off the bat” or the English idiom “off his own bat.” The American idiom “right off the bat” refers to something done instantly or without time for preparation. The English idiom “off his own bat” refers to individual performance ignoring outside influences or contexts.
The first part of Wimsatt and Beardley’s quote, “The words of a poem […] come out of a head” translates readily: the words of a poem require thought and preparation to arrange the right words in the right order. However, “[N]ot out of a bat” may either mean not done without preparation or not done without looking at the influence of others. Therefore, if “bat” is not a typo, the strange wording of the quote means that the words of a poem come from the hard work and preparation of a poet including the outside influences of tradition.
However, when Michael Hancher quotes this section of Wimsatt and Beardsley’s article, he quotes it as, “The words of a poem, as Professor Stoll has remarked, come out of a head not out of a hat” (cited in Hancher 833). If Hancher has not been the victim of an overzealous editor who changed the proper quotation for one that make more grammatical sense then the Whimsatt and Beardsley line could mean something at least slightly different. Saying that the words of a poem do not come out of a hat means implies that they do not appear by magic as if a rabbit from a magician’s hat. Or it could mean that they believe that Dadaist techniques of poetic composition are invalid stating that words pulled out of a hat at random are not sufficient for the creation of a work of poetry. Whatever the meaning of the Wimsatt and Beardsley quotation, their sentence has failed at conveying the author’s intention and is more suited for a work of poetry than a transparent work of prose.
Hancher, Michael. “Three Kinds of Intention.” MLN, vol. 87, no. 7, 1972, pp. 827–851. JSTOR.
Wimsatt, W.K., and Monroe Beardsley. “The Intentional Fallacy.” The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1954.