Argument for method: An application of Barthes’ language codes in poetry


This essay is a direct application of the five language codes described in Roland Barthes’ essay “Style and its image”. The language codes consist of the Actional (Proairetic) code; the literal action of subjects or characters within the dramatic plot of the poetry; the Referential, or the cultural worldview of the work’s subject or theme; the Semantic, those suggestive details which describe characters or the setting of the work; the Hermeneutic, considering language units which conceal unknown aspects of the work or facts about character, setting or other qualities of the writing, though also those qualities traditionally considered literary conventions; and the Symbolic, or those aspects of language which suggest ideas beyond the literal text itself. The writer takes a fresh look at an earlier example of Contemporary American poetry using Structuralist discourse as a tool with which to explicate Donald Hall’s poem “The Town of Hill”, first published in 1975.


critical theory; literary studies; comparative literature; interdisciplinary studies; post-structuralist theory

Barthes, R. 1972. Critical Essays. Translated by Richard Howard. Evanston: Northwestern University Press.

Barthes, R. 1975. S / Z: An Essay. Translated by Richard Miller. Preface by Richard Howard. New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux.

Barthes, R. 1989. The Rustle of Language. Translated by Richard Howard. Berkeley: University of California.

Culler, J. 1976. Structuralist poetics: Structuralism, linguistics and the study of literature. Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 34 (3): 352-353.

Culler, J. 1983. Roland Barthes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dirgasari, B. 2008. A symbolism analysis as reflected in John Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale.” Thesis, UIN, Jakarta.

Frye, N. 1963. Fables of Identity. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World.

Hall, D. 1974. The Town of Hill. Boston: Godine.

Hall, D. 1978. Goatfoot, Milktongue, Twinbird: The psychic origins of poetic form. In: D. Hall (ed.), Claims for Poetry, 141-150. Ann Harbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Felluga, D. (n.d.). Modules on Barthes: On plotting. Introductory Guide to Critical Theory, 26 June. 2017,

Finch, A. 2012. Villanelles. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Fuller, J. 1972. The Sonnet. London: Methuen.

Jakobson, R. & Levi-Strauss, C. 1962. Les Chats de Charles Baudelaire. L’Homme 2: 5-21.

Kane, J. 2012. Introduction: The history of the Villanelle. In: A. Finch & M.-E. Mali (eds.), Villanelles, 19-24. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Keats, J. 1816. On first looking into Chapman’s Homer. (September 2019).

Leitch, V. B. 1988. American Literary Criticism from the 1930s to the 1980s. New York: Columbia University Press.

Nims, J. F. 1985. A Local Habitation: Essays on Poetry. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

Perloff, M. 2004. Differentials: Poetry, Poetics, Pedagogy. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.

Reniminryu, M. A. 2009. Analysis on Roland Barthes’ Codes in the Wizard of Oz: A Semiotic Approach. Undergraduate Thesis, English Department, Gundarma University.

Riffaterre, M. 1970. Describing poetic structures: Two approaches to Baudelaires’s “Les Chats”. In: J. Ehrmann (ed.), Structuralism, 188-230. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Scholes, R. 1974. Structuralism in Literature: An Introduction. New Haven / London: Yale University Press.

Turner, A. (ed.). 1977. Fifty Contemporary Poets: The Creative Process (Donald Hall). New York: David McKay.

Zaib, S. & Mashori, G. M. 2014. Five codes of Roland Barthes in Shahraz’s story, “A Pair of Jeans”: a Post-structural analysis. ELF Annual Research Journal 1: 171-184.


Published : 2019-09-30

Robinson, J. T. (2019) “Argument for method: An application of Barthes’ language codes in poetry”, Crossroads. A Journal of English Studies, (26), pp. 60-76. doi: 10.15290/cr.2019.26.3.05.

John Timothy Robinson 
USA  United States

John Timothy Robinson is a mainstream poet of the expressive image and inwardness from the Kanawha Valley in Mason County, West Virginia. His poetics was developed in the tradition of James Wright, Rita Dove, Donald Hall, Marvin Bell, Maxine Kumin, WS Merwin and Robert Bly among many others. John’s 150 works have appeared in 102 journals throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and India. He is also a published printmaker with eighty-eight art images and photographs appearing in journals, electronic and print in the United States, Italy and Ireland.