This is the first study of poetic language from a historical and philosophical perspective. In a series of 12 chapters, exemplary poems - by Walter Ralegh, William Cowper, William Wordsworth, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Wallace Stevens, Frank O'Hara, Robert Creeley, W. S. Graham, Tom Raworth, Denise Riley and Thomas A. Clark - are read alongside theoretical discussions of poetic language. The discussions provide a jargon-free account of a wide range of historical and contemporary schools of thought about poetic language, and an organised, coherent critique of those schools. It surveys a variety of linguistic and philosophical approaches to poetic language: analytical, cognitive, post-structuralist, and pragmatic. It provides readings of complete poems and places those readings within the wider context of each poet's work. It combines theory and practicelncludes a Glossary of Terms, Biographical Notes on Poets and Suggested Further Reading and Further Reading (by Theoretical School).