I encountered a new phrase today: "academy verse". Here it is in context:

... even if In Memoriam James Joyce isn't judged as academy verse, still there is nothing else that it satisfactorily is.

In Memoriam James Joyce is a long poem by the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid. Because of the context, I suspect that "academy verse" means something like "poetry that is overly intellectual or theoretical, or too explicitly so". Is this correct? I can't find anything in the OED or the other usual sources.

2 Answers 2


The capsule definition of 'academy verse', now called, as Sven points out, 'academic verse', is

Poetry adhering to the conventions of some school of poetry.

(From PoetryBase)

Another source, similar definition:

Poetry that adheres to the accepted standards and requirements of some kind of "school." Poetry approved, officially, or unofficially, by a literary establishment.

(From termwiki)

These capsule definitions are, of course, unequal to the subject. Academic verse is often contrasted roughly with popular verse. For a contemporary sense of the relationship between academic verse and a particular kind of popular verse, 'slam poetry', see The Cultural Politics of Slam Poetry, by Susan B. Somers-Willett.

Although the snippet of context you provide suggests that the term 'academy verse' in the quote would more properly be 'academic verse', a long history of 'academy verse' lies behind the contemporay version of the term. For some sense of that history, see (for example), Love Poetry of the Literary Academies in the Reigns of Philip IV and Charles II.

For a summary of Milton's academic verse, see "Notes on Milton’s Early Development", by A.S.P. Woodhouse (University of Toronto Quarterly, Volume 13, Number 1, October 1943). Here's a brief exerpt (italics mine):

... he may well have had Diodati in mind, as well as the university audience {for there was some ground common to both), when he wrote Elegies 7 and 5, the Companion Pieces, and indeed much of his academic verse .... For the university audience Milton produced, in whole or in part, about three fifths of the poetry of the Cambridge period, including all the Latin verse except Elegies 1, 4 and 6.


The more common term is academic verse; and in a Google Books search, the first mention of it is from 1879. Even then, the sense of the phrase is distinctly unenthusiastic and belittling. From Frederic Harrison, "On the Choice of Books," from The Fortnightly review, reprinted in The Living Age (May 3, 1879):

Who now reads the whole of the ancient writers? Who systematically reads the great writers, be they ancient or modern, whom the consent of ages has marked out as classics: typical, immortal, peculiar teachers of our race? Alas! the “Paradise Lost” is lost again to us beneath an inundation of graceful academic verse, sugary stanzas of ladylike prettiness, and ceaseless explanations in more or less readable prose of what John Milton meant or did not mean, or what he saw or did not see, or why Adam or Satan is like that, or unlike the other. We read a perfect library about the "Paradise Lost," but the "Paradise Lost itself we do not read.

Even then, academic verse was "graceful" and "sugary," with "ladylike prettiness"—a characterization not calculated to show to advantage against Milton's "sea-shouldering whales."

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