Beginning with an essay on the history and theory of poetic argument, he traces its patterns through Romantic and Modernist literature. He divides his subject into three areas: the paradoxes of reason, language, and argument. Poetic Argument surveys the writings of the five poets in light of what has to be "proved" and identifies the characteristic styles of proof for each. For example, in the chapter on Marianne Moore, Kertzer studies two expressions of poetic argument. The first regards poetry as a waking dream, combining the powers of sleep and calculation. The second, derived from Imagism, treats poetry as a special way of seeing. Kertzer suggests that the combination of these two elements produces Moore's characteristically intricate, but inconclusive, forms of argument.