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November 17, 1957 - Image 12

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Page Twelve


Sunday, November 17, 1957

PageTweve HE MCHIAN AILYMAGZIN SunayNovmber17,195


'On Poetry and Poets' Sums Up a Life of T renchant Criticism

ON POETRY AND POETS. By'by wide reading and a seductive and pass by. But it is worth while the worse, upon any poet
T. S. Eliot. New York 1957: prose style. Re-reading an Eliot to know of his existence, in case whatever.
essay with which one disagrees- he might be to your liking, and In eleven years something re-
Farror, Straus and Cudahy. on Marvell, for example, or Pound also because that will tell you markable happened and some
308 pp. $4.50. -is an instructive exercise, for something about the people who changes are made. Leaning heavily
one never ceases to wonder at how like him." What will it tell?-that upon Doctor Johnson's crutch,
By R. C. GREGORY Eliot can so insult the reader and they, too, are dull? Eliot re-enters and says:
T. S. ELIOT is a good minor poet yet so captivate, charm, and in- Nor is it real modesty for T. S. The errors (about Milton) of
ad astructk him. The answer must be Eliot to say, to members of the our own time have been recti-
and a generally good, usually that Eliot does possess the right British Academy, "I am aware fied by vigorous hands, and
interesting, frequently tfuriating, equipment and capacity for great- that my only claim upon your the prejudices opposed by
critic. As a man-of-letters Eliot is ness in criticism, one of the func- attention, in speaking of Milton commanding voices. . . . In
of approach to an essay on the tions of which is always to shock or of any other great poet, is by short, it now seems to me that
man, a quotation from his essay complacency at least a little bit. appeal to your curiosity, in the poets are sufficiently liberated
"Milton I" will justify the heresy Selected Essays, published several hope that you may care to know from Milton's reputation, to
of such an Introduction: years ago, constitutes a solid claim what a contemporary writer of approach the study of his
to a place in the literary history verse thinks of one of his prede- work without danger, and with
There is a large class of per- of this century's first half, cessors." The first portion of the profit to their poetry and to
sons, including some who ap- remark only seems modest, the the English language.
pear in print as critics, who 0N POETRY AND POETS has last portion is clearly something Now few would claim that publicv
regard any cen.sure upon a sixteen essays, seven of which else, for it requires more of a man recantation requires no sense of
agreat' poet as a breach of the are on poetry in a wide sense; than an accident of history to honesty, but few public recanta-s
iecnoct. amanr even oodlnt- the remainder are on poets. Per- claim Milton as his predecessor. tions were ever so adroitly com-
iconoclasm, or even hoodlum- haps no other living critis would Nor is it quite in keepin for a mitted on a superficial level norf
ism.Thederoatoy crticsm hgs o oter ivin crticswoud No isisoqilittleepigmade.asonltal realona level.velEliot I
tam. The derogatory criticisn make a collection which opens man who claims as values classi- really does little better by Milton
tEliot) i not tendd for with Virgil and closes with Yeats cism, royalism and catholicism, to than tdeKrlin enbycloi
not mtended for contain an essay each on Sir John say of Byron,". ... Byron... would than the Kremlin encyclopedia
such persos....editors did for the late, and nowc
such persons.. Davies and Rudyard Kipling. No seem the most nearly remote from officially unlamented, Josepha
The citation which accompanied doubt the Davies essay and the the sympathies of every living Staly tate Jiseth
the award of his Nobel Prize em- one on Kipling were lying around critic: it would be interesting Stalin except that he prints both
phasized that Eliot's contribution the study, had never appeared in therefore, if we could have half a his versions without instructions
lay more in the effects he has pro- book format, and the arrange- dozen essays about him, to see for destruction of the earlier one. i
duced in literature - through ment has chronological order to what agreement could be reached'y t
younger writers - than in any commend it, if nothing else. The present article is an attempt HAT ISore nearly the truthd
self-achieved work. This is not Eliot has always worked the to start the ball rolling." The com- is is,
to award Eliot a second - class graveyards of English literature mon reader, perhaps, is expected revived Donne and others as
citizenship in the land of letters for corpses to resurrect with a to sense the difference in an Eliot proved useful, even necessary, by 1
but rather to remind that he fails deliberately minor yet tasteful "essay" and an Eliot "article," casting Milton out, he permitted
to meet his own standards for episcopal flourish. The Ph.D. ten- since poetry and verse are dif- a "purged" Milton to return. Mil-
poetic greatness, three in number: dency that he abhors he prac- ferent, but whatever is the com- ton hadn't changed, the litera-
Tennyson is a great poet, for tices, which is not to mention the mon reader to do with that meta- ture of the eighteenth centurye
reasons that are perfectly distinction he makes in the Kip- phor of the rolling ball? hadn't changed, nor Donne. Fun-j
clear. He has three qualities ling essay between "verse" and damental estimates fairly currentr
which are seldom found to- "poetry," nor the weekly apolo- THERE IS ALSO the peculiar among the common readers of the1
gether except in the greatest getic, vague excuse he offers for Eliot attempt at forthright English language hadn't changedf
poets: abundance, variety, and doing so. honesty: "Milton I," in which either' Eliot, however, had grown
complete competence,.oet:"itnI older.'
mOR IS IT really criticism of the Milton was finally expulsed from Perhaps Eliot had looked again1
AS A CRITIC Eliot has what is Nfirst order to write: "Crabbe whatever paradise he had been at things two of his wisest friends
criticism's prime prerequisite, is a poet who has to be read in accorded, is followed by "Milton had occasion to say "Mrs.Woolf
a well-defined personal taste and large chunks, if at all; so if you II," in which Milton is restored once quoted Dr. Johnson: ".. I
perfect confidence in it, supported find him dull you must just glance to qualified glory. "Milton "' s- rejoice to concur 'with the com-
_______________________________________________peared in 1939, "Milton II" in 1947. mon reader; for by the common
In the earlier essay Milton was sense of readers, uncorrupted by1
expulsed, in part, because: literary prejudices, after all, the
There is more of Milton's in- refinements of subtilty and the'
fluence in the badness of the dogmatism of learning, must be
Now (31W Idts ,bad verse of the eighteenth finally decided all claim to poetical'
century than of anybody's honours.
-THE RATION L OO else: he certainly did more1
h-aim thanaDryden mnd Pope, rfHE SECOND wise friend, Sir
and perhaps a good deal of . Desmond MacCarthy, once
in Cambridge rey and Blue Blazers the obloquy which has fallen wrote:
on these two poets, especially It seems to me a dubious bar-
the latter, because of their in- gain to lose a Keats to gain a
fluence ought to be transferred Pound, to surrender a Cole-
to Milton.... Milton's poetry ridge to find a Flint, to ex-
could only be an influence for change a Milton even for an

Eliot. But must it be with us
always either this poet or
that? Does not the same read-
er often respond both to Pope
and Blake? Surely we are all
gifted with a happy natural
inconsistency of tastes? In-
deed, we are-if only we let
ourselves alone. We can ad-
mire poets equally who have
hardly once excellence in com-
mon, until we apply to both
the same Aesthetic. But the
moment we start to think we
know what is the essence of
poetry we are driven to reject
much we could otherwise ad-
There is, of course, much that
will be rejected in this book of
essays; as a book it does little to
show anything new about Eliot,
excepting a movement toward
finishing things up: Eliot was
born, after all, in 1888.
Clearly the most interesting
essay of the lot is "The Frontiers
of Criticism," originally delivered
as a lecture at the University of
Minnesota in 1959. Eliot passes
out praise on the state of criticism
in general, if to no critic in par-
icular, saying that criticism has
improved during the last thirty
years. He qualifies this tepid
praise by saying that criticism has
been too brilliant-perhaps.
cism" is the most interesting
essay, two others are more use-
ful: "Poetry and Drama" and "The
Three Voices of Poetry" but each
has been printed as a little book
and had periodical publicaton as
well. The first named should be
read, I think, in connection with
Eliot's plays and the second would
serve admirably as an introduction
to his Collected Poems,
Indeed, On Poetry and Poets is
almost all introduction: One can
say that Eliot is publishing late
the kind of work that one expects
from a young poet. There is no
doubt that it is an important book
still, for there is so little of Eliot's
writing all told. Selected Essays,
the poems and the plays may well
be indispensable; On Poetry and
Poets is a luxury.
(Continued from Page 7)
tage. Emily Dickinson turned her
experiences of the concrete com-
monplaces of her contemporary
world into hard and clear aesthetic
images. Her theological uncer-
tainty was unorthodox, but ac-
cording to Whicher, it'was directed
by the failure of the supposedly
ultimate source of truth to provide
the final unity of all things pro-
pounded' by religion in general.
When God was not accessible, Miss
Dickinson, like Emerson, regarded
Nature as the possible provider of
this absolute singularity or beauty.
NEXT to the theological tradi-
tion, the commonest unifying
factor in New England culture was
what Whicher calls "Yankee hu-
mor," or more generally, the new
American humor which was be-
ginning to grow out of the yet
heterogeneous soil of the still
young nation. Miss Dickinson's
poems are bound together by the
senses of humor and incongruity
which in her verse so often may
be equated. Vitality and imagina-
tion were a part of the cultured
New Englander's background, and
the poet used these two elements
of fancy in even her serious writ-
ing. She was echoing the literary
rambunctiousness of her country;
new things were being said
throughout America and Emily
Dickinson, isolated as she was,
was formulating new ways to say
The third of the literary cur-
rents said to merge in Miss Dicki-
son was Emersonian transcen-
dentalism. Called by Whicher "the
last surprising bloom-the Novem-
ber witch-hazel blossom-of New

England's flowering time," she
was convinced, like her predeces-
See EMILY, Page 16

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