Andrew Marvell, the Critical Heritage

By Elizabeth Story Donno | Go to book overview

103.

T. S. Eliot on the tercentenary of Marvell’s birth

1921

By virtue of his later status as poet and critic, the essay by T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) may properly be said to cap the initial reassessment of Marvell’s poetry. Its far-ranging and per-vasive influence determined the trend of much subsequent criticism.

Written initially for the Times Literary Supplement, the essay was reprinted in the Tercentenary Tributes and Eliot himself reprinted it twice: in the Hogarth Essays: Homage to John Dryden (1927), and again in Selected Essays (1932). Yet only two years after writing it, he had modified his attitude considerably, if the review of the Nonesuch edition of Marvell is to be taken as an indication. Though its publication goes beyond the limits of the dates for this volume, the review is included here not because of any intrinsic value for asses-sing the fortuna of Marvell’s poetry but because it affords an ironic, if somewhat oblique, insight into the literary views of the most influential of twentieth-century critics on Marvell.

From Selected Essays, New York, 1932, pp. 278-90. This version drops one or two of the learned allusions.

The tercentenary of the former member for Hull deserves not only the celebration proposed by that favoured borough, but a little serious reflection upon his writing. That is an act of piety, which is very different from the resurrection of a deceased reputation. Marvell has stood high for some years; his best poems are not very many, and not only must be well known, from the Golden Treasury and the Oxford Book of English Verse, but must also have been enjoyed by numerous readers. His grave needs neither rose nor rue nor laurel; there is no imaginary justice to

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