The Poetry of T. S. Eliot

By D. E. S. Maxwell | Go to book overview
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Chapter Two
The New Classicism

ANY interpretation of poetic theory must be incomplete if it does not indicate the effect of the doctrine on the practice of poetry. It is not proposed to examine at this juncture the full scope of the relations between Eliot's special traditionalism, and his poetry. The relation between his practice and this element of his theory will be clarified in the examination of his early poems. At the moment we are concerned with those qualities of Eliot's poetry which are basically qualities of Augustan poetry too, although the forms in which they appear may differ. That is, to show that his poetry is classical as the term is usually interpreted, before showing that it possesses characteristics resulting from his theory that add to the scheme of Augustan classicism.

A characteristic of classicism that is relevant to this enquiry is its acceptance of an already existing poetic background, whose function is to provide the poem's incidental symbolism. "The Rape of the Lock" is conceived within the framework of the classical epic, using its accepted symbols. Pope saw no reason for the creation of symbols peculiar to himself -- as Shelley did in Prometheus Unbound -- symbols whose full meaning could be appreciated only by their creator, although their necessary vagueness could produce a pleasing suggestion of profound significance and final order. Of the same nature is Eliot's acceptance of traditional literature as his poetic world. This can be seen most clearly in The Waste Land, where a blending of traditional European and

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