Lyric Poetry: The Pain and the Pleasure of Words

By Mutlu Konuk Blasing | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
FOUR QUARTETS: RHETORIC REDEEMED

“THE NATURAL SIN OF LANGUAGE”

It is impossible to say just what I mean!

T. S. Eliot

la la

T. S. Eliot

T. S. ELIOT'S EARLY WORK poses the generic double question of the lyric: what can ensure that the subject does not reduce to a set of “lyric” gestures, postures, and rhetorics, and what is to guarantee that the sounds of words do not reduce to meaningless acoustic events or, at another level, to formal mannerisms? The overdone rhymes of multisyllabic Latinate words in “Prufrock,” for instance, are formal mannerisms that mock their author even as they serve him to ridicule the social conventions, mannerisms, and “measures” of his speaker's milieu. Eliot speaks of a “great simplicity” that would ensure the subject in language; but it is “only won,” he writes, “by an intense moment or by years of intelligent effort, or by both. It represents one of the most arduous conquests of the human spirit: the triumph of feeling and thought over the natural sin of language.”1

For Eliot, Ronald Bush suggests, the “natural sin of language” meant rhetoric: words cannot express feelings without reducing them to rhetorical gestures in ready-made formulas.2 Eliot certainly engages rhetoric in this sense; his dramatic personae, histrionic performers watching themselves act, present just this problem. But “sin” is a big word, and Eliot is speaking of a struggle of the “human spirit.” Further, “natural sin” suggests something other than rhetoric or even a postlapsarian language of exile: it suggests a sin that is innate, of the very body of words. The association of sin with the flesh thematically pervades Eliot's work in general, and if we keep in mind this sense of sin, we can better engage the question of lyric poetry in early Eliot.

The “failure” of language in the dramatic poems is sometimes a matter of the slipperiness of meaning. In “Portrait of a Lady,” for example, “friend” can mean an acquaintance, a soul mate, or a lover; it is an empty social counter. This knowledge about the social currency keeps Prufrock from “saying” what he “knows”: “Would it have been worth it, after all,” to “say” “I am Lazarus

-115-

Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this book

This book has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this book

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Lyric Poetry: The Pain and the Pleasure of Words
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen
/ 216

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.