The Achievement of T. S. Eliot: An Essay on the Nature of Poetry

The Achievement of T. S. Eliot: An Essay on the Nature of Poetry

The Achievement of T. S. Eliot: An Essay on the Nature of Poetry

The Achievement of T. S. Eliot: An Essay on the Nature of Poetry

Excerpt

My double aim in this essay is to evaluate Eliot's method and achievement as an artist, and in so doing to emphasize certain of the fundamental elements in the nature of poetry which are in danger of being obscured by the increasing tendency to treat poetry as a social document and to forget that it is an art. The most widespread error in contemporary criticism is to neglect form and to concern itself entirely with content. The romantic critic is generally not interested in the poet's work, but in finding the man behind it. The humanistic critic and the sociological critic have in common that both tend to ignore the evaluation of specific poems in their preoccupation with the ideological background from which the poems spring. All these concerns can have value in expert hands, but only if it is realized that they are not criticism of poetry. In combating the common error, my contention is that, although in the last analysis content and form are inseparable, a poem can be neither enjoyed nor understood unless the reader experiences all of its formal details, unless he allows the movement and pattern of its words to exercise their full charm over him before he attempts to say precisely what it is that the poem means. The most fatal approach to a poem is to focus merely on what it seems to state, to try to isolate its ideas from their context in order to approve or disapprove of them before having really grasped their implications in the poem itself. Consequently, my approach to Eliot's poetry, and to poetry generally, is through close attention to its technique. I agree with Mallarmé that 'poetry is not written with ideas, it is written with words,' as well as with the assertion that what matters is not what a poem says, but what it is. That does not mean that either the poem or the poet can be separated . . .

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