The Critical Background
FROM 1900 until the first world war, poetry in England wandered for the most part along the country paths opened up by the nineteenth-century romantics, unaware that the paths had become ruts, and that a more suitable track was now the pavement. New forces were appearing, but their influence was small, and on the Georgians, who commanded what popular favour for poetry there was, non-existent. Eliot's earliest undergraduate poetry has a Georgian tinge, but the mésalliance was brief, and it was his later reaction to their work that led to his formulating the literary theories from which all his poetry since has derived. To discover these it is necessary to go to his criticism, for there, 'at the back of the poet's mind, if not as his ostensible purpose, he is always trying to defend the kind of poetry he is writing, or to formulate the kind he wants to write.' ( The Music of Poetry, p. 8). Valuable as an introduction to the theory is a study of Eliot's opinion of Georgian practice, for this not only initiated his search for a literary philosophy, but also provided it immediately with one of its components, a demand for a greater esotericism in poetry.
While it is impossible to frame any satisfactory definition of poetry, a reasonably accurate distinction between different kinds of poetry can be made. Such distinction is that between poetry with an immediate popular appeal, and poetry which will command only a limited audience. The former need not be worthless,