Experience into Words: Essays on Poetry

By D. W. Harding | Go to book overview

7
The Changed Outlook in Eliot's Later Poems

THE impact of Eliot's poetry when it appeared was inevitably something different from its effect now when we go back to it without the context of its time. The later assessments may be juster, and will inevitably be different, but the earlier perhaps have their interest and their historical claim. For that reason I risk reproducing four brief inquiries, all tied closely to their time and circumstances but related to one another by their reference to changes not only in the poetry but in the audience it met. The first is a review ( Scrutiny, III, 2; September 1934) of The Rock, Book of Words, 1934.

'The view that what we need in this tempestuous turmoil of change is a Rock to shelter under or to cling to, rather than an efficient aeroplane in which to ride it, is comprehensible but mistaken.' The attitude by Dr I.A. Richards here is one that many people now find less alluring than once they did, and to them the general theme of The Rock will be welcome. The whole book bears witness to the conviction that the only possible advance at the present time is a 'spiritual' one and has little to do with anything specifically modern, nor any appeal for those who

. . . constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be
good.

Mr Eliot's subtle tone of humble and yet militant contempt could hardly be improved upon. What is not con

-112-

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