Monday, May 19, 2008

Noted: T.S. Eliot

From section V of East Coker, the second of the Four Quartets:
So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years--
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l' entre deux guerres
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate--but there is no competition--
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.


Edward Williams said...

Eliot always was precious; now he seems downright quaint. He just isn't contemporary anymore, and so his voice is beginning to squeak and croak with tired ideas and very timid cadences.

Richard said...

Wow. Did you simply have to leave this comment? What do you gain by coming here and making such a remark? I don't know you, but you wanted to be sure that I knew what was what when it came to Eliot, is that right? Anyway, I was tempted to reject the comment, as obnoxious, but decided to go ahead and publish anyway.

Edward Williams said...

Thanks for allowing my comment. I am only giving my considered opinion, as a poet myself, that Eliot's voice is of a different generation. He is very articulate, with powerful images, and rightly famous; only I think his specific meanings are quaint; as are most all historical authors, if you allow for the idea that different truths appeal to different generations. If I worded it strongly, well I guess that is to get your attention. (It is also is good fun, for heaven's sake.) But to me, the passage you quoted from Eliot is quite clear evidence of how dated and silly-sounding his thinking about "being in the middle way" actually is--despite the way he phrases it. Why is this not a legitimate discussion? Are we all supposed to be fawning fans of this highly opinionated and all too clever poet?

I appreciate your blog. Perhaps if you visit Stage Poetry Company you will see why I care about poetry and the possibility of a contemporary voice.

Richard said...

Of course we not "supposed to be fawning fans". And what you're saying is a perfectly legitimate area of discussion. My problem with the comment is that this is the first time I've received a comment from you, and the passage cited was just that, a passage, not part of any kind of essay or argument, or whatever, inviting discussion. Now, that doesn't mean that comments to such posts must be "fawning". But your comment bothered me because in it you speak with a world-weary voice of authority, as if to say "oh please, Eliot? in 2008?? who gives a rat's ass about him anymore?".

Whereas, for me, poetry has always seemed mysterious, beyond me. Thanks to Josipovici's essay on it The Singer on the Shore, I found that I could read Four Quartets and enjoy it.

I make no evaluative claims about Eliot or any poetry, though I have to say that I find your offhand criticisms of him curious. Your problem with him not being "contemporary" strikes me as bizarre. You say "his specific meanings are quaint; as are most all historical authors, if you allow for the idea that different truths appeal to different generations". I find this odd, as well. Are you suggesting that the writers of an earlier era have nothing to say to us? Anyway, for what I was able to get out of it, Four Quartets doesn't seem "quaint" to me.

I'm glad you like the blog. I checked yours out briefly; when I have time I'll look into it more.