Thursday, 7 July 2011

T.S. Eliot From Poe to Valery

See T. S. Eliot on Poe B. R. McElderry, Jr. University of Southern California:

It will be well, however, to look at the later essay first. “From Poe to Valéry” is typical of Eliot in many ways. Just after receiving the Nobel Prize, he delivered it as a lecture at the Library of Congress in November, 1948; in the next twelve months it appeared in print three times (1). Based on the well-known interest in Poe taken by Baudelaire, Mallarmé, and Valéry, the essay contrives an emphasis relevant to the contemporary scene, just as Eliot had previously made John Donne and the metaphysical poets relevant to twentieth-century poetry. The apologetic tone so frequent in Eliot’s writing is at once apparent. He is not attempting, he says, a “judicial estimate” of Poe, though parts of the essay, especially paragraphs one and four, do constitute an estimate, judicial or otherwise. Examined in detail, Eliot writes, Poe’s work seems to show nothing but “slipshod writing,” “puerile thinking,” and “haphazard experiments.” Poe’s diction is sometimes inexact, as in “my most immemorial year” and “a stately raven.” Yet Poe’s work as a whole is “a mass of unique shape and impressive size.” The “ordinary cultivated reader” (Eliot himself, of course) recalls a few short poems “which enchanted him for a time when he was a boy, and which do somehow stick in the memory.” Such a reader also recalls the tales, and notes their influence on detective and science fiction. But the impact of Poe on three French poets — Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Valéry — has been much more profound. Read more

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