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TSE  February 2003

TSE February 2003

Subject:

Re: Wm Logan on TSE & Stevens

From:

Peter Montgomery <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Tue, 25 Feb 2003 15:19:10 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (108 lines)

Through the room, the women come and go....

P.

Dr. Peter C. Montgomery
Dept. of English
Camosun College
3100 Foul Bay Rd.
Victoria, BC CANADA V8P 5J2
[log in to unmask]
www.camosun.bc.ca/~peterm


-----Original Message-----
From: Christopher Tidwell (ENG) [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Tuesday, February 25, 2003 12:39 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Wm Logan on TSE & Stevens


I was interested in pursuing the comparison between Eliot and Wallace
Stevens that popped up sporadically on the list a while ago.  Other than
their similar interest in the French Symbolists, I don't see a lot of
connections between the two poets, nor do I understand how Kate's posting
of the last stanzas of "The Idea of Order at Key West" were meant to
demonstrate Stevens' supposed superiority.  In any case, though, I thought
I would include some comments from William Logan, the "most hated man in
American poetry" (probably because he possesses such a discriminating eye,
though he does seem to revel in being snide and relishes twisting the
knife perhaps a bit too gleefully) to garner other listmembers'
responses.  These excerpts come from his review of the Library of
America's 2-volume anthology of 20th century American poetry; entitled
"Twentieth-Century American Poetry, Abbreviated," it originally appeared
in _Parnassus_ 25.1-2 (2001) and was then collected in _Desperate
Measures_ [these excerpts come from pp. 294-97].

    "Stevens was born in 1879, yet might have been born decades earlier
or later.  After most of a century, his poems remain uncannily fresh--the
trappings of the time don't cling to them, as they do to poems by Pound or
Eliot (Eliot was a poet of 1915, even thirty years afterward--he's a poet
of 1915 still).  You get a lot of strange language in Stevens (sometimes
strange beyond strange--if Stevens hadn't been a poet, he might have
invented a private tongue and gone around _hoo-hooing_ on street corners),
but also lines in the diction of the twentieth century, not that of King
James or Milton.  How easily Stevens turned the simplicity of the modern
idiom into philosophy--we've had few poets as abstract, as immersed in
perception and epistemology, and few who wore philosophy like a
three-piece suit.
     Stevens's poems come out of nowhere--that is, out of his mysterious
and stolid character.  Psychologically he seems a relative not of moderns
like Eliot and Pound, but of Dickinson and Whitman--you may read musty
volumes on the Civil War without understanding the sources of their work,
just as you may read the symbolists all day long without seeing how
Stevens did what he did.  Years as an insurance executive caged up the
lightness of being in _Harmonium_--the aged Stevens seems like a
pensioned-off civil servant until he balances on a stool, trunk regnant in
air.  Those who accuse him of being an aesthete (he _was_ an aesthete, but
so much more than one) can't have read him very closely, because aesthete
poets don't have a sense of humor.
     Anthologies are unjust to Stevens, gathering a few poems easy to read
and not easy to dislike, but far from his greatest (I do dislike "The
Emperor of Ice-Cream," and I'd pay not to find "Thirteen Ways of Looking
at a Blackbird" in the Easter basket of every anthology--yet how can you
omit it?).[...] In his long poems, as elsewhere, Stevens could be too fond
of his blather; but it's blather of rigorous intuition and argument, the
sort Thomas Aquinas might have liked.[...]
     T. S. Eliot is still the dominant poet of the last century.  He casts
a long shadow, and we are not yet out from under it, though he is very
much a poet _of_ the twentieth century.  We can't calculate how such a
poet will seem a century hence. (Who in 1900 would have thought Shelley's
reputation would sink so low?)  The generation of poets now in their
seventies were baptized in Eliot's language, like Achilles in the
Styx.  Younger generations met him as an exhibit in a museum, already a
little dusty (Eliot's lesser poems now look like rotting flags in old
armories).  Eliot was a benign influence on later poets, once they stopped
trying to imitate him; but he was a disaster for contemporaries like
Conrad Aiken, who thought Eliot's methods weren't patented--poor Aiken
looks like a carbon copy's carbon copy.
     Eliot's oeuvre is small, the smallest of any major American poet--
two dozen early poems, then _The Waste Land_, three sequences (only one of
them long), and a clutch of Ariel poems, unfinished poems, choruses from
_The Rock_, and trivia.  It's so small that in an anthology this length
you'd have an excuse for printing most of it.  _Sweeney Agonistes_ is
included, as it almost never is--it's laggard and uneven (and also
hilarious), unlike anything Eliot wrote except the pub scene in _The Waste
land_.[...] (why pretend young Eliot wasn't what he was, a skeptic, and a
droll one?) [regarding "The Hippopotamus" ...]
     You need great gouts of Eliot if you're to represent his variety.
His poetry, early to late, is a supersubtle (as he might have said)
narrative of aesthetic change as it impinges on philosophic complication.
Eliot aged quickly as a man (he was an antique at forty) and slowly as an
artist--by thirty most poets, like limpets, fix on a style they refuse to
abandon.  "He Do the Police in Different Voices" was the draft title of
_The Waste Land_, and those voices took Browning's monologues into the
Jazz Age.  Eliot never seems to be slumming, unlike many poets in love
with lower classes.  His poetry reveled in street life, as Dickens's
novels did--the draft title came from _Our Mutual Friend_.  If Eliot later
turned austere and religiose, he never lost his resistant emotional
passivity: voyeurism was a pleasure nearly erotic (even the voyeurism that
might be called religious meditation), and in religion his self-loathing
found consolation and anaesthetic oblivion.  Most great poets mature, but
few have Eliot's prolonged, punctuated maturities--for another example you
have to go back to an even greater poet, Dante."

This last line, of course, makes me miss Pat Sloane and makes me wonder
what she would make of all this.  What say you, fellow listers?
Regards,
Chris Tidwell

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