"Morris, Craig" wrote:
> Eliot's poetry on the whole strikes me as repulsive and yet there are
> images and verses that are more compelling than any other words I have
> read. If anyone can articulate why Eliot is worth studying (with a 16/17
> year old audience in mind) I would be grateful for your thoughts.
I'll see if I can help.
First of all, those compelling images and verses: Whatever they are
'saying,' in responding to them and studying them you are sharpening the
blade of your mind. Keep at it. Auden's memorial poem to Yeats is
perhaps relevant here:
Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and innocent,
And forgetful in a week
Of a beautiful physique,
Worships language and forgives,
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet.
Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.
(For these stanzas you have to go back to the 1945 edition of Collected
You are I think responding to that in Eliot which also earns this
But there is more. Every poem, good or bad, is an index entry into the
whole of actual and possible human experience and thought. The trouble
with bad poems, as Eliot himself observes several times, both in his
prose and in his verse, is that it merely points to the banal; it offers
neither 'good' nor 'bad' potentials for learning.
But (assuming you are correct in your overall response, and I tend, more
or less, to agree with you) _what_ is it in that body of poetry that
that triggers your response. Many things are merely irritating, a buzz
in one's ear, rather than repulsive. Creating the repulsive, making it
visible, tangible, intelligible, is not to be sneezed at. Could you
adequately describe, _now_, at 16 or 17, not only what is repulsive in
Eliot's body of poetry but what, out there in the world, corresponds to
that which repulses in Eliot. Can you perhaps do that more powerfully
for having studied it in Eliot's poems -- if not now, perhaps later
after having read more and done more? I think that is very possibly the
And what more can one, really, ask of a single poet? I know some on this
list want to see Eliot as an oracle of some sort, but that is a drag.
He's a poet. He's a damn good poet (above all, a damn good poet by the
standards Auden suggests). That's enough for now, isn't it?