The interview with Donald Hall which Joe Middleton mentioned
originally appeared in _Paris Review_ 21 (Spring/Summer 1959),
47-70, under the title "The Art of Poetry, I: T. S. Eliot." Hall
reprinted it in his recent book _Their Ancient Glittering Eyes_.
Here are the two questions and responses having to do with the French
poems, as best I could type them in with a large cat in my lap:
INTERVIEWER [Donald Hall]: I think it was after "Prufrock" and
before "Gerontion" that you wrote the poems in French which appear in
your _Collected Poems_. I wonder how you happened to write them. Have
you written any since?
ELIOT: No, and I never shall. That was a very curious thing which
I can't altogether explain. At that period I though I'd dried up
completely. I hadn't written anything for some time and was rather
desperate. I started writing a few things in French and found I
*could,* at that period. I think it was that when I was writing in
French I didn't take the poems so seriously, and that, not taking
them seriously, I wasn't so worried about not being able to write. I
did these things as a sort of tour de force to see what I could do.
That went on for some months. The best of them have been printed. I
must say that Ezra Pound went through them, and Edmond Dulac, a
Frenchman we knew in London, helped with them a bit. We left out
some, and I suppose they disappeared completely. Then I suddenly
began writing in English again and lost all desire to go on with
French. I think it was just something that helped me get started
INTERVIEWER: Did you think at all about becoming a French symbolist
poet like the two Americans of the last century?
ELIOT: Stuart Merrill and Viele-Griffin. I only did that during
the romantic year I spent in Paris after Harvard. I had at that time
the idea of giving up English and trying to settle down and scrape
along in Paris and gradually write French. But it would have been a
foolish idea even if I'd been much more bilingual than I ever was,
because, for one thing, I don't think that one can be a bilingual
poet. I don't know of any case in which a man wrote great or even
fine poems equally well in two languages. I think one language must
be the one you express yourself in in poetry, and you've got to give
up the other for that purpose. and I think that the English
language really has more resources in some respects than the French.
I think, in other words, I've probably done better in English than I
ever would have in French even if I'd become as proficient in French
as the poets you mentioned.
--"Interview: T. S. Eliot," in _Their Ancient Glittering Eyes:
Remembering Poets and More Poets_, by Donald Hall, 266. New York:
Ticknor & Fields, 1992.
Greg Foster | "Fine art is the refinement,
<[log in to unmask]> | not the antithesis, of
TSE <[log in to unmask]> | popular art." -- T. S. Eliot