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Do you think Logan really believed Shelley had any cachet left before 1900
or that suddenly in 1900 he had none?

GAVIN




on 2/25/03 12:39 PM, Christopher Tidwell (ENG) at [log in to unmask]
wrote:

> 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