Perhaps this essay might clarify what I mean by it.
I am also pasting it here.
D. H. Lawrence and the Ethical Approach to Literary Criticism
F. R. LEAVIS, in his D. H. Lawrence: Novelist, calls Lawrence, ‘an incomparable literary critic’, (1) and this opinion seems to be gaining ground in the academic world, at least if we can judge by the number of American Literature courses on which Studies in Classic American Literature is standard critical reading. Certainly if we compare Lawrence’s work with that of most other critics, we cannot but agree with Leavis, for the simple reason that Lawrence is one of the few critics who have realised that a work of art is something of direct relevance to life, and not merely an interesting machine which can be taken to pieces for the purposes of study. As Lawrence himself says, ‘We judge a work of art by its effect on our sincere and vital emotion, and nothing else. All the critical twiddle-twaddle about style and form, all this pseudo-scientific classifying and analysing of books in an imitation—botanical fashion, is mere impertinence and mostly dull jargon.’ (2) Lawrence, we must realise from the start, is in a class of his own above practically all academic criticism, and the last thing a critic of his criticism must do is to suggest that his whole contribution is null and void. Yet I must confess to finding Lawrence’s critical works unsatisfactory, and, moreover, unsatisfactory in a way which can tell us a great deal about not only Lawrence’s work as a whole, but also the problem of the relation of literary criticism to moral evaluation.
     In defining Lawrence’s critical virtues, Leavis points to the central issue in assessing Lawrence’s work: ‘he has an unfailingly sure sense of the difference between that which makes for life and that which makes against it; of the difference between health and that which tends away from health.’(3) Leavis is, of course, quite right. We need only turn to Lawrence’s comments on Mann’s Death in Venice for confirmation:
It is absolutely, almost intentionally, unwholesome. The man is sick, body and soul. He portrays himself as he is, with wonderful skill and art, portrays his sickness. And since any genuine portrait is valuable, this book has its place. It portrays one man, one atmosphere, one sick vision. It claims to do no more. And we have to allow it. But we know it is unwholesome — it does not strike me as being morbid for all that, it is too well done — and we give it its place as such. (4)
Nor is this an isolated example in Lawrence’s criticism; Dostoievsky (indeed the Russians as a whole), Poe, Melville, Blake, Goethe, Whitman — the list includes almost everyone Lawrence wrote about — all are either sick or obscene or in some way failures in living. For the moment, the justice of this criticism does not concern us, merely the attitude to literature which produces it. This attitude I propose to call the ethical approach to literature. Clearly, we cannot use the term ‘ethical’ in quite its normal sense, for Lawrence has very little time for moral systems instructing us in how to love our neighbours, and, indeed, in Morality and the Novel (5) produces a definition of morality which is far from what I mean by the ethical approach to literature. The sense in which I wish to use the term is that of ‘pertaining to the perfection (or fulfilment) of man’. The ethical approach to literature therefore assumes that it is the purpose of literature to lead man to perfection or fulfilment, to help man to be ‘alive, to be man alive, to be whole man alive’ (6) That Lawrence is an ethical critic in this sense is quite obvious, for his main concern is, as Leavis says, with discriminating between that literature which leads to health or perfection in life, and that which leads away from such perfection.
     The essay on Mann is a classic of ethical criticism. Mann’s skill and accuracy, his undoubted greatness as an artist must take second place to the fact that as a man he is imperfect. The book has a place, Lawrence grants — but it rapidly becomes obvious that its place is as a warning to its readers not to go the way of the author. At the end of the essay, we are told that Mann is old, but we are young, and it is quite clear that the young must follow a different path. It should already seem strange that one of the great works of this century can be so lightly dismissed by Lawrence, but there is something even stranger implied in the essay. It is not that Lawrence does not see the greatness of Death of Venice, but that that greatness is negated by the sickness of the author. Already there is evolving the doctrine which governs Lawrence’s analyses of the Americans: the greatness of a work of art is not dependent upon its author, but manifests itself despite the author’s sickness of soul. In Studies in Classic American Literature, this doctrine is formulated quite explicitly:
The artist usually sets out — or used to — to point a moral and adorn a tale. The tale, however, points the other way, as a rule. Two blankly opposing morals, the artist’s and the tale’s. Never trust the artist. Trust the tale. The proper function of a critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it. (7)
This is the only logical conclusion to Lawrence’s ethical approach. Being a critic of great sensitivity, he cannot fail to notice that many of the works which show evidence of sickness are also great works of art, and in order to account for this, he must assume two sources for the work, the sick artist, who can be ignored, and the pure artistic impulse, which is what the critic must really deal with. Only the tale tells the truth; the artist is a ‘liar’, and his part of the work a ‘subterfuge’ (8) attempting to conceal the truth which threatens to expose his sickness.
     In one sense, this idea is perfectly correct, and the criticism Lawrence writes is therefore an accurate picture of the works he gives his attention to. There is, after all, something rather ghastly in Poe, and something deathly in Mann. But we cannot help feeling that there is a difference between Poe’s and Mann’s sickness as expressed in their greatest works, and the mental sickness of the average psychiatrist’s case — and that this difference is ignored by Lawrence. We can perhaps understand why Lawrence fails to see the difference if we look again at the Mann essay. Notice, in particular, that Lawrence makes a direct transition from saying that the work of art is unwholesome to saying that the man who wrote it is also unwholesome. Notice also how the significance of the book is restricted by that same transition; because the book is unwholesome, the author is unwholesome, and because not all men are unwholesome, the book can only apply to the author, can only portray ‘one man, one atmosphere, one sick vision’. We are here dealing with very dangerous half-truths. We cannot deny that Mann’s book is a portrait of Mann himself, but does that mean that it is nothing more than a case-history of an illness. For Lawrence, the answer is clearly yes; Mann is a ‘scientist’ in the same way as Poe because he too is sick, and therefore can only portray the dissolution of his own soul. (9) Yet Lawrence also stumbles across the reason why the answer must be no, when he says that Death in Venice is ‘almost intentionally unwholesome’ (my italics). Mann’s work is not a case-history because the sickness which it undoubtedly contains has been understood by Mann, and turned into art. The sickness in the work is intentional, and is therefore completely different from the psychiatrically treatable sickness which takes control of the patient, and whose essence quite possibly is that the patient does not understand it.
     We have, in fact, come up against a central flaw in ethical criticism. It assumes that the purpose of art is the same as its own purpose, i.e. to lead the reader to some sort of fulfilment, yet there exist works of art which manifestly do not share this purpose, yet which strike us as being great works for all that. The ethical critic deals with this problem by simply saying that all art shares that purpose, but some artists do not, and must therefore be disregarded. That is all very well when the artists we are going to disregard are Benjamin Franklins or John Galsworthys, but we cannot simply read Mann and Dostoievsky and Melville in the same way. We must allow that the contribution of the artist to his own work might occasionally be of more value than that of the critic who has come to save him from his errors. Lawrence himself is a prime example. There can now be little doubt that he was a ‘sick’ artist, even if not clinically ill. His relationship with his mother was not ‘healthy’, and he never pretended that it was; his bouts of what seemed to his friends to be insanity are hardly evidence of perfection; and his relationship with Fried a seems to have been far from stable, and far from what he himself regarded as ideal. Moreover, in his finest works, there is a good deal that is not ‘life and health’, and that which does fit into the ethical framework seems more often than not to be the work of the teller, not the tale. One thinks in particular of Birkin’s problems in Women in Love, and his attraction to the obviously ailing Gerald. Is the sickness, whether ultimately overcome or not, merely a warning, and if so, why spend so long describing it? Are we, in other words, being led along the paths of fulfilment by Birkin’s example, or are we witnessing a tragedy in which Birkin’s ‘success’ is a relatively minor element, making the pain of sickness only slightly more bearable? Certainly, Lawrence’s essays, where we have only the teller, are far ‘healthier’ than his fiction, where the tale is often almost demonic. F. R. Leavis, who follows Lawrence’s ethical approach, in its basics at any rate, has seen this problem, but neatly avoids it. ‘There is,’ he says, ‘no profound emotional disorder in Lawrence, no obdurate major disharmony’.’(10) He realises full well that Lawrence’s works can hardly be held up as moral exemplars if Lawrence himself was sick, and therefore he simply asserts that Lawrence was not sick — his evidence, we suspect, being not biographical, but literary, i.e. the repeated proclamations of health and life in Lawrence’s work. We cannot help comparing Lawrence’s attitude to moral and mental health with that of Walt Whitman, whom he so much admired. Whitman, proclaiming himself ‘thirtyseven years old in perfect health’, (11) setting himself up as the perfect American of the future, was, as we know, a sad and lonely homosexual, unrecognised by the literary world, and constantly disappointed in his love-affairs.
     In fact, Lawrence stands condemned out of his own mouth. In response to psychological analyses of Sons and Lovers he wrote:
You know I think these ‘complexes’ are vicious half-statements of the Freudians: sort of can’t see wood for trees. When you’ve said Mutter-complex, you’ve said nothing — no more than if you called hysteria a nervous disease. Hysteria isn’t nerves, a complex is not simply a sex — relation: far from it. — My poor book: it was, as art, a fairly complete truth: so they carve a half lie out of it, and say ‘Voilà’. Swine! (12)
I hardly think that what Lawrence is objecting to here is the specifically Freudian interpretation, but rather the failure to preserve the distinction between psychology and art. The psychologist, he says, reduces the work of art to something less than itself. Lawrence does not deny that he suffered from a ‘mother-complex’, but asserts that the truth about that complex could only be told in a work of art; the complex is not simply a scientifically observable phenomenon, but is an experience; the sex-relation becomes far more than that because it is experienced by a spiritually aware person. Its significance is neither more nor less than that of Sons and Lovers, in which Lawrence has come to terms with it and expressed it as art. We can imagine Thomas Mann making exactly the same point in reply to Lawrence’s comments on his work. Lawrence’s psychology is not Freudian, but its methods are the same, and Mann would be bound to object that to call Death in Venice a sick book is simply to say nothing, to reduce the work of art to the level of the raw materials from which it started. Lawrence, unfortunately, has one law for himself, and another law for other writers.
     Clearly, in order to go beyond Lawrence, it is necessary to discover the nature of the relationship between art and the imperfect human condition from which it arises. As good a starting point as any is Lawrence’s definition of the artist: ‘an artist is never, in being an artist, an idealist. The artist lives and sees and knows direct from the life-mystery itself. He sees the creative uncompassable mystery in all its nakedness of impulse and gesture.’ (13) The life-mystery is the absolute which art seeks to embody, and seeks to put the reader in contact with; the idealist is one who has no contact with the life-mystery, but rather thinks only in ideas, which are merely his own creations; ideas are relative, while the life-mystery is absolute. This antithesis is familiar from the whole body of Lawrence’s work, and, if we wanted examples, we could say that Cipriano, in The Plumed Serpent, is a man in contact with the life-mystery, while Gerald, in Women in Love, is an idealist. However, the antithesis is actually made too absolute by Lawrence, for the idealist and artist are not two opposites, but only different forms of the same phenomenon. If we accepted Lawrence’s antithesis, we should eventually be led to say, as Lawrence himself does, that animals are more closely in touch with the life-mystery than men are. We should, of course, be right; no animal ever distorted that mystery with its ideas. A bird, we could say, is actually a part of the life-mystery, a direct emanation from it, and its song is an outpouring of that mystery. But — and it is an important but — the bird could never see or know the life-mystery, no matter how much it lived in it, and the bird’s song would not be art, no matter whence it emanated. In order to see and know the mystery, it is essential to be separated from it to some degree, just as one must be separate from an object in order to see it. There is only perception and knowledge where there is consciousness, and there is only consciousness where there are ideas. Granted, these ideas may not be what we ordinarily regard as concepts; granted they may be a form of blood-consciousness, as Lawrence would call it; nonetheless, they are ideas, and are quite distinct from that which they are ideas of.
     This sounds, I admit, very much like playing with words, but it actually has very serious consequences. If separation is necessary for perception, it follows that even Lawrence’s archetypal artist must be separate from the life-mystery, and that his separation and that of the idealist differ only in degree. The work of art is, after all, one form of the idea, albeit a relatively non-conceptual form. But if this is so, it means that every artist is, to some extent, as sick as Mann or Poe, that every artist, in order to know what ‘makes for life and health’ must first of all become separate from life and health. In fact, this is the theme of Mann and Poe: they make this necessary sickness their subject — so it is little wonder that Lawrence could not understand them.
     Is it, then, we must ask ourselves, possible to separate that part of a work which is the product of the writer’s necessary sickness from that part which is the direct perception of the absolute? The answer is no, for the absolute can be seen only from the position of relativity established by the sickness, just as we must view an object partially because we must be separate from it. To take Lawrence himself as an example: he wishes, let us say, to show the life-mystery at work in the male-female relationship. If he had been a perfectly healthy Italian peasant-boy, he would have lived from that mystery and loved a woman in that mystery, but never written books about it. As it is, only because he has experienced great suffering in his early sexual relations, and has thereby been made conscious of those relations can he write about the life-mystery as it manifests itself between man and woman. And everything he writes will be from the standpoint of a man who has suffered from a possessive mother and over-spiritual first-love. Right to the end of his life, he will insist on the aspects of love which counter-balance his early suffering, i.e. on physicality and freedom. The true picture of the artist, in other words, is not Lawrence’s one of the perfectly fulfilled man, but rather Yeats’ of the artist as a man pursuing an ideal which is the opposite of his true state, and which he is able to perceive only because it is not his true state.
     If this is the case, then the ethical approach to literature begins to seem totally inadequate. How can literature be an attempt to lead man to fulfilment when its very existence is based upon unfulfilment? How can the critic presume to rescue the tale from the teller, the absolute truth of the life-mystery from the relativity of the sick artist, when the absolute can only be approached through such relativity? Indeed, how can the critic say that the artist should be concerned with pursuing any absolute life-mystery when that mystery is always necessarily relative to the artist? Lawrence, it may be, found his means of _expression in the pursuit of an absolute state which would solve all his problems; that, as Yeats would say, was his mask, just as Wordsworth’s mask was that of the simple shepherd in the Lakes, or Yeats’ own mask was that of the perfect courtier inter alia. Yet there are other artists, equally great, who have found their means of _expression in the tragic acceptance of their sickness. They are simply two sides of the same coin: the one seeks an absolute, the other accepts the relative, but both are expressing their lives in a condition of relativity and partiality. Lawrence’s lack of interest in tragedy is not accidental; it is the inevitable consequence of his refusal to accept anything less than the absolute fulfilment. Yet, paradoxically, his own best work is most nearly tragic, while his worst is filled with exhortations to seek the absolute.
     However, Lawrence’s criticism has a far greater significance for us than we have so far made clear, for it is, it seems to me, the product of certain changes in the intellectual climate which took place at the end of the last century. Looking back, we can fairly safely say that the dominant figures in European thought in that period were Darwin, Marx and Freud, and it is significant that the work of each exemplifies the same basic tendency — a tendency we can call ‘relativisation’. Although it is a vast over-simplification, there is nonetheless some truth in the statement that prior to these three the intellect was conceived of as an independent organ able to perceive an absolute reality called Truth. Its perception might be more or less clear, more or less profound, but at least there existed something to be perceived. What Darwin, Marx, and Freud did, to put it simply, was to remove that absolute reality by destroying the idea of an independent intellect. They made it quite apparent that the intellect was dependent on the activities of the unconscious mind, on its position in history and society, on various animal instincts and drives, and so on. For the first time, it became possible — almost obligatory — to see Shakespeare not as the divinely — inspired bard, but as an Elizabethan bourgeois with an Oedipus complex and an instinct for self-preservation. The absolute of truth began to seem meaningless, and was replaced by absolutes derived from the governing parts of man’s nature, by the absolute of psychic health or of social harmony. What is significant for us in this is that an intellectual and aesthetic absolute was replaced by non-intellectual absolutes, and, inevitably, these absolutes did not apply to works of art, which are, after all, intellectual works. Of course, it is equally true that some versions of the absolute of truth do not apply to art, but at least art is concerned with truth in some form, while health and social harmony are nothing to do with it.
     It is interesting to note this changing of absolutes taking place in the work of Nietzsche, and it is doubly significant for us, since Lawrence was deeply influenced by him, and, I suspect, learned a good deal of his critical method from him. Look, for instance, at this passage from Beyond Good and Evil:
Just as the act of being born plays no part in the procedure and progress of heredity, so ‘being conscious is in no decisive sense the opposite of the instinctive — most of a philosopher’s conscious thinking is secretly directed and compelled into definite channels by his instincts. . . . The falseness of a judgement is to us not necessarily an objection to a judgement: it is here that our new language perhaps sounds strangest. The question is to what extent it is life-advancing, life-preserving, species-preserving, perhaps even species-breeding; . . . (14)
That passage makes clear the assumptions that are unspoken in Lawrence’s criticism. What a philosopher (we can easily substitute ‘artist’) puts forward as true is actually the product of his instincts; therefore it is not meaningful to call it true or otherwise; therefore we must replace the test of truth by that of its usefulness to life. This is, in fact, a piece of biological thinking applied to philosophy; the passage is full of the language of biology, and it is quite obvious that ideas are being equated with chance variations within a species, and are being seen as weapons in the fight for the survival of the fittest. Perhaps the tone is too biological for it to be an _expression of Lawrence’s attitude, but the similarity to Lawrence becomes obvious if we replace the test of the preservation of the species by that of the psychic health of the individual. The point is that Nietzsche and Lawrence after him replace the absolute of art by other absolutes which have nothing to do with art, and then proceed to condemn art for not conforming to their absolutes.
     A curious feature of all criticism based on these ideas is that it pays little or no attention to the works of art it is studying. If the work of art is the _expression of something absolute, then it is vitally important; but if it is at best merely an aid to health or the preservation of the species, and at worst something entirely irrelevant to the true absolutes, then it is of much less importance. Whereas once the work of art was truth, it now becomes merely an example, a product of something else. This is certainly how Lawrence treats the works he studies. Whitman, Melville, Poe, and Hawthorne, for instance, are not seen as individuals trying to find and express the truth of their existence, but are examples of the disintegration of the white soul in America. Mann is an example of the senility of Germany. What the writers actually have to say is of practically no importance — it is all lies anyway! The same is true of psychological criticism: what a writer says is not the truth, but is the product of something which does not recognise the test of truth, of a complex or a neurosis; a work of art is full not of symbols and characters, but of mother-figures, phallic symbols, dream-images and the like. And, of course, exactly the same is true of marxist criticism, where once again the work becomes an example of something — this time of the structure of society. Because the absolute has been made something beyond those absolutes recognised by art, art necessarily becomes entirely relative. Indeed, there does exist a book written quite seriously by an American shortstory writer strongly influenced by Darwinism and its intellectual offshoots which says that Shakespeare and Aeschylus have nothing to say to us beyond a few touches of local colour, because their time and place are so remote from ours that their art also must be impossibly remote. (15) The conclusion seems absurd, but it is the inevitable and logical consequence of robbing art of its own absolute.
     However, for all the absurdities that Darwinism, Freudianism, and Marxism have led to in literary criticism, we cannot simply ignore them and hope they will go away. We cannot now regard the intellect as a totally independent perceiver of the truth, yet we must restore to art its own absolute. In order to do this, we must return to the point Lawrence himself makes apropos of Sons and Lovers, which is that the work of art is in some way fuller and truer than the conditions which determine its production. Something, in other words, happens in the creation of a work of art which allows it to rise above the neurosis or social situation which is a dominant factor in the life of the artist. That something is quite simply that the conditions of its production are expressed, and are thereby made the objects of a special kind of knowledge. From that point on, we are moving in the realm of truth rather than of health or social harmony or whatever, and therefore the work of art must obey quite different laws and pass quite other tests than those which apply to the life from which it has sprung. We ask of the work of art only that it illuminate us as to the nature of being a living person, and not that it be an example of perfect psychic well-being. But at the same time, we do not simply return to pre-Darwinian days and assert that the work of art will be a reflection of an absolute truth. It will inevitably be the _expression of a truth relative to the conditions of its production, but those conditions are themselves manifestations of the conditions under which men must live at all times, and are therefore a form of being-human. There can never be an absolute truth of human experience because, by definition, each man must experience his own life uniquely. The absolute must, as it were, accept the fact that it can only manifest itself through the relative; the absolute truth about human existence is always relative.
     It is this paradox which allowed critics such as Lawrence to separate the relative from the absolute, dismiss the latter, and set up absolutes for the former. In Lawrence, there is, in fact, a disastrous confusion between ‘perfection of the life’ and ‘perfection of the work’; they are made to conform to the same absolute. The result is criticism which does more than probably anyone else’s to prepare us to see the manifestation of the absolute in the relative, but which is all too often incapable of taking that final step for us.


(1) F. R. Leavis, D. H. Lawrence: Novelist (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, in association with Chatto and Windus, 1964), p. 325.

(2) D. H. Lawrence, Phoenix, ed. Edward D. McDonald (London, Heinemann,
1936), p. 539.

(3) Leavis, loc. cit.

(4) Phoenix, p. 312.

(5) ibid., pp. 527-32.

(6) Why the Novel Matters, in Phoenix, p. 587.

(7) D. H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature (London, Mercury Books, 1965), p. 2.

(8) Lawrence, loc. cit.

(9) ‘Poe is rather a scientist than an artist. He is reducing his own self as a scientist reduces a salt in a crucible. It is an almost chemical analysis of the soul and consciousness. Whereas in true art there is always the double rhythm of creating and destroying.’ Studies in Classic American Literature, p. 61. As a distinction between the scientist who analyses objective fact and the artist who creates a form for an inner state, Lawrence’s theory is probably correct. But he fails to see how the analytical method can itself be art, because he will not allow it any value at all. It must, for him, be sickness and nothing else.

(10) Leavis, p. 27.

(11) Song of Myself, section I.

(12) Letter to Barbara Low, 16 Sept. 1916. The Collected Letters of D. H. Lawrence, ed. Harry T. Moore, 2 vols. (London, Heinemann, 1962), p. 475.

(13) The Symbolic Meaning: The Uncollected Versions of Studies in Classic American Literature, ed. Armin Arnold (Arundel, Centaur Press Ltd., 1962), p. 69.

(14) Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1973), p. 17.

(15) Hamlin Garland makes these assertions in his Crumbling Idols (Chicago, Stone and Kimball, 1894). Garland is, admittedly, a minor figure, but he is by no means inconsiderable, and merely takes to extremes ideas which were quite common at that time.

cr mittal <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Dear Vishvesh,
Could you please elaborate how you relate
my quotes to the notion of "ethical criticism"?
~ CR

Vishvesh Obla <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Thank You very much for those quotes.  It gives a perspective when one looks at what one called 'ethical criticism'.

cr mittal <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Two passages from Peter Ackroyd's 'T.S. Eliot: A Life' :
The only advantage of illness, as far as Eliot was concerned, was that
it released him from the general round of works and days -- it was, he
used to say, his body's way of telling him to stop -- and during periods
of ill health such as this one he seemed better able to write. The
relationship between illness and creativity interested him, and he often
emphasized it in his prose writings. In the conclusion to The Use of
Poetry and the Use of Criticism, he had suggested that some forms of
'debility', ill health and anaemia may produce an efflux of poetry', and
referred to the same phenomenon in his introduction to Pascal's
PENSÉES, in which he declared that certain kinds of ill health may
favour not only 'religious illumination' but also 'artistic and literary
composition'. This was part of his belief that poetic composition was
not an activity that could be consciously controlled, that it had its
roots far down in the unconscious. The metaphors which he employs
to describe this process are curiously disagreeable, however. He talks
of the 'dark embryo' which gradually takes on the form of a poem, of
'dark psychic material' with which the poet struggles; it is a 'burden'
to be relieved or a 'demon' to be exorcised. This suggestion of a
compulsive activity with which he wants as little to do as possible is
confirmed by his description of poetry as a 'secretion' (he quotes
Houseman favourably on this), an 'evacuation' and even a 'defecation'.
The impression given is of some sticky, viscous, unpleasant material
which has to do with the satisfaction of obscure and uncontrollable
personal needs. Perhaps Eliot's attitude is an aspect of his puritanism:
the pleasure involved in the 'sudden relief' of producing the poem is
itself considered by him to be suspect. Disgust with the body may be
formulated as a disgust with the sheer materiality of words
(the 'secretion'): hence the need to economize with them, to formalize
them, to cut them down.
But it was not until August 1942, after a year's delay, that he set
to work on the poem ('Little Gidding') again. It was by far the most
laboriously produced of the sequence: there are some five drafts,
and thirteen separate typescripts, extant. Some of it had come
quickly; Eliot knew the verse was right, and left it alone. But the rest
needed more attention. He composed a short preliminary scheme for
the entire poem, as well as prose drafts for certain difficult passages.
(For 'The Dry Salvages' he had even written out lists of rhyming words
to assist him.) Like his pleasure in reading dictionaries or solving
crosswords, this seemed to be the kind of soothing conscious activity
which allowed the unconscious faculties an easier passage forward.
Having constructed a working model, as it were, he left his conscious
mind to one side and relied upon his ear -- what he described as the
interdependence of rhythm and diction, or the recognition of meaning
when it is embodied in cadence. In fact what he called the 'auditory
imagination' was always his most powerful faculty, the most subtle
and complex instrument at his disposal which he deserted at his peril.
When in Four Quartets he was concerned to state or develop a theme,
he frequently relapsed into flatness or banality. But in almost all
instances he recovered himself in the process of revision, took out
the passages which were rhythmically inert or altered words and
images which did not sustain the underlying cadence and structure.
Hi Listers,
This was material just randomly come by. But it suggests how one
could go along and study Eliot's creative process as a complex mix of
the operations of the conscious and the unconscious faculties.
What intrigued me, however, was how poetry came to Eliot --
sometimes as a collocation of images, as in The Waste Land, 
which connected in terms of their symbolic/metaphoric meanings --
at other times as biblical invocations as in Ash-Wednesday --
and much later, as in the Quartets, as direct philosophic utterances.
Of course, I'm only touching the tip of the poetic iceberg :)
Well, I must hasten to acquaint myself with what Donoghue has to
say on this.
~ CR

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