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(Idea) by lord_rothermere (Tue May 03 2005 at 12:38:53) at 
 
Samuel Johnson's great poem The Vanity of Human Wishes seems to hang over a lot of Eliot's poetry. In his essay "Samuel Johnson as Poet and Critic", he wrote admiringly of it. The title of Johnson's poem seems to be a continual concern of Eliot's (see, for example, The Waste Land and The Four Quartets, particularly the final section, Little Gidding). The difference is, I suppose, that Eliot would never have stated his case as explicitly as Johnson does:
 
Let Observation, with extensive view,
Survey mankind, from China to Peru.
 
- in itself a vain wish. Remember Eliot's remark that "it appears likely that poets in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult...The poet must become more and more comprehensive, more allusive, more indirect..."? ('The Metaphysical Poets', 1921)
Eliot's mind, which Christopher Ricks compared to an "echo-chamber" of influences - his method is something akin to collage - seems to have soaked up many phrases from Johnson's poem, which he then reuses for his own purposes. Take, for example, Johnson's splendid lines:
 
"The festal Blazes, the triumphal Show,
The ravish'd Standard, and the captive Foe,
The Senate's Thanks, the Gazette's pompous Tale,
With Force resistless o'er the Brave prevail.
Such Bribes the rapid Greek o'er Asia whirl'd,
For such the steady Romans shook the World;
For such in distant Lands the Britons shine..."
In itself this is great poetry (note how the last three lines are linked - by whirl'd/World, shook/shine - so as to reinforce Johnson's notion of the homogeneity of human experience) but I would like to draw particular attention to the rhyming of whirl'd/World. This quibble is used by Eliot in the fifth section of his 1927 poem 'Ash Wednesday':
 
"If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word."
 
Like another poet Eliot greatly admired, George Herbert, the propinquity of 'world' and 'whirled' is a serious pun. It manifests one of the great possibilities of poetry: it appeals to both the ear and the eye.
 
Johnson's diction also seems to surface in Little Gidding. Compare:
 
"remember'd Folly stings" (Johnson)
"Then fool's approval stings" (Eliot);
"Now lacerated Friendship claims a Tear" (Johnson)
"the laceration/Of laughter at what ceases to amuse" (Eliot)
 
I am not suggesting that "The Vanity of Human Wishes" was a direct influence on Eliot's poetry in the way that Jules Laforgue informs his first volume, Theophile Gautier his second, Ezra Pound his third (and so on); instead, I am drawing attention to the ways in which phrases from a poem we know Eliot admired surface several times in his own poetry - intentionally or not.
 
 
I owe these explorations at the web to Mike's prompting queries. Thanks, Mike.
 
Regards, 
 CR


--- On Sun, 9/5/10, Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Excerpts from Wikipedia:
 
As the subtitle suggests, it is an imitation of Satire X by the Latin poet Juvenal. Unlike Juvenal, Johnson attempts to sympathize with his poetic subjects. Also, the poem focuses on human futility and humanity's quest after greatness like Juvenal but concludes that Christian values are important to living properly. It was Johnson's second imitation of Juvenal (the first being his 1738 poem London). Unlike London, The Vanity of Human Wishes emphasizes philosophy over politics. The poem was not a financial success, but later critics, including Walter Scott and T. S. Eliot, considered it to be Johnson's greatest poem.[2]
 
"The Vanity of Human Wishes is a poem of 368 lines, written in closed heroic couplets. Johnson loosely adapts Juvenal's original satire in order to demonstrate "the complete inability of the world and of worldly life to offer genuine or permanent satisfaction."[14] The opening lines of the poem announce the universal scope of the poem, as well as its central theme that "the antidote to vain human wishes is non-vain spiritual wishes":[15]
 
Johnson draws on personal experience as well as a variety of historical sources in order to illustrate "the helpless vulnerability of the individual before the social context" and the "inevitable self-deception by which human beings are led astray".[17] Both themes are explored in one of the most famous passages in the poem [the one which Eliot refers to???], Johnson's outline of the career of Charles XII of Sweden. As Howard D. Weinbrot notes, "The passage skillfully includes many of Johnson's familiar themes - repulsion with slaughter that aggrandizes one man and kills and impoverishes thousands, understanding of the human need to glorify heroes, and subtle contrast with the classical parent-poem and its inadequate moral vision."[18] Johnson depicts Charles as a "Soul of Fire", the "Unconquer'd Lord of Pleasure and of Pain", who refuses to accept that his pursuit of military conquest may end in disaster:
'Think Nothing gain'd, he cries, till nought remain,
On Moscow's Walls till Gothic Standards fly,
And all be Mine beneath the Polar Sky.'
(Lines 202-204)
[19]
In a famous passage, Johnson reduces the king's glorious military career to a cautionary example in a poem:
His Fall was destin'd to a barren Strand,
A petty Fortress, and a dubious Hand;
He left the Name, at which the World grew pale,
To point a Moral, or adorn a Tale.
(Lines 219-222)
[19]
 
CR


--- On Sun, 9/5/10, Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Dear Mike,

Our public library is closed 4th-6th (Labor Day). Please wait a couple of days. I look forward to sharing what Eliot says on this in his Introduction.

Meanwhile here's some idea of the lines' burden:

http://www.bartleby.com/220/0813.html

The first paragraph of a paper on The Vanity of Human Wishes at the following link sheds some light on Eliot's praise of it:

http://www.press.ntu.edu.tw/ejournal/files/Studies%5C14%5C3.pdf

Regards,
CR


--- On Sun, 9/5/10, mikemail <
[log in to unmask]" rel=nofollow target=_blank>[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>
> I was asking if anyone knew the specific lines of poetry by Johnson, which Eliot referred to as good poetry.  Nancy kindly provided the reference "If lines 189-220 of 'The Vanity of Human Wishes' are
> not poetry," T. S. Eliot commented, "I do not know what is." and
> I then searched for and posted the lines.  There are numerous discussions here about the meaning of poetry etc re.TSE.  //what is the meaning of Johnson's lines?//  Can this be seen in Eliot's poetry?  An interesting idea since he gave these lines such praise.
>  
> Mike