Monday, August 6, 2018

T.S.Eliot | Critical Essay | Ugc Net Notes of English Literature

T.S. Eliot

Thomas Steams Eliot (1888-1965) is probably the best known and most influential English poet of the twentieth century. His work as a critic is equally significant. He was born in St Louis, Missouri; his parents belonged to New England, from a section of society which has been called WASP: White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, that is, part of the mainstream of society which colonized the eastern coast of America. He joined Harvard University in 1906, obtained his M.A.in 191 1, and started work on a doctoral thesis on the philosophy of F.H.Bradley. 


In 1912 he was appointed an assistant at Harvard, but he was already under the influence of the symbolists, and had started writing poems in the manner of Jules Lafarge. He spent one year (1910-11) in Paris, and in 1914 he joined Merton College, Oxford. He settled in London, and became a member of the Anglican Church and a British citizen in 1927, preferring to renounce hi: American heritage. He left academic pursuits to earn a living, working first in a bank, later as an editor with the publishing firm of Faber and Faber. In 1922 he founded The Criterion, a cultural quarterly, and The Waste Land was published in the inaugural issue. In 1924 he published Homage to John Dryden, which contained studies of Dryden and the metaphysical poets. 
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This was followed by For Lancelot Andravs: Essays on Style and Order (1928) in which he announced himself to be "classicist in literature, royalist in politics and Anglo-Catholic in religion." His major books of criticism include The Sacred Wood (1920), The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933), and Notes toward the Definition of Culture (1949) and On Poetry and Poets (1957). I am sure you are already familiar with his achievements as a poet and dramatist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948.


T.S.Eliot's critical output was quite diverse; he wrote theoretical pieces as well as studies of particular authors. In "To Criticize the Critic", a lecture Harvard at Leeds University in 1961, Eliot divided his prose writings into three periods. During the first, he was writing for journals like The Egoist; the main influences on him were Ezra Pound, and Eliot's teacher Irving Babbitt, who had introduced him to the philosophy of Humanism at Harvard. The second period, roughly from 1918 to 1930, was primarily one of regular contributions to the Athenaeum and the Times Literary Supplement; the third period was one of lectures and addresses, after Eliot had established himself as the leading poet of the age. As he grew older, he produced a lot of social and religious criticism; books like The Idea of a Christian Society (1939) shed light on his liter criticism and poetry. The later writings reveal a certain tiredness, a refusal to take his role as poet-critic seriously. He often suggested in his later lectures that he ought not to be taken too seriously. His second lecture on Milton, delivered in 1947, contradicts his first one, delivered in 1936, which declared that "Milton's poetry could only be an influence for the worse, upon any poet whatsoever" and accused Milton of "having done damage to the English language from which it has not wholly recovered". His convoluted style of qualification and reservations grows more complex over the years. In the words of George Watson, (he is commenting on Eliot's two lectures on Milton), "Argument advances crabwise." His first book, The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (1920), containing seminal essays like "Tradition and the Individual Talent" and "Hamlet", is central to his achievement as a critic. It is this early work which influenced the New Critics.

"TRADITION AND THE INDIVIDUAL TALENT"

"Tradition and the Individual Talent" (1919) clearly expresses Eliot's concepts about poetry and the importance of tradition. Eliot emphasizes the need for critical thinking --"criticism is as inevitable as breathing". He feels that it is unfortunate that the word "tradition" is mentioned only with pejorative implications, as when we call some poet "too traditional." He questions the habit of praising a poet primarily for those elements in his work which are more individual and differentiate him from others. according to T.S.Eliot, even the most "individual" parts of a poet's work may be those which are most alive with the influence of his poetic ancestors. Eliot stresses the objective and intellectual element. The whole of past literature will be "in the bones" of the poet with the true historical sense, " a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order." No poet has his complete meaning alone. For proper evaluation, you must set a poet, for contrast and comparison, among the dead poets. Eliot envisages a dynamic relationship between past and present writers. "The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them."

An artist can be judged only by the standards of the past; this does not mean the standards of dead critics. It means a judgment when two things, the old and the new, are measured by each other. To some extent, this resembles Matthew Arnold's "touchstone”; the "ideal order" formed by the "existing monuments" provide the standard, a land of touchstone, for evaluation. As with Arnold's touchstones, Eliot's ideal order is subjective and in need of modification from time to time. T.S. Eliot Eliot lays stress on the artist knowing "the mind of Europe -- the mind of his own country--a mind which he learns in time to be much more important than his own. Private mind". But he does not mean pedantic knowledge, he means a consciousness of the past, and some persons have a greater sensitivity to this historical awareness. As Eliot states, with epigrammatic brevity, "Some can absorb knowledge, the tardier must sweat for it. Shakespeare acquired more essential history from Plutarch than most men could from the whole British Museum." Throughout Eliot's poetry and criticism, we find this emphasis on the artist surrendering himself to some larger authority. His later political and religious writings too valorized authority. It is interesting that Eliot always worked within his own cultural space: religion meant Christianity, while literature, culture and history meant exclusively European literature, culture or history. Tradition, for Eliot, means an awareness of the history of Europe, not as dead facts but as all ever-changing yet changeless presence, constantly interacting subconsciously with the individual poet.




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