Friday 6 January 2017

T.S.Eliot 'will hardly be read for enjoyment' (review 1917)

As we know, in many literary circles, T.S.Eliot is a 'great'. Radio 4 just broadcast a whole chunk of his poems one after the other. He has very high status in the world of poetry, literature and 'high art' culture.

Sometimes it's easy to think of this kind of status as everlasting and universal. That's to say, he was acclaimed from the start, and is acclaimed everywhere.

The Times Literary Supplement - to its great credit - has just published a little extract from its review of 'Prufrock and Other Observations' from when it was published in 1917.

'Mr Eliot's notion of poetry [is] untouched by any genuine rush of feeling. As, even on this basis, he reads generally inarticulate, his 'poems' will hardly be read by many as enjoyment.'

On 'Rhapsody of a Windy Night' the reviewer wrote ' "dust in crevices, smells of chestnuts in the streets, and female smells in shuttered room..." The fact that these things occurred in the mind of Mr Eliot is surely of the very smallest importance to any one. They certainly have no relation to "poetry".'

[By the way, just to be clear, I read Eliot with 'enjoyment' and with a 'genuine rush of feeling'.]