Sunday, September 26, 2010

Remembering... T. S. Eliot

Clearly, there are two options open to a writer; either he may flood the market with his work in quantity or he may prefer to allow a trickle of perfection to water his fame. While I have recently much favoured the former, T. S. Eliot obviously preferred the latter. 'The only thing that matters is that these should be perfect in their kind, so that each should be an event,' he is quoted as saying, the smug bastard.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketObviously, I have never been much of a fan of Eliot's, likely because his desire for privacy hasn't allowed a persona to develop, and that's the only way I can appreciate anybody. A bed-ridden neurasthenic frequently laid low by bronchitis, a virgin 'til he was twenty-six, with only a few famous friends (most of whom were as low-key as him) doesn't exactly start a fire of curiosity in me. Then again, neither does a devout Christian responsible for the musical Cats, and yet he was both of these and more.

Still, thanks to this blog I've been given many opportunities to revisit those whom my high school prejudices had previously discounted, and T. S. Eliot is among them. His magpie approach to both language and inspiration is remarkably akin to the wholesale plunder I've been known to practice, and I could stand to develop his deftness in this regard.

Since Eliot was one of the first to open up poetry from the vise grip of form which in turn both ruled and ruined poetry, he's to be commended for popularizing the form. Likewise, the fact that C. S. Lewis considered his work 'a very great evil' does much to recommend Eliot to me, as I've always rather disliked Lewis and his myriad judgements including this one (as if any poetry could be evil). Plus, he did win the Nobel Prize (in 1948).

Now, his anti-Semitism on the other hand... As dismaying as it is, it needs to be considered in context. He certainly seemed comfortable enough with individual Jews, such as Leonard Woolf, who considered him a friend. But a hundred generations of devout Christians have excoriated the Jews (as opposed to the Romans) for putting their man on a stick (even though it was God's will that it be done) so it's perhaps understandable nonetheless. Later in life, Eliot was known to support Israel.

Eliot famously said: 'Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.' To which I can only add: 'I wish I'd said that.' Who knows? Some day I just might... It only remains to be seen if I imitate it, steal it, ruin it, or improve it when I do!
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