Readings for January 17th

Posted: January 15, 2019 in Readings

I thought I had posted these earlier. Unfortunately, I set the date for 2018, not 2019. Sorry for that mistake. I hope that 15 hours will be enough time for you to get through the first of Eliot’s essays. I’ll be reading right along with you.

I was very pleasantly surprised and pleased by your apparent interest in Wordsworth and Coleridge. Many students in the past, though hardly all students, have shown far less curiosity and endeavor. So, good for you. While upcoming readings will get more difficult, they will also get more unexpected and fascinating. Let’s keep up the effort and try to enjoy future assignments as much as possible. Keep in mind that we’ll most likely only have time on Thursday to discuss the first of these two essays, ‘Tradition and The Individual Talent’. We’ll get to ‘The Metaphysical Poets’ next Tuesday. Good luck with this new material!

  1. Nick Fontaine says:

    T. S. Elliot in “Traditional and The Individual Talent” praises the timelessness of poetry. New pieces of poetry change the past by modifying its own collective body. He makes an interesting point when he says that poets must harness an awareness of the past. The present is an intangible moment that ends as soon as it begins. Poets through this lens have a greater understanding of past events than those those who confront them in current time. This reminds me of my trip to Thailand in which experiences flew by in the present, but upon introspection in the future possessed a deeper meaning. T.S. Elliot in a way describes how maturing poets establish connections between indescribable feelings to the these tangible events of the past opposed to the present.

  2. Aleah Griffin says:

    In “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” T. S. Eliot explores the relationship between originality and conformity. It’s now essentially impossible to create art that is entirely original, entirely new–something that has never been seen before–because so much art has already been made. This can be intimidating for people who aspire to become artists or authors, but it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. T. S. Eliot points out that even though any poet or artist must be compared to earlier poets and artists, this doesn’t detract from the value of the new work. It gives the new work more value and meaning, and even adds new meaning to the past, building it up as a whole. Newly made art can both conform and be original. A lot of this comes from the huge range of emotion present when reading or seeing art, along with the different emotions different people experience from the same thing. Tradition is dynamic and never stops changing, but it has a solid base in every work of art or literature that was made in the past. Acknowledging the past is important, both for the sake of you as an individual and society as a whole.

  3. Kenzie Crowley says:

    I loved when Elliott made the point, “we might remind ourselves that criticism is as inevitable as breathing, and that we should be none the worse for articulating what passes in our minds when we read a book and feel an emotion about it, for criticizing our own minds in their work of criticism.”
    Often times we are taught to withhold criticism because criticism is disrespectful to the artists and their work. It is the artists that welcome the natural criticism that comes from reading or observing their work. Instead of withholding our criticism, we should find a way to articulate our criticism in a respectful and constructive way to benefit the artists and push them to become better.
    Poets, artists and many alike use criticism to better their work. It is a natural thing that happens, but it is unnatural to assume that all poets are alike and therefore their work should be the same.
    Wordsworth criticized poets for using complicated language and instead strived to write more simply. I’m sure he received criticism for his argument and instead of letting it halt his opinion, he stuck to what he believed and let it strengthen his resolve.

    • I’m with you. We are trained to think that all judgment is bad, “judgy”. Eliot, against today’s dominant opinion, believes it is impossible not the judge, as judgment is one of the most fundamental faculties of the human mind. If we can’t help but judge, the point should not be to strive not to judge anyway, but rather to cultivate our judgment and do it the very best we can. You’ll see him elaborate this thought is his essay on Metaphysical Poets.

  4. The comparison of writing poetry to chemistry is fantastically clever because they are two things that are not necessarily associated with one another. I think the real genius behind these ideas is how they comment on the dynamic position of poets and how the ‘greatness’ of their work stems from the process of its creation. Throughout this entire section of “Tradition”, I am reminded of contemporary art in the 21st century.

    My thoughts are mainly focused on these two snippets of “Tradition”.

    The main concept: “ The analogy was that of the catalyst. When the two gases previously mentioned are mixed in the presence of a filament of platinum, they form sulphurous acid. This combination takes place only if the platinum is present; nevertheless the newly formed acid contains no trace of platinum, and the platinum itself is apparently unaffected; has remained inert, neutral, and unchanged. The mind of the poet is the shred of platinum.”

    The continuation of the main concept: “For it is not the “greatness,” the intensity, of the emotions, the components, but the intensity of the artistic process, the pressure, so to speak, under which the fusion takes place, that counts.”

    The idea that: ‘the greatness and meaning of an art piece comes from the pressure and intensity of the artistic process that births it’ is something very commonly seen in contemporary art. The end result of an idea and creative process may seem obscure, abstract, and otherwise nonsensical at first, but once you learn of the creation process and inspiration for a piece you are able to understand it more clearly and appreciate it in a new way. In fact, understanding the ‘behind the scenes’ of contemporary art is what takes the piece to a whole new level.

    I bring up the comparison of contemporary art because just as Eliot said, the greatness of a piece of poetry is more dependent upon the vigor and intensity of its creation rather than the sum of individual concepts and components. Poetry and contemporary art may seem unrelated, but when looked at considering the previous idea, the comparison is clear. Both may seem mediocre and inaccessible at first, but knowing the context and methods behind their creation fully develops their meaning and ‘greatness’. If anything, I think it’s a significant connection because its applying ideas that are over 100 years old to something that is uniquely 21st century in a relatable way.

    Furthermore, I would extend the sentiment that poets are ‘catalysts’ to artists of all stripes. I don’t think he intended for that to happen, but in light of my previous thoughts, I think it is a fair comparison.

    TL;DR Eliot’s thoughts on the process and creation of poetry can easily be applied to contemporary art. In addition, I think it’s fair to say both poets and artists can be considered catalysts for the ‘transmutation’ of their passions.

  5. Sevin Park says:

    I like how T.S. Eliot provides a passage as an example to illustrate the combination of positive and negative emotions. It was nice to visually see what he was talking about rather than simply envision it.
    Something that confused me was Eliot’s explanation about the difference between present and past: “the conscious present is an awareness of the past in a way and to an extent which the past’s awareness of itself cannot show.” What does he mean by that? I think I understand it a little bit but not quite.

    • One cannot comment objectively on the moment in which one is subjectively immersed. If you try to identify the grammatical rules you are you using as you speak, you will immediately stop speaking. The same is true of historical periods.

  6. Kevin Nielson says:

    I Found it interesting how Elliot proposed that the author of poetry has to personalize themselves to carry out tradition in their work. I am not sure that I agree with Elliot in this sense because I think that works of art should be synonymous with the artist. I think that poetry should be unique enough that it is distinguishable from author to author.

  7. Joanna Soh says:

    I agree with Elliot when he wrote “It will even be affirmed that much learning deadens or perverts poetic sensibility.” In American high school literature classes, they attempt to teach high schoolers to appreciate and understand poetry. Because high schoolers barely want to be in these high school classes, they cannot truly appreciate the wonders of poetry, and come out of high school hating poetry. Often, poetry in high school is overanalyzed and does not allow for people to enjoy the poetry because they are too wrapped up in analyzing the possible meanings. High schoolers are simply not ready to appreciate poetry, especially if it is being shoved down their throats. This is sad reality, because I think that poetry deserves to be truly appreciated, but the way it is taught in high school pushes people away instead.

  8. Aralia Ward says:

    T.S Eliot in Tradition and Individual Talent makes a interesting claim regarding a poet’s relationship to poetry. “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality.” Which I believe Eliot is arguing that successful poetry should transcend the poet itself and be able to exist on its own. I agree with this because art of any form should be allowed to have value beyond who created it. For example, I would not want my art to be judged as less appealing because it was not produced by a famous artist.

  9. Sevin Park says:

    In “The Metaphysical Poets,” Eliot talks about Professor Grierson and his anthology. Eliot says the power of poems come from contrasting ideas and explains how the book contains “metaphysical poetry.” What is metaphysical poetry exactly? Eliot mentions it a lot, but I don’t understand it.

    • I can’t define Metaphysical poetry at present because I’m on the stair climber at the gym. But neither could Eliot define it succinctly, and this resistance to facile definition may be one of its greatest virtues. This much is certain though, that Eliot did NOT believe Metaphysical poetry was simply ‘big ideas’ set in verse.

    • Sevin,

      I’m looking back at this comment of yours and see that you have been admitted onto the blog. I’m not sure why you’re unable to post comments now. You might try the suggestions I sent you in my last email. Hang in there.

  10. Tasia McConkie says:

    So, I’m reading “The Metaphysical Poets” and I’m somewhat confused. Is one of the key aspects of metaphysical poetry is the juxtaposition of ideas or nouns/adjectives? Also, should the poetry be relevant to anyone despite the time period?

    …I’m confused.

    • It would be the rare exception to find any poetry which didn’t juxtapose nouns and adjectives. I mean, I’m already doing that right now, and my remarks here are hardly poetry. In fact, you’ve already juxtaposed nouns and adjectives yourself. What supposedly is juxtaposed in Metaphysical poetry is images and ideas. At least that was the claim of famed Enlightenment critic Samuel Johnson. It was the irregularity, or we might say the ungrammaticality, of such verse which Johnson found offense. Generations of readers and writers took Johnson for the ultimate authority and Metaphysical poetry lapse into disrepute and obscurity. Eliot’s essay will take the publication of Greerson’s anthology of Metaphysical poetry to reevaluate the reputation of that school.

      If you will recall from out last discussion, Eliot did argue that good art should possess some universal appeal. He asserted that if we are real artists, we do not write merely for particular audiences, but rather for all time. I will leave you to determine for the moment whether Eliot considers Metaphysical poetry to meet muster, and whether you believe Metaphysical poetry meets muster. I placed key examples of Metaphysical poetry on the blog to assist you in making that judgment. Perhaps I should have posted more.

  11. johsoh says:

    After reading “The Metaphysical Poets”, I was wondering if there is a point that the metaphysical poetry can just become over the top, and unnecessary? Would Wordsworth dislike metaphysical poetry due to the excessive difficulty in understanding it?

    • Samuel Johnson, as Eliot reminds us, would have agreed with your suggestion that Metaphysical poetry was simply too out there. But Eliot’s whole point, as I discussed last week, is that we need to learn to judge for ourselves and not rely on the ‘experts’. As for your question regarding Wordsworth’s opinion of Metaphysical poetry, I’d say you’ve already answered that for yourself. But should we allow Wordsworth’s standard, just because it’s his, or because it accords with ‘commonsense’, to become our own?

  12. Kevin Nielson says:

    I found this reading to be a little more difficult than the last Eliot reading. However, my main takeaway from it was Eliot’s concept of dissociation of sensibility. Eliot proposes that in poetry intellectual thinking needs to be separate from our feelings towards a subject. This isn’t dissimilar from some of the things that we discussed in our previous readings. In the reading he calls the dissociation of or feelings from thought natural, but I don’t tend to agree with him. I think separating your feelings from intellectual thought is far more unnatural than it is natural.

    • I think you’re definitely on the right path here. I don’t know that Eliot says we should be not feel when we think. It seems more the case that he accuses others of doing this, and to their detriment.

  13. John Stitt says:

    I believe Eliot’s criticism of metaphysical poetry is a departure from how poetry at that point was seen. In my opinion, his criticism of metaphysics shows that the shift brought about during the industrial revolution time period to become more focused on the real and natural was becoming more influential.

    • Well, Eliot doesn’t criticize metaphysics, which means anything beyond visible reality. Rather, he simply says that as a poet and critical to explain ultimate reality. His job is simply to write good poems and explain what makes a poem good. “Metaphysical” is a name which gets tagged onto English Renaissance poets, because persons in the age of Enlightened conformism have lost to ability to understand and appreciate anything that doesn’t make immediate sense on the first read. Eliot’s interest in these poets stems from his belief that they show not just products of the human mind, but the very processes whereby the human mind operates.

      The Industrial Revolution, for Eliot, marks a general dumbing down of human experience, which he thinks began sometime in the 17th century. It was at then that Cartesian philosophy taught us to stand back from the world, contemplate it from a distance, calculate, and then execute. In opposite to this, the so-called Metaphysical poets, did not separate thought from experience. Writing was, for them, first and foremost about the excitement and intellectual high of writing itself.

      Nature was certainly something that Romantics such as Wordsworth came to appreciate as never before, larger as a reaction against the Industrial Revolution and Enlightenment. You may recall that my reasons for assigning Wordsworth was precisely to show what Eliot sought to dethrone. Against Romanticism’s cult of nature and sincerity, Eliot extols the virtues of artificiality and irony.

  14. Aleah Griffin says:

    I got the impression from Eliot’s analysis of metaphysical poetry that it is often complicated and difficult to understand (notably, the opposite of what Wordsworth would’ve liked), making use of elaborate figures of speech. However, he examines Lord Herbert’s Ode and says that its meaning is clear and the language is simple and elegant, and overall “the language of these poets is as a rule simple and pure.” These two things seem like a contradiction, and just complicates the definition of metaphysical poetry even more.

    • I certainly understand your assertion that Eliot appears to contradict himself. The sorting out of apparent contradictions is a major aspect of what we now love to call ‘critical thinking skills’. I believe Eliot’s point is that the Metaphysical poets represent a kind of thinking which is actually more typical of ‘real’ thinking and speaking. Actual persons speaking spontaneously and in the crucible of discovery, creation, and performance, don’t necessarily produce the kind of immediately clear and direct sentences that Samuel Johnson championed. Instead, highly creative persons leap all over the page, searching for the exact way best to capture an idea that they are only beginning to grasp in the very process of composition. Hence, real poetic composition is always a struggle, and real poems present the reader not with the final results of the struggle, but the entire process of the struggle. To cite Eilot, real poems, quite simple, are hard. It’s the exposure of this struggle which makes Eliot believe that Metaphysical poets, far more than the ‘standardized’ and popular poets of the 18th century, show to us the actual workings of the human mind. My remarks today about experimental (i.e., laboratory) psychology, as opposed to the more expansive psychology treated in William James’ “The Varieties of Religious Experience”, derive from this interest in seeing the human mind before it has been declawed and defanged.

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