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The 1932-33 Norton Lectures are among the best and most important of T.S. Eliot's critical writings. Tracing the rise of literary self-consciousness from the Elizabethan period to his own day, Eliot does not simply examine the relation of criticism to poetry, but invites us to "start with the supposition that we do not know what poetry is, or what it does or ought to do, o The 1932-33 Norton Lectures are among the best and most important of T.S. Eliot's critical writings. Tracing the rise of literary self-consciousness from the Elizabethan period to his own day, Eliot does not simply examine the relation of criticism to poetry, but invites us to "start with the supposition that we do not know what poetry is, or what it does or ought to do, or of what use it is; and try to find out, in examining the relation of poetry to criticism, what the use of both of them is." Eliot begins with the appearance of poetry criticism in the age of Dryden, when poetry became the province of an intellectual aristocracy rather than part of the mind and popular tradition of a whole people. Wordsworth and Coleridge, in their attempt to revolutionize the language of poetry at the end of the eighteenth century, made exaggerated claims for poetry and the poet, culminating in Shelley's assertion that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of mankind." And, in the doubt and decaying moral definitions of the nineteenth century, Arnold transformed poetry into a surrogate for religion. By studying poetry and criticism in the context of its time, Eliot suggests that we can learn what is permanent about the nature of poetry, and makes a powerful case for both its autonomy and its pluralism in this century.


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The 1932-33 Norton Lectures are among the best and most important of T.S. Eliot's critical writings. Tracing the rise of literary self-consciousness from the Elizabethan period to his own day, Eliot does not simply examine the relation of criticism to poetry, but invites us to "start with the supposition that we do not know what poetry is, or what it does or ought to do, o The 1932-33 Norton Lectures are among the best and most important of T.S. Eliot's critical writings. Tracing the rise of literary self-consciousness from the Elizabethan period to his own day, Eliot does not simply examine the relation of criticism to poetry, but invites us to "start with the supposition that we do not know what poetry is, or what it does or ought to do, or of what use it is; and try to find out, in examining the relation of poetry to criticism, what the use of both of them is." Eliot begins with the appearance of poetry criticism in the age of Dryden, when poetry became the province of an intellectual aristocracy rather than part of the mind and popular tradition of a whole people. Wordsworth and Coleridge, in their attempt to revolutionize the language of poetry at the end of the eighteenth century, made exaggerated claims for poetry and the poet, culminating in Shelley's assertion that "poets are the unacknowledged legislators of mankind." And, in the doubt and decaying moral definitions of the nineteenth century, Arnold transformed poetry into a surrogate for religion. By studying poetry and criticism in the context of its time, Eliot suggests that we can learn what is permanent about the nature of poetry, and makes a powerful case for both its autonomy and its pluralism in this century.

30 review for The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sherwood Smith

    A slow reread is so rewarding. Most of what he says about poetry can be said for fiction. Eliot refuses to form a theory of poetry, or to define it. Instead, he talks about the experience of poetry, and about how difficult it is to pin down the poem that is perceived somewhere between poet and reader. He speaks about how Shelley is the poet of adolescents; how Keats exhibits his genius more through his letters than through his poetry, which was just beginning to mature before he died; he talks ab A slow reread is so rewarding. Most of what he says about poetry can be said for fiction. Eliot refuses to form a theory of poetry, or to define it. Instead, he talks about the experience of poetry, and about how difficult it is to pin down the poem that is perceived somewhere between poet and reader. He speaks about how Shelley is the poet of adolescents; how Keats exhibits his genius more through his letters than through his poetry, which was just beginning to mature before he died; he talks about the problems of modern views of poetry. So many underlines and post its in these few pages!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ramzzi Fariñas

    Eliot was successful in being philological in either way of authority or by playing it safe. The Use of Poetry and The Use of Criticism opens a light to any devoted poetry reader, and from this scientific malingering, he or she will understand that poetry is limited, therefore, as Eliot implied, it is also limited to be defined. But this is a narrowed perception, not so convincing from a major poet of the last century. It is true, a poem can only be mere words, and to offer a critical juxtapositio Eliot was successful in being philological in either way of authority or by playing it safe. The Use of Poetry and The Use of Criticism opens a light to any devoted poetry reader, and from this scientific malingering, he or she will understand that poetry is limited, therefore, as Eliot implied, it is also limited to be defined. But this is a narrowed perception, not so convincing from a major poet of the last century. It is true, a poem can only be mere words, and to offer a critical juxtaposition depends only to the societyʼs rigor, but the creative soul of poetry remains. To have both exist in one era felt difficult to achieve, according to Eliot. Yet, in a scientific vernacular, not academic and not aggressive, Eliot excavated the “white” canon of poetry, and resolved the rise and fall of poets before his time, and what extent a poetry could be fully expressed and could reach a wider audience in spite the metaphorical and at times, unrelatable language of poetry. He could only use Poundʼs musicality in principle to escape the task. I could not say much that I am aligned to what he referred to, led to, but he had beautiful insights to his fellow white greats. In fact, what ensured his stance, for my own subjective choice, was on Coleridge—that titanic intellectual but “ruined”. A poet, who many thought Wordsworth eclipsed with his singular focus on poetry, but in fact, the reader in Coleridge, per Eliot, proved him much the better influence, a Shakesperian critic which was “haunted by the muse”. So, I pulled an additional star for that beautiful bias, and to such poetic ending in a criticism which compressed his thoughts and spit to his fellow white greats.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Liam Guilar

    The difference between /T.S.Eliot/ the implied author of "Selected Prose' or "Collected Essays" and /T.S.Eliot/ the implied author of a sustained argument like this one is intriguing. While the Eliot of the anthologies, and the one off essay always seems oddly dated and the argument vulnerable, here he is following the thread of an argument through the lecture series. He is precise, elegant and judicious. He puts his own prejudices on the table. If the conclusion does quite come off and the lect The difference between /T.S.Eliot/ the implied author of "Selected Prose' or "Collected Essays" and /T.S.Eliot/ the implied author of a sustained argument like this one is intriguing. While the Eliot of the anthologies, and the one off essay always seems oddly dated and the argument vulnerable, here he is following the thread of an argument through the lecture series. He is precise, elegant and judicious. He puts his own prejudices on the table. If the conclusion does quite come off and the lectures postulate a question he doesn't answer, there is a great deal here that seems worth considering and rereading. The book is also worth reading for anyone interested in the history of attitudes to poetry, not just because of what Eliot says about it, but because so much that has been touted as the revolutionary discoveries of literary theory were already here. Eliot's basic premise is that literary judgements are contingent, that writers write to the expectations of their audiences and those audiences have different needs wants and assumptions over time, that poetry and criticism are symbiotic and reflect historical and social forces beyond what can be narrowly defined as literary. The role historical amnesia and willful simplification play in allowing "new" fashions in literary approaches to establish themselves by misrepresenting their predecessors would make an interesting story.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Gille Liath

    To read or write about poetry, as opposed to reading or writing poetry, can smack slightly of a solitary vice. But undoubtedly it’s a lot easier, and can be more satisfying: ideal, hypothetical poetry always lives up to its billing and is true to its own nature, which actual poetry often doesn’t and isn’t. And if it’s a vice, it’s clear that it’s one TS Eliot shared: not only because he wrote a lot more criticism than poetry, but because in this volume it’s pretty obvious from his comments on Ke To read or write about poetry, as opposed to reading or writing poetry, can smack slightly of a solitary vice. But undoubtedly it’s a lot easier, and can be more satisfying: ideal, hypothetical poetry always lives up to its billing and is true to its own nature, which actual poetry often doesn’t and isn’t. And if it’s a vice, it’s clear that it’s one TS Eliot shared: not only because he wrote a lot more criticism than poetry, but because in this volume it’s pretty obvious from his comments on Keats that he likes Keats’ letters – and specifically his theories about poetry – more than Keats’ poems. In fact there are a number of poets – perhaps Eliot was one, and Keats another – who are actually better at criticism. Eliot says, and I think it’s true although maybe not for all artists, that the creative and critical instincts are actually closely akin: they are two different forms of the stimulus we get from experiencing art. Anyway, justifications aside, this is another very insightful treatise on the art of poetry, with reference to English poetry, originally delivered as a series of lectures (at an American university) in the 1930s. Whilst I don’t agree on every single point, I find the soundness and sureness of Eliot’s judgement, his mastery of the subject, and the clarity of his expression, a very refreshing and absorbing experience. With him, although he recognises the importance of beliefs and philosophy, it is always the poetry itself which is important – not, as he says, whether it is ‘right for the times’, or what it has to say about those times.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Another series of Eliot lectures, the focus this time being criticism, and not so much its use, as in purpose, as perhaps its practice, since the "chapters" here proceed through literary history from Sidney to Richards. Hardly anything is said about the use of poetry, and again, Eliot's paragraphing could make better sense! He has an enviable knack of just putting things well, though. Another series of Eliot lectures, the focus this time being criticism, and not so much its use, as in purpose, as perhaps its practice, since the "chapters" here proceed through literary history from Sidney to Richards. Hardly anything is said about the use of poetry, and again, Eliot's paragraphing could make better sense! He has an enviable knack of just putting things well, though.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Joyce

    the same problem as with a lot of eliot's criticism, ie: saying things like "we must admit that the work of Mr. I. A. Richards will have been of cardinal importance in the history of literary criticism." i've never heard of Richard, for a genius eliot sure had poor judgement sometimes the same problem as with a lot of eliot's criticism, ie: saying things like "we must admit that the work of Mr. I. A. Richards will have been of cardinal importance in the history of literary criticism." i've never heard of Richard, for a genius eliot sure had poor judgement sometimes

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie Skepis

    There is a lot to learn about English poetry in this book, in a way Eliot never imposes his views on the reader, rather explains how subjective the criticism of poetry actually is and how there could never be a set definition for what makes it "good" or "bad". The book is meant to be read more than once, because one could not possibly absorb that much information on the subject without mastering it, and even so, even if one masters the subject, as times goes by, the maturity one gains from life There is a lot to learn about English poetry in this book, in a way Eliot never imposes his views on the reader, rather explains how subjective the criticism of poetry actually is and how there could never be a set definition for what makes it "good" or "bad". The book is meant to be read more than once, because one could not possibly absorb that much information on the subject without mastering it, and even so, even if one masters the subject, as times goes by, the maturity one gains from life changes the way one interprets poetry. It left me exhausted, but intellectually stimulated to revisit poetic literature and get to know some poets that were introduced to me by reading this book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    J. Alfred

    Eliot's series of talks endeavors to ascertain what poetry does for people, as seen in the people who talk about it throughout the ages. He finds that there are some constants, but that poetry, both form and content to an extent, are inextricably connected with the age in which it is written. It's a good clear look at how to enjoy poetry, what it can be reasonably expected to do for us, and what it can mean for a given people, all of which end up being pretty wide-open. Eliot seems to be saying Eliot's series of talks endeavors to ascertain what poetry does for people, as seen in the people who talk about it throughout the ages. He finds that there are some constants, but that poetry, both form and content to an extent, are inextricably connected with the age in which it is written. It's a good clear look at how to enjoy poetry, what it can be reasonably expected to do for us, and what it can mean for a given people, all of which end up being pretty wide-open. Eliot seems to be saying that any attempts to too rigorously define either what poetry is or what it should do is self-defeating. This probably sounds boring, but it's good! Eliot as the statesman for his craft is charming, witty, and informative.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    OK for the most part, but Eliot really picks up steam towards the end, particularly in his section on "The Modern Mind," when he talks about the growing view of poetry post-Romanticism as more of a spiritual exercise (a view he does not wholly agree with). Eliot is of course always highly intelligent discussing both poetry and criticism, so even though it is not his most interesting work, he does make several good points throughout. OK for the most part, but Eliot really picks up steam towards the end, particularly in his section on "The Modern Mind," when he talks about the growing view of poetry post-Romanticism as more of a spiritual exercise (a view he does not wholly agree with). Eliot is of course always highly intelligent discussing both poetry and criticism, so even though it is not his most interesting work, he does make several good points throughout.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Josephine Wang

  11. 4 out of 5

    Shahzeb Akhter

  12. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mohamed

  14. 4 out of 5

    Katja

  15. 4 out of 5

    Cristina

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lonnie

  17. 5 out of 5

    Laura

  18. 4 out of 5

    .

  19. 5 out of 5

    Allison

  20. 5 out of 5

    Hasan Makhzoum

  21. 4 out of 5

    Stephan

  22. 5 out of 5

    Shah Fahad

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nidhi

  24. 4 out of 5

    barbara rigby

  25. 4 out of 5

    Narayanan Nampoothiri

  26. 5 out of 5

    Linds

  27. 4 out of 5

    Timothy S. Boger

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bored

  29. 4 out of 5

    Dr. Barbara Patrick

  30. 4 out of 5

    Erin With the Classics

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