Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Yeats on Eliot

This from the intro to The Oxford Book of Verse (1936:1939. pxxi)

Eliot has produced his great effect upon his generation because he has described men and women that get out of bed or into it from mere force of habit; in describing this life that has lost heart his own art seems grey, cold, dry.  He is an Alexander Pope, working without apparent imagination, producing his effect by a rejection of all rhythms and metaphors used by the more popular romantics rather than by a discovery of his own , this rejection giving the work an unexaggerated plainness that has the effect of novelty.   He has the rhythmical flatness of The Essay on Man…later, in The Waste Land, amid much that is moving in symbol and imagery there is much monotony of accent:
When Lovely woman stoops to folly and
Paces about her room again, alone
She smooths her hair with automatic hand,
And puts a record on the gramaphone.

I was affected, as I am by these lines, when I saw for the first time a painting by Manet. I longed for the vivid colour and light of Rousseau and Courbet, I could not endure the grey middle tint-and even today Manet gives me an incomplete pleasure….
Murder in the Cathedral is a powerful Stage play because the actor, the monkish habit, certain repeated words, symbolize what we know, not what the author knows…..Speaking through Becket’s mouth Eliot confronts a world growing always more terrible with a religion like that of some great statesman, a pity not less poignant because it tempers the prayer book with the results of mathematical philosophy. 

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