T.S. Eliot as a Critics Of The Modern Age

T.S. Eliot is one of the well-known critics of the modern age. He is called the “father of new criticism”, because he has given a new direction to literary criticism. Like Dryden, Coleridge and Arnold, he is ranked with those critics whose critical writings are illuminated by their poems, and the poetical works have greater value to the critical theories. As Matthiessen has pointed out, “They have not been merely theories, but all craftsmen talking of what they knew at first hand what gives an important place to Eliot among modem critics is the twofold value of his criticism-

(1) The detailed analysis of quality, nature, and function of poetry undertaken by Eliot gave a new quickening of life to English literary criticism, which since Arnold’s death had mainly been historical and not critical.

(2) By his evaluation of individual poets. Eliot enabled the modern readers to see with fresh insight such figure as the Metaphysical poets.

What we should not forget is the close relation between Eliot’s poetry and his criticism, because many aspects of his critical theories have been illustrated by his verse. Moreover, the aims of his poetry have been made clear by his criticism. Eliot himself has observed that in one’s prose one is occupied with ideas, while in poetry one deals with actualities. In one’s prose reflections one may be legitimately occupied with actuality. Ezra pound places Eliot with those who had ‘clarified their intentions”. who wrote with the sole aim of registering and communicating truth.

Eliot’s criticism, as Pound has pointed out, is not dead academicism and pedantry, it is criticism aimed at the reinvigoration of writing, at new creation. Pound also speaks about the persistent vigour and apt acuteness of Eliot’s perceptions and asserts that a major part of Eliot’s criticism “will last as long as there are students of English poetry concerned with just opinion and assessment of its value.

An emphasis towards wider toleration and equilibrium is discernible in Eliot’s criticism. In his later works, he has tried his best to be judicious. He returns to Byron, Milton, and Kipling and discovers in them qualities previously missed, with acute perceptivity.

Sincerity and freedom from any pre-conceived standard of judgement distinguishes Eliot’s criticism. As Matthiessen has pointed out. “What gives authority to the interpretation of life emerging from both his poetry and his prose is the fact that it is authentic, that it corresponds not to any pre- conceived standard of what he ought to think or believe, but to what he actually felt, and understood by listening to himself, by studying the deepest elements of his nature.

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The variety and intensity of his convictions lead Eliot at times into extravagance. At times. Eliot’s prose assumes a tone of authority. His writings are characterised, in particular with this primeness of tone. Sometimes he seems to be contradicting himself; for his convictions are “Only intellectual formulations of his feeling,” It cannot be denied that Eliot has a sharp eye for facts but it is equally true that certain varieties of experience full beyond his reach. Thus, he is unable to appreciate fully Milton, Blake. Shelley and Walt Whitman. His criticism displays little concern with the realities unfolded by psycho-analysis. However, within his limitations, Eliot displays great penetrative insight, and the positive merit of Eliot’s prose style, according to Pound, is one to which “Eliot almost alone in our time could lay any valid or sustainable claim.” The merit consists in a style “as clear and deep as incisive as the delicate incision of a great surgeon.” When we discuss Eliot’s theory of poetry and his philosophy of art,

we find his significant theories and points of view. He revolted against the romantic theory of poetry as an expression of self and propounded a theory of poetry which views poetic process not as an externalisation of personal feeling, but as a complete surrender of personality. He insists on viewing the whole of literature as a continuity where every work of the present modifies the past works and is in turn modified by them. The emphasis on tradition, on the living past casting its shadow on the present are in keeping with Eliot’s anti-romantic theory of poetry. His theory of the impersonality of art, as a continual extinction of personality, and his insistence on the presentences of the past, on the value of tradition for an artist, and the relation between tradition and orthodoxy pointed out by him. constitute some significant critical theories propounded by Eliot. Another remarkable feature of Eliot’s criticism is that it is not static. A student Eliot realises how in his later critical essays he has travelled a long way from his earlier critical essays. In his essay on Yeats. Eliot observes how “a man who is capable of experience finds himself in a different world in every decade of his life.” Eliot shows that he himself is capable of experience, and that his criticism has a power of development. In the later critical essay Eliot shows the capacity to overcome his inability to appreciate some writers, and to modify some of his earlier views on poets and writers, Eliot places before the artist as well as the critic the goal of attaining nothing less than excellence and insists that the critic in the goal of attaining nothing less than excellence and insists that the critic in order to see the object as it is must under mitting pains and discipline his powers. He also points out that mature art is created only in society prepared to receive and grasp fresh ideas. Though Eliot knows that perfection is rather unattainable, he would, in poetry and criticism, be content with nothing less than that. “If we take”, he himself says, “the widest and wisest view of a cause there is no such thing as a gained cause. We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successor’s victory, though that victory itself will be temporary; we fight rather to keep something alive than in the expectation that anything will triumph.”



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