Sunday, March 16, 2008

My Mistakes

Upon rereading--or rather reading around in--The Pound Era, by Hugh Kenner, I realize that I've gotten some important matters wrong. Prufrock was written in 1911, before Preludes, and it is not written in free-verse but in a sort of loosely flowing iambic pentameter. I also failed to make proper use of what I knew but only partly remembered about Eliot's debt to those symbolist poets I referred to, Baudelaird and LaForgue. It is important to get such matters right.

So I was only partly right in what I said about Preludes: that Eliot in this poem is giving the city its own voice. Those symbolist poets had shown Eliot how to disappear as an active feeling, thinking, suffering person or self in the poem; the voice we hear in Prufrock, Preludes and indeed all of Eliot's poetry is almost not the voice of an individual person, with an actual historical life to refer to--or for a critic to discuss as they are doing what critics almost always do: talk about the relationship between a poet's life and his or her poetry, instead of the poetry itself, because it is always so much easier to do the one than the other. Eliot eluded the critics by becoming invisible. But that was not his only reason for doing so.

Eliot was on the cutting edge of an anti-romantic artistic and literary revolution which has now been largely forgotten. He and others wanted to escape from the romantic idea that a poem is about self-expression; that the greater the poet the greater the self, so that to be great poet is to be sort of hero--a hero, as Shelley says, who falls upon the thorns of life and bleeds . . .

James Joyce was part of the anti-romantic avant-garde. Stephen Dedalus is not speaking for Joyce when at the conclusion of Portrait of The Artist As a Young Man, he goes off saying, so very grandly, "I go to forge the conscience of my race in the smithy of my soul."

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