Posts Tagged ‘T S Eliot’

On the process of writing

August 5, 2008

T S Eliot explains with specific reference to poetry writing in his essay The three voices of poetry:

In a poem which is neither didactive nor narrative, and not animated by any other social purpose, the poet may be concerned solely with expressing in verse — using all his resources of words, with their history, their cannotations, their music — this obscure impulse. He does not know what he has to say until he has said it; and in the effort to say it he is concerned with other people understand anything. He is not concerned, at this stage, with other people at all: only with finding the right words or, anyhow, the least wrong words. He is not concerned whether anybody else will ever listen to them or not, or whether anybody else will ever understand them if he does. He is oppressed by a burden which he must bring to birth in order to obtain relief. Or, to change the figure of speech, he is haunted by a demon, a demon against which he feels powerless, because in its first manifestation  it has no face, no name, nothing; and the words, the poem he makes, are a kind of form of exorcism of this demon. In other words, he is going to all that trouble, not in order to communicate with anyone, but to gain relief from acute discomfort; and when the words are finally arranged in the right way — or in what he comes to accept as the best arrangement he can find — he may experience a moment of exhaustion, of appeasement, of absolution, and of something very near annihilation, which is in itself indescribable. And then he can say to the poem: ‘Go away! Find a place for your self in a book — and don’t expect me to take any further interest in you.’

While the comparison between childbirth and writing is rather common (and had been discussed earlier here), the comparison with the exorcism of a demon is new (and, somehow, sounds more apt).


Developing taste and critical judgment

August 2, 2008

For the past couple of days, I have been reading T S Eliot’s On poetry and poets, and am enjoying it a lot; I have finished the later sections dealing with the poets, and am reading the poetry part now. The essays are very enjoyable and are full of quotable lines, paragraphs and sections. I particularly liked the following paragraph in the essay titled Goethe as the sage:

In the development of taste and critical judgment in literature — a part or an aspect of the total process of coming to maturity — there are, according to my own experience, three important phases. In adolescence, I was swept with enthusiasm for one author after another, to whichever responded to the instinctive needs at my stage of development. At this enthusiastic stage the critical faculty is hardly awake, for there is no comparison of one author with another, no full awareness of the basis of the relationship between oneself and the author in whose work one is engrossed. Not only is there but little awareness of rank: there is no true understanding of greatness. This is a standard inaccessible to the immature mind: at that stage, there are only the writers by whom one in carried away and thsoe who leave one cold. As one’s reading is extended , and one becomes acquainted with an increasing variety of the best writers of prose and verse, at the same time acquiring greater experience of the world and stronger powers of reflection, one’s taste becomes more comprehensive, one’s passion calmer and one’s understanding more profound. At this stage, we begin to develop that critical ability, that power of self-criticism, without which the poet will do no more than repeat himself to the end of his life. Yet, though we may at this stage enjoy, understand and appreciate an indefinite variety of artistic and philosophic genius, there will remain obstinate cases of authors of high  rank whom we continue to find antipathetic. So the third stage of development — of maturation so far as that process can be represented by the history of our reading and study — is that at which we begin to enquire into the reasons for our failure to enjoy what has been found delighful by men, perhaps many generations of men, as well qualified or better qualified for appreciation than ourselves. In trying to understand why one has failed to appreciate rightly a particular author, one is seekign for light, not only about that author, but about oneself. The study of authors whose work one fails to enjoy can thus be a very valuable exercise, though it is one to which common sense imposes limits: for nobody has the time to study the work of all the great authors in whose work he takes no pleasure. This process of examination is not an effort to enjoy what one has failed to enjoy: it is an effort to understand that work, and to understand oneself in relation to it. The enjoyment will come, if it does come, only as a consequence of the understanding.

There is also at least one essay (the first one in the book), which I found quite revealing in a very personal way: it brought to me the significance of the fact that the only poetry that I am able to enjoy at its fullest are those written in Tamil (barring some religious poetry in Kannada and some simple verses in English) — a fact, which I never bothered to think about, leave alone its implications, till I read the piece.