11 December, 2009

Helen Gardner's "The Art of T.S. Eliot"

Gardner's classic book focuses on Eliot's poetic style, making it a welcome addition to a body of criticism which often neglects the prosodic elements of the poetry in favor of analyzing its images. Tracing Eliot's style in terms of his artistic maturation, Gardner identifies a turning point in his poetry from his earlier work, in which he often imitates the voices of other poets, to a newly developed independent style after “The Waste Land,” a style which underscores the musicality inherent in natural rhythms, in part by its use of semi-accentual meter, and allows Eliot equal access to the poetic and the prosaic in his work. A thematic evolution is evident in Eliot's corpus as well, and Gardner does not allow her attention to Eliot's mechanics to overshadow his core ideas. The content of his poetry finds its most complete development in the Quartets, whose mastery of theme is accompanied by the pinnacle of Eliot's mechanical expertise. Whereas “The Waste Land” identifies fear as the beginning of wisdom, “Ash Wednesday” and the post-conversion poems move beyond this Sophoclean sentiment to hint at a promised resurrection, while the Quartets take on a visionary quality in their ability to make present this resurrection in the midst of this movement towards wisdom through fear.

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