Poets: T. S. Eliot

LET us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question….
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

T.S. Eliot – The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

We’re back again in the modern era and appropriately, we have T.S. Eliot, exemplar of the modern style in English poetry, even more than Ezra Pound. Pound is responsible, as we noted before, for making Eliot famous (the wiki page as of this publishing has the facts, though of course interpretations can never be “neutral point of view.”) and he, far more than Pound, who was of more of an archaeofuturist, perfected the blank, erratic, phantasmagoric, rambling and unstructured style we most associate with modern poetry.

If you read his background, you’ll be unsurprised to find him coming of the Northeast Puritan tradition (his father being a Unitarian minister) whose family only as of late moved to St. Louis. Their roots were in, of course — Boston. I think with the Americans we’ll find a lot of these, disproportionate to the population, simply because of the age and influence (as one of our own put it, “Boston conquered the world”) of that population group. In the same way one is unsurprised to find Jews in prominent places in finance and media with international reach, the same goes for those in the Puritan clade in letters.

Eliot of course is an American expatriate back to England, which, despite some conservatives’ idea that liberals and progressives here want to be Europeans, it is in fact paleo-conservatives and reactionaries who feel the most connection to Europe. The former group only seem similar because, as it has been noted elsewhere, most of the developed world outside of the Cathedral that is under its influence has none of the usual resistance to its ideas, and therefore expresses them more naively and fully. But it is only really in Europe that reaction can find extant roots of its ideas (America is a completely Radical invention.)

Another note about his life is that like Pound, and like many other “notables” in art, he was not very successful in his marriages. It is said that before the mass age, poets were rather like rock stars are today, including the travel, the superficialities and mystery reinforced by fans, and so forth. Rock stars in our era are, like other celebrities, noted for their poor track records in marriage. In Eliot’s case, the fact that they chose their marriage (rather than it being arranged) did little to make it better; his wife had serious issues and it does seem that a person seeking a mate often overlooks things that might be serious, so without the oversight and help of someone older and wiser, they will tend to fall into marriages that are far more difficult than necessary.

Eliot did not write nearly as many poems as other poets typically did, and all of his most notable works are long. I’ve run into this stylistic habit in other modern poets as well, though certainly those who made “modern” seeming poetry by adapting Eastern styles such as Haiku are exceptions. (William Carlos Williams also did some of this.) The poems are technically not prose, but my general opinion is that once you are no longer in blank verse (no rhyme) but no real rhythm or pattern structure, you end up most of the way to what is called a “proem”. What makes Eliot not “prose poetry” though?

Eliot as a child was sickly, and so spent a lot of time reading; by the time he was famous his erudition, like Pound’s, leaves most people in the dust. (Details can be found in the linked article above.) And when you read The Waste Land, it is obvious he commands a wealth of information about poetry of the past, myth, language, story-telling and history. These are all brought to the task to construct a sort of dream vision, and it is this dream vision quality, and it alone, which is the remaining part of a modern poem that could render it still poetry.

But the success of modern poetry reveals, as well as the cladistic identity of poets, that poetry in society is mainly a literary activity of the elite, and not really a craft. So long as the elite produced people willing to master the craft, poetry would remain serious; but by Eliot’s time most of the craft had been discarded, leaving only the original qualification of poets per Aristotle; people who almost prophecy strange visions in certain moods (or under the influence of ‘muses’.) Such inspirations are very common in aspiration, but in practice people of very elevated and refined vision are rare. The necessity of the modern style to dig deep into erudition (later, this is turned into producing only shocking effects) to produce its novelties makes this even rarer; for often visionaries are ignorant.

Lewis (CS Lewis) disputed this shocking line in The Love Song above “Like a patient etherized upon a table” – which by the way, does indeed depict correctly the sickly evening sky in many modern cities. Lewis’ response is probably the best, leaning on the concept of Stock Responses:

I am so coarse, the things the poets see
Are obstinately invisible to me.
For twenty years I’ve stared my level best
To see if evening–any evening–would suggest
A patient etherized upon a table;
In vain. I simply wasn’t able.
To me each evening looked far more
Like the departure from a silent, yet a crowded, shore
Of a ship whose freight was everything, leaving behind
Gracefully, finally, without farewells, marooned mankind.

A Confession (excerpt)

At least in this case, Lewis’ poetics are superior. (In general, Lewis is probably a superior poet to most of the modern poets, though most of his poetry – that is, “poems” as opposed to the traditional range of mediums considered part of “Poetics” by Aristotle and Horace, is not as good as others. It is like Kublai Khan by Coleridge: great poetics, but not much of a poem.) He does actually manage to produce a more powerful vision of a sunset, one that is not merely sentimental, which does I think in fact silence the modern style with a swift and sufficient blow to the head.

Eliot did a number of other things of course, such as write plays and literary criticism. Wiki has some interesting notes – take with a grain of salt of course, regarding his work in this field.

[…]Also important to New Criticism was the idea—as articulated in Eliot’s essay “Hamlet and His Problems”—of an “objective correlative”, which posits a connection among the words of the text and events, states of mind, and experiences. This notion concedes that a poem means what it says, but suggests that there can be a non-subjective judgment based on different readers’ different—but perhaps corollary—interpretations of a work.

More generally, New Critics took a cue from Eliot in regard to his “‘classical’ ideals and his religious thought; his attention to the poetry and drama of the early seventeenth century; his deprecation of the Romantics, especially Shelley; his proposition that good poems constitute ‘not a turning loose of emotion but an escape from emotion’; and his insistence that ‘poets… at present must be difficult’.”

Eliot’s essays were a major factor in the revival of interest in the metaphysical poets. Eliot particularly praised the metaphysical poets’ ability to show experience as both psychological and sensual, while at the same time infusing this portrayal with—in Eliot’s view—wit and uniqueness. Eliot’s essay “The Metaphysical Poets”, along with giving new significance and attention to metaphysical poetry, introduced his now well-known definition of “unified sensibility”, which is considered by some to mean the same thing as the term “metaphysical”.

This is of course an attempt at a form of neo-classicism; classicists did not consider the responses of poems to be subjective, even if emotional, but yet the liberal world creates many strange combinations of experiences through “diversity” and the process of immigration and lack of assimilation, that in the modern world the expectation of a Stock Response (a set of responses that one should be expected to have, even emotionally, of an event) to something as complex as a poem is almost forgotten. Eliot attempts to resurrect it empirically through different but corollary interpretations of poetic works. (Those who have read Christopher Alexander’s Nature of Order will immediately recognize this conceptually scientific process; scientific inasmuch as you can present a way to falsify the claim and can repeat the experiment with reasonably similar results.)

A science of poetry! And yet, a people, say all Christians, ought to feel the same way about some number of things: as it says, “be ye of the same mind.” That is, given a certain properly-trained person, truths about such things can become self evident, and even have a scientific character (in that they can be independently discovered) – that is almost the definition of a culture or a society or a people; to really be civilized, they must be able to fashion a science of poetics, and one that is credible. When it loses its credibility due to dyscivic and dysgenic effects, the metaphysical roots of that civilization are rotten.

Eliot also was a director of a publishing firm, Faber and Faber (this happened somewhat later) which gave rise to a notorious event. That is, Eliot rejecting the rather ham-fisted allegory Animal Farm, of George Orwell’s:

we have no conviction […] that this is the right point of view from which to criticise the political situation […] the positive point of view, which I take to be generally Trotskyite, is not very convincing.

I’m amused sometimes to see the rejection of Orwell’s Animal Farm at times trotted out against Eliot by various persons on the Alt-Right, stripped of this context. Eliot was silencing criticism of Communism! And yet, right in the letter his reasoning is very clear, even if unsatisfying: he is not going to print a Trotskyite criticism of Communism, since of course, to a reactionary or traditionalist, both of those are communism!

He continues:

And after all, Your pigs are much more intelligent the other animals, and therefore best qualified to run the farm.

Almost Moldbuggian, if I do say so myself. (But really, this is simply common sense — available to anyone willing to consider the matter thoroughly.)

I cannot attempt to duplicate his style; but I will leave you with two pieces. (Make sure to read Prufrock, Hollow Men, and Four Quartets.)

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you?

What is that sound high in the air
Murmur of maternal lamentation
Who are those hooded hordes swarming
Over endless plains, stumbling in cracked earth
Ringed by the flat horizon only
What is the city over the mountains
Cracks and reforms and bursts in the violet air
Falling towers
Jerusalem Athens Alexandria
Vienna London
Unreal

A woman drew her long black hair out tight
And fiddled whisper music on those strings
And bats with baby faces in the violet light
Whistled, and beat their wings
And crawled head downward down a blackened wall
And upside down in air were towers
Tolling reminiscent bells, that kept the hours
And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells.

In this decayed hole among the mountains
In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing
Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel
There is the empty chapel, only the wind’s home.
It has no windows, and the door swings,
Dry bones can harm no one.
Only a cock stood on the roof-tree
Co co rico co co rico
In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust
Bringing rain

-Excerpt from The Waste Land, V (What the Thunder Said)

The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, or George or Bill Bailey –
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter –
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum –
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover –
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Effanineffable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.

-Excerpt from Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats

Note that of course, Eliot still could write real verse – as Pound could, but evidently what most people consider poetry was not regarded by the Hoi Polloi as worthy of being called “poetry” anymore. Such is modernity. Also note in the last bit, the metaphysical “vortex” effect going on, around the concept of a name. (Note that this concept is not his, but comes from the Apocalypse of John, among other places.)

I will leave you instead with one of my own works, which shares the similarity of being a strange dream-vision, which has an uncertain meaning:

The Quietness of the Rews

“The Rews”, she said, you must go find,
The picture, thus, within his mind
And before, the tall majestic hall
Apartments nine, upon each wall
Plates so large, so platters were
Of fine enamels hung-rows there
And no sound had reached his ear
Save meditative strumming lyre
Whose notes were never more than two
Such was the quietness of the rews.

And silence hung heavy like an air
And mist like mystery gathered there
Not visitor, but in the second room
Seemed to congregate, ever soon
And not made clear from prior place
It communed, hung heavy ’round his face
Some was smoke, a hookah’s mist
But also the cool cloud lips had kissed
And breathed it in, also his nous
Such was the quietness of the rews.

He stepped with softness into the third
Apartment and without a word
Found himself prepared to choke
For the mist was here a roiling smoke
And hardly a glint seen from the wall
Of plate could there be seen at all
And the strumming two-note song
And the hallway broad and long
Was offal-obscured of thousand flues
Such was the quietness of the rews.

And uncovering his mouth he stood before
A sitting, strumming, music-Moor
Regarded him gently, strumming lyre
Bald in head, inclined his ear
More deeply absorbing his humming song
Which truth be told, was two notes long
And here overlooked a dewy lawn
A courtyard pillared stretching awn
And the walnut lyre knew well its cues
Such was the quietness of the rews.

He passed undaunted into the fifth
A room of music’s nearest kith
And though no men upon a chair
And furnishings all were vacant there
A murmuring yet was heard around
The gentle, sanguine chatter-sound
Of pashas beyond by auspicious trick
Was transported here and laid out thick
Of the means however was left no clues
Such was the quietness of the rews.

And the sixth bore him yet more surprise
As walking in he rubbed his eyes
For darkness walked about that place
As company called and show’d its face
The only light was that beyond
Which spread not there, as lily-pond
Was the shadow, and he could see
And count the pashas, by twain and three
Ten were they, and sat in twos
Such was the quietness of the rews.

His foot gave warning, but heeding not
He proceeded in, such was his lot
And tension this apartment bore
Was as much, or maybe more
Than man can bear! And so whence
Did anxiety come, or thus commence?
It sat in chairs and hung like palls
It was on the floor, and in the walls
To enter its attention drew
Such was the quietness of the rews.

The eighth and prior apartment then
Stood between him and and ten
It drew him! Drew him, deeper still
He breathed and sighed here to his fill
For wetness drew upon all things
Tear on the cheek, which came in streams
Myrrh and dew and oil were there
And the heavy silence wept but a tear
And saw the pashas’ reds and blues
Such was the quietness of the rews.

With measured boldness stepped he in
And found himself to be within
A company of brightening lords
Who stopped their talk and idle words
To attend their visitor, intruding boy
And weapons rattled, a rude envoy
And bare he then with certain dread
Back into the shadow’d rooms he fled
To send and send again the news
Such was the quietness of the rews.

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11 Comments

  1. The genius of the line “like a patient etherized upon a table” is that Eliot takes a romantic convention long stale and worn thin, and rather than conjure nostalgia, slaps us atop the head with the unexpected image, a chilling and sterile vision of modernity.

  2. Indeed. The line is genius, but only in a disaffected, discordant way. I tend to think that there are two strands of reaction – modernist reaction which seeks to plow through disillusionment, of which Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound and Eliot are exmplars of, and traditionalist reaction, which seeks to restore the discarded image. Eliot does in some cases flirt with this, but C S Lewis, Chesterton (inasmuch as he can be considered a reactionary) and J R R Tolkien, as well as W.B Yeats are examplars of.

    With the dispute between Lewis and Eliot here, you can see how the aims sometimes will cross, where an image intended to dis-illusion about modernity can also be interpreted as “illusionment” regarding the nature of sunsets, of doing further damage to an already deranged metaphysic.

    I had poem which was a meditation on modern city skies which attempts to resolve the issue a bit:

    https://ionthesky.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-sage-to-city-light.html

  3. The only poet who wrote in mostly traditional verse and was as good as either Eliot or Pound was Yeats. There is a strong temptation that I once had to associate poetry qua poetry to rhymed Georgian verse, but by the early twentieth century it simply became impossible to use this mode and convey anything that needed to be said. Even Yeats, who wrote in “traditional” verse, ultimately realized this, because of Pound’s criticism, and hence the change in tone and language in his later poetry. Older Englishes were suited to rhymed verse in a way that English now is not and Old English was not. Nor are we in ancient Greece where there was a widely understood and forceful poetic dialect which was archaic and not spoken by anyone. The Georgian style was dropped specifically because it became useless for saying anything other than greeting card messages. Since there was no such dialect for the moderns, they had to be obscure and become obscure, in order to preserve high sentiment from democratic leveling. When poor minds and dull sensibilities, as you say, attempt this style, they are unable in the worst way, but their failure does in any way touch the more rare obscurities of this style done right. The point of such a style is that when it is done right it is incorruptible and perennial. This is unlike the rhymed verse of that period, which even in its best form, is inevitably degraded merely by sharing the same language as mass culture. None of this is to say the modern style cannot be both clear and beautiful, or any less “crafted” than rhymed verse. It is often more crafted, since unlike modern attempts at rhymed verse, there is almost no temptation to fall into cliches mistaking them for craft, and so coming upon nothing but laziness. Bad “free verse” is immediately known to be bad by anyone with taste, but bad rhymed verse is often only unmasked as being poor by its eventually being forgotten. Bad “free verse” is immediately forgotten. I put free verse in quotations, believing what Eliot says in this article to be true: (http://www.std.com/~raparker/exploring/tseliot/works/essays/reflections_on_vers_libre.html).

    Here is a beautiful poem by T. E. Hulme, who died too early:
    The Embankment

    Once, in finesse of fiddles found I ecstasy,
    In the flash of gold heels on the hard pavement.
    Now see I
    That warmth’s the very stuff of poesy.
    Oh, God, make small
    The old star-eaten blanket of the sky,
    That I may fold it round me and in comfort lie.

    The third section of Pound’s Near Perigord is very good. If you are looking at Pound’s shorter poems, it is clear that in terms of rhythm they owe more to Latin verse than to the Haiku. This Latin poetry is meant to be sung, and Pound always realized this, and so this is what one hears when one hears Pound’s reading of anything. The shorter works read a lot like Horace because they are written in a kind of quantitative verse for modern English (it can’t simply be transferred directly because Latin is an inflected language, and by the modern period pretty much all of the remnants of its inflected past, which could have been and were used for poetic effect, had dropped out of use).

    I don’t at all agree with what you say about leaving blank verse. If one strips a work of blank verse of its regular line length, it does not simply become a prose poem. Even if it does not follow the law of a steady pentameter, no good pentameter ever has. It is also conceivable that it operate according to another metric law altogether such as the phrase. This is when modern English verse most closely resembles the Roman, because it has a quantitative feeling. It cannot simply be reduced to a rubric of stressed and unstressed, but this is perhaps why it can have craft. One must be more versatile and have command over a wider range of forms because one cannot simply lapse into steady pentameter. If one loses his command, the verse falls flat and lapses into prose instead. This manifestly does not mean it lacks art, anymore than there is a lack of art in Old English poetry. I am only saying that irregularity in meter and line-length does not make lawlessness.

    1. I disagree, of course — but I think you’ve made a common error, which I address in the piece. Since poetry is, in society, an activity of those in the elite circles of arts & letters, attempting to understand poetry by the inability of poets in an era to communicate in anything orderly does not mean that order is somehow joined to disorder, as if that were possible.

      The things you think of, which the modern style is plagued with like a man with the pox, is like what a fashion mole or smirk is on a beautiful woman: it throws into relief the underlying order. Blank verse IS halfway to chaos; your perception of “modern English” as unsuitable to verse but somehow “phrasing” isn’t verse (there are rules for phrasing; they’re called verses) is the result of reading and imbibing the minds of people who have this disposition already. The simple explanation for Eliot, Pound and Yeats’ “inability” to do traditional verse has to do with their sensitivity to elite discourse, and the requirement it placed upon them to retreat into barbarism.

      I’ve said as much, noting that what remains is merely the base requirement once given for “poets”- that is, they’re basically madmen.

      Without the craft of poetry, poetry has nothing to recommend it other than social status, which is why “normal” people just CAN’T SEEM TO GET modern poetry! (Because they are not in the right social circles to be charmed by what certain hoi polloi find “interesting”.) The same goes for modern art and academic (i.e. Post-Schoenberg) music.

      If poetry is just an elite craft, which is what the loss of craft reduces it to, it becomes mere fashion. In that case, the most fashionable could fart naked at us, and we’d have to begrudgingly accept that it is poetry. Alas for us!

      1. When I say phrase, I have in mind the musical phrase. I would refer to this poem by Ezra Pound as an example:

        Come, let us pity those who are better off than we are.
        Come, my friend, and remember
        that the rich have butlers and no friends,
        And we have friends and no butlers.
        Come, let us pity the married and the unmarried.

        Dawn enters with little feet
        like a gilded Pavlova
        And I am near my desire.
        Nor has life in it aught better
        Than this hour of clear coolness
        the hour of waking together.

        This is not prose. It is probably less chaotic than much blank verse, but the “law” is quantitative and not qualitative. It is closer to Catullus than to Wordsworth, closer even to Hebrew poetry. It can be scanned according to quality but cannot reduced to that scansion.
        If I had my book of his complete works with me, I could show you with another poem which I had studied more technically but forgot the name.

        As to what I said about modern English I stand by it. Ever since the Romantics poetry has been done as spoken. This creates a problem for rhymed verse, because English, unlike Italian, is harder to rhyme, and as the language developed it lost those artifacts of inflected language which allowed one to transport words to end of lines in order that they could rhyme. Also, one had never had in English such a complete division between poetic dialect and spoken language as one had with the Greeks and Homeric Greek, which had never been spoken by anyone. One runs into the problem therefore of finding a law in poetry which was not rhyme and was in popular English but which could not be dragged into the crude developments of that English. The results are various. This is the spur of T. E. Hulme’s Imagism:

        “It always endeavours to arrest you, and to make you continuously see a physical thing, to prevent you gliding through an abstract process. It chooses fresh epithets and fresh metaphors, not so much because they are new, and we are tired of the old, but because the old cease to convey a physical thing and become abstract counters. A poet says a ship ‘coursed the seas’ to get a physical image, instead of the counter word ‘sailed’. Visual meanings can only be transferred by the new bowl of metaphor; prose is an old pot that lets them leak out. Images in verse are not mere decoration, but the very essence of an intuitive language.” (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/resources/learning/essays/detail/69477

        One also gets Eliot’s style of dramatic monologue out of this (and Eliot was always foremost a dramatist). Even Yeats eventually came down to ordinary language and rhymes which did not stand out. I am not saying that rhymed or archaic verse is impossible, but that since the romantics, archaism has not been acceptable in English, and without archaism rhymed verse in English is incredibly difficult, but also very easy to get badly.

        1. That is well and good, but that idea about modern English is pure false consciousness, in the older Marxist sense. That you seem to “experience” it indicates that such an analysis is correct, combined with the fact that people outside of academic and lit-elite circles don’t “understand” that poetry.

          One point: poetry has always been “spoken” – I don’t see that as a valid distinction post Romantics.

          1. I fail to see how this is false consciousness. A great of contemporary poetry is just prose. Contemporary poetry is not modern poetry, but this is just a chronological distinction.Not all of the latter is just prose, or prose poetry, just as Hebrew poetry is not prosepoetry or Old English. Almost all of the former, however, is.

            When I say as spoken, I mean the language as it is spoken, not as it was spoken several hundred years ago. The reason that English poetry could be rhymed much more easily then, is that English still bore artifacts of the inflected Old English. Men in Shakespeare’s time actually spoke like Shakespeare. This is not to say they spoke in pentameter, but that the language was one that had more regular syntactic freedom even in the spoken language. Now if you are to rhyme with the same agility it often requires an archaism which the people who are being imitated did not have to effect. The form of verse that eventually was brought over into Early Modern verse, and soon became synonymous in English with verse itself, was pulled over from Italian, and even before that, from the Troubadours of Provence. It is no wonder that this was so, because Italian is much easier to rhyme even when compared to early modern English. By our own time, English has become syntactically much more regular and has lost nearly all artifacts that were present in Early Modern English. The idea that verse should not be highly artificial comes from Wordsworth and Coleridge. They got this idea because the general zeitgeist of the time was the horribly pernicious Rouseanian notion that the common and man and his realities must be described because they represented a kind of pure and universal humanity.

            One rebuttal: poetry has not always been “spoken” — for most of history it has been sung.

            Also, I am not a member of any elite “lit circle.” I am simply one who likes modern poetry up to a point, and understand why they did what they did, whatever their successors did or did not do. I suppose this means I suffer from false consciousness.

            P.S. Perhaps this fact may convince you that I do not, and that I actually have come to my opinions from studying on my own and forming my own tastes — I hate William Carlos Williams and a great deal of Ezra Pound’s Cantos precisely because there is absolutely no music in that verse whatsoever, and really is often just prose broken up.

          2. Spoken as in aloud. Singing it is better, yes.

            Re: Zeitgeist: “Zeitgeist” of degeneration, which is what Rousseau was about – he for example detested the arts, because he felt they were artificial.

            There is no reason to speak on behalf of this damnable style; it was never better, it was just, when it was, less worse. Pound himself said, “and still after five hundred years, nothing.” Nothing!

            What makes me the most mad is emulating styles from other cultures which just come out as prose, like the common use of Haiku.

            It’s not that English became non-lyrical, it’s that the elite literary circles (especially following WWI, but certainly Whitman and others were tending this way before, as you say) demanded non-lyrical verse. But the talent didn’t disappear, as it is said, “talent goes where it is needed.” People often repeat the lines of songs, which are usually metered or at least pulsed, and almost always rhyme.

            That is to say, it’s patently false that English (late modern) became non-musical; it’s just that the literary elite snubbed musical or lyrical styles. That’s all it is. There’s really no substance at all that I’ve found behind it.

            I’d also be careful with Roman poetry, as the Romans did go through some civilizational changes that are similar to our own, so to simply pick out poetry from an era without reference to the motions of that great machine might be giving you “late modern” Roman poetry, instead.

            Our job is to be, inasmuch as possible, those who bring back song into poetry. Not for anyone but ourselves, of course.

          3. Re. Haiku: Yes, the Haiku is not made for English. Attempts to imitate the Haiku are horrible. But the drawing over of forms is not necessarily bad. It is bad when Ezra Pound attempts to write an epic effectively in that form and focusing heavily on economics. It is not necessarily bad, since without this English would not have any rhymed poetry at all, that having been borrowed from the Italians and French. That said, Imagism, which more resembles the Haiku form than other English style, is not, from what I remember, directly drawn from the Japanese. The actual impetus for imagism was T. E. Hulme and his views on Romanticism and Classicism. He wanted to get away from Romantic linguistic looseness and decadence and go towards something more firm and controlled and classical. Whether or not this was achieved, the impetus seemed primarily native. However, whenever there is a great deal of borrowing one is either in a renaissance or decadence, and I think it is clear which one it was.

            Re. Roman poetry: When I say it is reminiscent of Roman poetry, I mean in cadence. Roman meter is essentially the same was Greek meter. Both however are more regular than “free verse” poetry, but more versatile than qualitative English. Decadence has nothing to do with this. Something like this is incredibly Roman, not just in subject matter:

            Nine adulteries, 12 liaisons, 64 fornications and
            something approaching a rape
            Rest nightly upon the soul of our delicate friend
            Florialis,
            And yet the man is so quiet and reserved in demeanour
            That he passes for both bloodless and sexless.
            Bastidides, on the contrary, who both talks and writes
            of nothing save copulation,
            Has become the father of twins,
            But he accomplished this feat at some cost;
            He had to be four times cuckold.

            And something like this is incredibly beautiful though there is little rhyming or regular meter:

            What thou lovest well remains,
            the rest is dross
            What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee
            What thou lov’st well is thy true heritage
            Whose world, or mine or theirs
            or is it of none?
            First came the seen, then thus the palpable
            Elysium, though it were in the halls of hell,
            What thou lovest well is thy true heritage
            What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee

            The ant’s a centaur in his dragon world.
            Pull down thy vanity, it is not man
            Made courage, or made order, or made grace,
            Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down.
            Learn of the green world what can be thy place
            In scaled invention or true artistry,
            Pull down thy vanity,
            Paquin pull down!
            The green casque has outdone your elegance.

            “Master thyself, then others shall thee beare”
            Pull down thy vanity
            Thou art a beaten dog beneath the hail,
            A swollen magpie in a fitful sun,
            Half black half white
            Nor knowst’ou wing from tail
            Pull down thy vanity
            How mean thy hates
            Fostered in falsity,
            Pull down thy vanity,
            Rathe to destroy, niggard in charity,
            Pull down thy vanity,
            I say pull down.

            But to have done instead of not doing
            this is not vanity
            To have, with decency, knocked
            That a Blunt should open
            To have gathered from the air a live tradition
            or from a fine old eye the unconquered flame
            This is not vanity.
            Here error is all in the not done,
            all in the diffidence that faltered . . .

            And Ezra Pound’s reading, I think, shows this:
            https:// http://www.youtube .com/watch?v=lX0h1KSM5fs
            And I think we have all heard him read Canto XLV.

        2. Further, the main issue with modern poetry is that it lacks faith, and therefore can only very weakly use the tools of poetry, which is why both Yeats and Eliot were forced to employ “weak” assonance and consonance, and weak rhythmic, and eventually even thematic elements.

          So not only is the poetry chaotic, it is also weak, which is why it is mocked for being prose.

  4. I like Eliots works. No pathos there. He knew great nations go out with a whimper and not a bang.

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