THE VARIETIES OF METAPHYSICAL POETRY by T.S. Eliot

THE VARIETIES OF METAPHYSICAL POETRY

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 An annotated edition of Eliot's previously unpublished lectures formulating the influential theory of metaphysical poetry and the ``dissociation of sensibility'' with which he is associated. The volume consists of the eight Clark lectures delivered at Trinity College, Cambridge, 1926, and the three Turnbull lectures delivered at Johns Hopkins, 1933. Before an audience of Victorian gentleman scholars and young rebels such as William Empson and I.A. Richards, Eliot offered a reading of European poetry that located its value in the yoking of thought, feeling, and object, a view of human experience uniting the spiritual, intellectual, and sensual. His claim: Such unity occurred at only three points in Western culture--in the 13th century with Dante; in the 17th with Donne, Crashaw, and Cowley primarily; and in the 19th with Laforgue. These rare ``metaphysical moments'' were lost in the subsequent secular ages, which saw the diversification of knowledge, the ``disintegration of the intellect'' (the proposed title of his critical trilogy), and the decline of religious faith. In place of the clarity, authority, and objectivity that Eliot valued, poets expressed (and critics admired) ambiguity, individualism, and subjectivity. In his copious and detailed footnotes, Schuchard (English/Emory Univ.) identifies Eliot's encyclopedic allusions, corrects what has been called his ``creative misquotations,'' translates his many foreign citations, and explains the subtleties of his argument. His introductions, lucid and ranging, place Eliot in the context of the critical debates of the '20s and provide enough biographical information to humanize the otherwise priestly lecturer. One especially charming scene: Eliot in Baltimore walking into the sunset with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Although Eliot's taste seems precious, obscure, and forbidding in some ways, the lectures are timely and relevant. The theories that helped initiate modernism have curious analogues in postmodern criticism, especially deconstruction, and require only a mind as capacious as Eliot's to elucidate them.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-15-100096-4
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1994




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