Date of Award

Spring 1962

Document Type

Thesis

Department

Languages & Literature

First Advisor

Joseph Ward

Abstract

In the years 1915 to 1925 a group of young poet-critics rose to literary prominence with a series of critical studies, daring critical tenets and experimental poetry. Three men — Ezra Pound, the originator; W.B. Yeats, the collaborator; and T.S. Eliot, the most vocal and precise of the group — emerged as leaders of a new school which threatened to divert the stream of poetic thought. The age was ripe for the revolt against the old rule. These new poets aligned themselves with the classicist stream of literature in revolt against the latter-day romantic position of the Victorians.

The historical roots from which their position sprang rested in the seventeenth century Metaphysical poets led by John Donne and in the nineteenth century French Symbolist poets led by Baudelaire. The new critics were attacked at first; their poetry was ignored and their insights downgraded. Gradually, however, their influence increased. The younger poets of the generation accepted their ideas as a new and more satisfying approach to the understanding of the modern world. The idiom of the new-classicist with its metaphysical conceit and protracted, barren verse opened new mediums for poetry hitherto unexplored. As the new poetry and new criticism gathered supporters (and the critical acuity of Eliot especially converted them quickly) the triumverate of Eliot, Pound and Yeats rose to the position of literary leaders.

T.S. Eliot especially has emerged as the literary spokesman for the era. His abilities encompass such a wide area of literature, ranging from criticism to poetry (he has written, in the opinion of many, both the best criticism and the best poetry of the age), and his insights are so thoroughgoing and so well supported that he has been seldom seriously questioned in the past twenty years. He has received every literary award offered in America and England and many international awards. Eliot’s position today commands almost universal respect and his unusual objectivity has permitted him to be discussed as if he were already deceased and his works placed into the literary canon. His best poems have, in fact, been accepted as part of tradition for Eliot has divorced his personality from his poetry so successfully that his poetry succeeds or fails as art without reference to the poet who created it. Actually, he is still writing today, primarily in the area of cultural criticism and the canon of his works is far from completed, collected and embalmed.

Share

COinS