T. S. Eliot’s Letter to “The Nation”

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(Addendum December 2006: The full text of my paper can now be found among the pieces of longer writing listed in the sidebar to the right of this article.)

These are the main documents referred to in my paper on T.S.Eliot, for the Oxford Brookes American Modernism conference, September 22nd, 2006.

  1. WAR: a letter from T.S.Eliot, printed in The Nation, June 23rd, 1917.
  2. “On Leave” by H.M. Tomlinson, printed in The Nation, June 2nd, 1917.
  3. Extract from T.S.Eliot’s letter to his father, June 13th, 1917:
    “To me all this war enthusiasm seems a bit unreal, because of the mixture of motives. But I see the war partly through the eyes of men who have been and returned, and who view it, even when convinced of the rightness of the cause, in a very different way: as something very sordid and disagreeable which must be put through. That would be my spirit.”
  4. T.S.Eliot on seriousness : extracts from essays and letters 1917-21
    …correcting the seriousness of life with the seriousness of art….
    Very few treat art seriously. There are those who treat it solemnly…
    …the terribly serious, even savage comic humour, the humour which spent its last breath on the decadent genius of Dickens.
    Some of the new poems, the Sweeney ones, are intensely serious
    …the right seriousness of great literary art; the seriousness which we find in Villon’s Testament and which is conspicuously absent from In Memoriam…
    These are not serious enough introductions to really serious writers. Mr Lynd never does become quite serious.
    But we must learn to take poetry seriously
  5. T.S.Eliot on War Poetry
    (i) His parody letter to The Egoist (supposed to be from Helen B.Trundlett of Batton, Kent)
    …I have, I pride myself, kept abreast of the times in literature: at least, if I have not, the times have moved very speedily indeed. I was therefore surprised… to find Rupert Brooke dismissed with the words “He is not absent”. Brooke’s early poems exhibit a youthful exuberance of passion, and an occasional coarseness of utterance, which offended finer tastes; but these were but dross which, as his last sonnets show, was purged away (if I may be permitted this word) in the fire of the Great Ordeal which is proving the well-spring of a Renaissance of English poetry.
    (ii) On the popularity of certain war poems
    The popularity of certain war poems was due, I think, to the fact that they appeared to represent a revolt against something that was very unpleasant, and really paid a tribute to all the nicest feelings of the upper-middle class British public school boy.
    (iii) On Herbert Read
    It is the best war poetry that I can remember having seen. It is better than the rest because it is more honest; because it is neither Romance nor Reporting; because it is unpretentious; and it has emotion as well as a version of things seen. For a poet to observe that war is ugly and not on the whole improving to the soul is not a novelty any more; but Mr Read does it with a quiet and careful conviction which is not very common.

6. “In silent corridors of death”
from
Inventions of the March Hare

In silent corridors of death
Short sighs and stifled breath,
Short breath and stifled sighing;
Somewhere the soul crying.
And I wander alone
Without haste, without hope, without fear
Without pressure or touch
There is no moan
Of souls dying
Nothing here
But the warm
Dry airless sweet scent
Of the alleys of death
Of the corridors of death.

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