chapter  5
47 Pages

A critical examination o f some poetry

In this section I am trying to show how a number o f poems work. The accounts are primarily essays in critical analysis trying to work out ‘how the poem says w hat’ always remembering that for a poet, as for any artist, the ‘how it says5 is a large element of ‘what it says’. Techniques, vocabulary and so on are seldom accidental and arbitrary in a poet but are directed and fused into the statement. The poem is the only embodiment of the statement and so is the statement. Such a view of poetry has led a good deal of criticism in this century into rather sterile tracks. It has been asserted, for instance, that ‘a poem does not mean but be’ and again ‘a poem is a poem is a poem ’ and that somehow such a conclusion disallows discussion of the poem ’s content as a state­ ment. People talk about ‘pure’ poetry. Now Eliot, while always immensely conscious o f the difference between poetic and philo­ sophic statement - he was more capable than most o f choosing to work in either form - and so of the value of poetry as poetry, always saw that poems, and art in general, made statements that were isolable (albeit diminished by paraphrase) and ultimately were answerable to systems of values which were to be located in other places than in volumes of poetry. The values might be in a political philosophy or in the doctrines of a religion, for example. For Eliot a poem certainly ‘is’ but the major function of its ‘being’ is ‘to m ean’. I f you like, it is part of his American heritage of ‘public service’. ‘Art for art’s sake’ is not an easy doctrine for him to swallow.