The Metaphysical Poets. To the Editor of the TLS
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386 ] The Metaphysical Poets To the Editor of the TLS Times Literary Supplement, 1033 (3 Nov 1921) 716 Sir, – I am obliged to Professor Saintsbury for his suggestions, of which I shall make use, if he will permit me, on some later occasion.1 As I greatly respect Mr. Saintsbury, so I would not be behind him in my testimony of that great neglected poet, great neglected dramatist, and great neglected critic, John Dryden. I only regret that the conclusion to be drawn from Mr. Saintsbury’s letter appears to contradict my own conclusions from the study of Caroline verse. Mr. Saintsbury appears to believe that these poets represent not merely a generation, but almost a particular theory of poetry. The “second thoughts” to which he alludes are, I think, and as I tried to point out, frequent in the work of many other poets besides, of other times and other languages. I have mentioned Chapman, and the contemporaries of Dante. I do not believe that the author of Hamlet and Measure for Measure was invariably satisfied with “the first simple, obvious, natural thought and expression of thought”; or that the author of the “Phoenix and Turtle” whistled as he went for want of thought.2 Nor can I believe that Swinburne thought twice, or even once, before he wrote Time with a gift of tears, Grief with a glass that ran.3 On the subject of Caroline poetry, there is no one to whom so much gratitude is due, or to whom I should listen with as much deference, as Mr. Saintsbury.4 I am, Sir, your obliged humble Contributor Notes 1. Composed while TSE was in Margate at the beginning of his three-month leave from Lloyds Bank. TSE responds to George Saintsbury’s letter (27 Oct) proposing an amicable “annotation – not in the least critical” to “The Metaphysical Poets” (375). Saintsbury advocates [ 387 The Metaphysical Poets: to the editor of the TLS —-1 —0 —+1 following Dryden in considering the term “metaphysical” equivalent to “‘second thoughts,’ things that come after the natural first.” “No matter what they are dealing with,” he continues, metaphysical poets “always ‘go behind’ the first, simple, obvious, natural thought and expression of thought” (698). In his subsequent rejoinder (10 Nov) to the present letter, Saintsbury clarified: “all true poetry must be in a way second thought. . . . What I was endeavoring to point out was that, in this period, the quest of the second thought became direct, deliberate, a business, almost itself a first thought” (734). 2. Shakespeare, “The Phoenix and the Turtle” (1601). TSE borrows a phrase from Dryden’s Cymon and Iphigenia, from Boccace (1700), ll. 84-85: “He trudg’d along unknowing what he sought, / And whistled as he went, for want of Thought.” Identified by Christopher Ricks, Decisions and Revisions in T. S. Eliot (London: The British Library, 2003), 3. 3. Read: “Time, with” and “Grief, with”; from Swinburne’s Atalanta in Calydon (ll. 316-17). Saintsbury used these lines (quoted identically) and their deliberate inversion of conventional metaphorstosuggestthatSwinburnewas“‘rightmetaphysical’inhismethod.”Inhissubsequent letter, he admitted that “the Swinburnian illustration was perhaps capable of misconstruction.” TSE had drawn attention to the same lines in “Swinburne as Poet” (184). 4. TSE owned and admired Saintsbury’s Minor Poets of the Caroline Period (3 vols, 1905-21), and he inscribed a copy of HJD to Saintsbury: “Homage to / George Saintsbury / from his Sincere admirer / T. S. Eliot / 13.xi.24” 349-56890_065_eliot_c128a_6P.indd 387 349-56890_065_eliot_c128a_6P.indd 387 11/26/14 4:38 PM 11/26/14 4:38 PM ...