restricted access A Commentary: That Poetry Is Made with Words.
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668 ] -1— 0— +1— A Commentary: That Poetry Is Made with Words1 The New English Weekly, 15 (27 Apr 1939) 27-28 The two most dangerous subjects of study for the poet – I think, the only subjects that are always dangerous for him – are aesthetics and psychology. Whether a poet can afford to interest himself in other abstract and philosophical studies is an individual matter: there are conspicuous instances of the good use of such aliment. But abstract studies which turn upon the practice of his own art are a very different matter. The danger of aesthetics is that it may make us conscious of what operates better unconsciously. The danger of psychology is the same; and has particular seriousness when we are concerned with the creation of character. Character composed according to Freudian formulae has all the defects of the synthetic substitute; its actions are tediously predictable; it is always unconvincing, and usually false. The great characters of drama and prose fiction may themselves provide material for study to psychologists; but out of the psychologists’ abstractions no character can be put together. The dramatist must study, not psychology, but human beings; and to what he observes, dissects and combines he must add something from himself of which he may not be wholly conscious. I have been reading Situation de la poésie by Jacques and Raissa Maritain, and especially the essay by the former entitled “De la connaissance poétique .”2 Like everything by these authors, it has lucidity and profundity (though I am not sure that Jacques Maritain, whose philosophical output is astonishing, always writes as well as he did). I recommend it warmly to all readers of poetry (I fear, not a large number) who are content to read poetry and do not attempt to write it. I do not object if a few poets read what I am now saying about it, but I advise them against reading the book: it is concerned with matters that they ought to leave alone. Maritain distinguishes between two types of poet: the craftsman, whose chief conscious concern is formal, and the type whose main occupation is the exploration of consciousness. [A]ux époques comme la nôtre il y a une famille de poètes attachés davantage (je dis davantage, je ne dis pas exclusivement) à la découverte intérieure de soi-même et au mouvement de prise de conscience de la 349-69068_122 eliot_c443_FINAL_4P.indd 668 6/30/17 12:12 PM [ 669 A Commentary poésie . . . Et il y a une autre famille de poètes attachés davantage à continuer l’action poétique elle-même et cette effusion de la voix dont parle David et qui se poursuit d’âge en âge . . .3 It is with the first of these types, of which he takes Rimbaud as an exemplar (it must be remembered that he has modern French poetry chiefly in mind) that he is concerned. And I must add that he is concerned with the risks to which are exposed those poets who endeavour to cross les frontières de l’esprit.4 I do not wish to contest Maritain’s analysis of the situation of modern French poetry; but what it has suggested to me is the problem of how the poet ought to work, rather than the consideration of how, in certain circumstances , he has worked. It is true, I think, that poetry, if it is not to be a lifeless repetition of forms, must be constantly exploring “the frontiers of the spirit.” But these frontiers are not like the surveys of geographical explorers, conquered once for all and settled. The frontiers of the spirit are more like the jungle which, unless continuously kept under control, is always ready to encroach and eventually obliterate the cultivated area. Our effort is as much to regain, under very different conditions, what was known to men writing at remote times and in alien languages. To do this it is not enough to bring up-to-date the mise-en-scène, to substitute the furniture of modern life for the furniture of a previous period, though it must be remembered that no sharp line can be drawn between the inner and the outer, and that this furniture is important in so far as the data of the senses always qualify and give particularity to our emotions: so that an experience in one place cannot be duplicated in another, and a dramatic scene in...