The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry: The Clark Lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge, 1926, and the Turnbull Lectures at the Johns Hopkins University, 1933

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Harcourt Brace, 1996 - Poetry - 343 pages
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While a student at Harvard in the early years of this century, T. S. Eliot immersed himself in the verse of Dante, Donne, and the nineteenth-century French poet Jules Laforgue. His study of the relation of thought and feeling in these poets later led Eliot, as a poet and critic in London, to formulate an original theory of the poetry generally termed "metaphysical" - philosophical and intellectual poetry that revels in startlingly unconventional imagery. Eliot came to perceive a gradual "disintegration of the intellect" following on three "metaphysical moments" of European civilization - the thirteenth, seventeenth, and nineteenth centuries. The theory is at once a provocative prism through which to view Western intellectual and literary history and an exceptional insight into Eliot's own intellectual development. For the first time ever, the eight Clark Lectures on metaphysical poetry that Eliot delivered at Trinity College in Cambridge in 1926, and their revision and extension for his three Turnbull Lectures at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in 1933, are now being published in an annotated edition. They reveal in great depth the historical currents of poetry and philosophy that shaped Eliot's own metaphysical moment in the twentieth century.

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The varieties of metaphysical poetry: the Clark lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge, 1926, and the Turnbull lectures at the Johns Hopkins University, 1933

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Editor Schuchard (English, Emory Univ., and a board member of the T.S. Eliot Society) gathers Eliot's Clark and Turnbull lectures into one volume. These lectures expand the entire notion of ... Read full review

Review: The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry

User Review  - Michael Murray - Goodreads

Always an interesting and rewarding critic; some of the observations and careful readings herein are really excellent. He does not have Geoffrey Hill's closed-in, obsessive, fusty-ness, instead we hear throughout a careful but enthusiastic even-tempered tone. Read full review

About the author (1996)

T. S. Eliot is considered by many to be a literary genius and one of the most influential men of letters during the half-century after World War I. He attended Harvard University, with time abroad pursuing graduate studies at the Sorbonne, Marburg, and Oxford. The outbreak of World War I prevented his return to the United States, and, persuaded by Ezra Pound to remain in England, he decided to settle there permanently. He published his influential early criticism, much of it written as occasional pieces for literary periodicals. He developed such doctrines as the "dissociation of sensibility" and the "objective correlative" and elaborated his views on wit and on the relation of tradition to the individual talent. Eliot by this time had left his early, derivative verse far behind and had begun to publish avant-garde poetry (including "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1915), which exploited fresh rhythms, abrupt juxtapositions, contemporary subject matter, and witty allusion. This period of creativity also resulted in another collection of verse (including "Gerontian") and culminated in The Waste Land, a masterpiece published in 1922 and produced partly during a period of psychological breakdown. In 1922, Eliot became a director of the Faber & Faber publishing house, and in 1927 he became a British citizen and joined the Church of England. Thereafter, his career underwent a change. With the publication of Ash Wednesday in 1930, his poetry became more overtly Christian. As editor of the influential literary magazine The Criterion, he turned his hand to social as well as literary criticism, with an increasingly conservative orientation. His religious poetry culminated in Four Quartets, published individually from 1936 onward and collectively in 1943. This work is often considered to be his greatest poetic achievement. Eliot also wrote poetry in a much lighter vein, such as Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939), a collection that was used during the early 1980s as the basis for the musical, Cats. In addition to his contributions in poetry and criticism, Eliot is the pivotal verse dramatist of this century. He followed the lead of William Butler Yeats in attempting to revive metrical language in the theater. But, unlike Yeats, Eliot wanted a dramatic verse that would be self-effacing, capable of expressing the most prosaic passages in a play, and an insistent, undetected presence capable of elevating itself at a moment's notice. His progression from the pageant The Rock (1934) and Murder in the Cathedral (1935), written for the Canterbury Festival, through The Family Reunion (1939) and The Cocktail Party (1949), a West End hit, was thus a matter of neutralizing obvious poetic effects and bringing prose passages into the flow of verse. Recent critics have seen Eliot as a divided figure, covertly attracted to the very elements (romanticism, personality, heresy) he overtly condemned. His early attacks on romantic poets, for example, often reveal him as a romantic against the grain. The same divisions carry over into his verse, where violence struggles against restraint, emotion against order, and imagination against ironic detachment. This Eliot is more human and more attractive to contemporary taste. During his lifetime, Eliot received many honors and awards, including the Nobel Prize for literature in 1948.

Ronald Schuchard is Goodrich C. White Professor of English at Emory University. He has written widely on modern literature, particularly on W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot. He is a former director of the Yeats International Summer School in Sligo and has co-edited three volumes of The Collected
Letters of W. B. Yeats (OUP). He has edited Eliot's Clark and Turnball Lectures as The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry (Faber), and he is author of the award-winning Eliot's Dark Angel (OUP). In 2006 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship to begin editing the multi-volume
Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot.

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