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Modernist Poetics of History

Modernist Poetics of History: Pound, Eliot, and the Sense of the Past

James Longenbach
Copyright Date: 1987
Pages: 298
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  • Book Info
    Modernist Poetics of History
    Book Description:

    By thoroughly examining T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound collected and uncollected writings, James Longenbach presents their understandings of the philosophical idea of history and analyzes the strategies of historical interpretation they discussed in their critical prose and embodied in their poems including history."

    Originally published in 1987.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5851-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-2)
  6. Introduction Modernism and Historicism
    (pp. 3-28)

    In the same year that T. S. Eliot published “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919), the essay in which he declared that the “historical sense” is “indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year” (SW, 49), he wrote “Gerontion,” a poem that has become a talisman for the idea of history in modern literature:

    History has many cunning passages, contrived corridors

    And issues, deceives with whispering ambitions,

    Guides us by vanities. Think now

    She gives when our attention is distracted

    And what she gives, gives With such supple confusions

    That the giving famishes the...

  7. Chapter One Pater and Yeats: The Dicta of the Great Critics
    (pp. 29-44)

    In 1908, just before he sailed for Europe, Pound spent a few weeks at Wabash College in Indiana, earning his keep as an instructor of Romance languages. It was a stifling experience, and it probably catalyzed his decision to travel abroad. For Pound, America in the early 1900s was much like the America that Henry James described so vividly in his book on Hawthorne. James made a list of everything Hawthorne’s America lacked:

    No state, in the European sense of the word, and indeed barely a specific national name. No sovereign, no court, no personal loyalty, no aristocracy, no church,...

  8. Chapter Two I Gather the Limbs of Osiris
    (pp. 45-61)

    After Pound publishedThe Spirit of Romance, The Sonnets and Ballate of Guido Cavalcanti,andI Gather the Limbs of Osiris, as well as several books of his own verse, he took a moment to look back over his shoulder to the America he had left behind. In “Epilogue” (1912), subtitled “to my five books containing mediaeval studies, experiments and translations,” Pound wrote,

    I bring you my spoils, my nation,

    I, who went out in exile,

    Am returned to thee with gifts.

    I, who have laboured long in the tombs,

    And come back therefrom with riches.

    Behold my spices and...

  9. Chapter Three Canzoni: Toward a Poem Including History
    (pp. 62-78)

    Once Pound had completedI Gather the Limbs of Osirishe was secure enough about his new method of scholarship to make subtle distinctions between his own “historical sense” and that held by other historians and poets. In May 1913 Pound visited Venice, and he was given a ticket to a concert at the Fenice, Venice’s opera house. He wrote to Dorothy Shakespear that the music was “surprisingly good” and that

    the whole effect [was] pleasingly 18th century—Goya, Rossini, Goldini sort of effect, delighting my sense of history—notmy “historical sense”—a difference to be explained at length...

  10. Chapter Four The Perigord Phantastikon
    (pp. 79-95)

    In “Psychology and Troubadours,” the lecture on mediaeval mysticism that Pound wrote for G.R.S. Mead’s theosophical Quest Society in 1912, Pound used the wordphantastikonto describe the workings of an individual’s consciousness. Some people’s minds seem “to rest, or to have [their] center more properly, in what the Greek psychologists called thephantastikon.Their minds are, that is, circumvolved about them like soap-bubbles reflecting sundry patches of the macro-cosmos” (SR, 92). As Pound uses the term, it becomes clear that he allows it to refer not only to the consciousness of an individual but the consciousness of an entire...

  11. Chapter Five Three Cantos and the War Against Philology
    (pp. 96-130)

    When Pound constructed his vision of a postwar hell in Cantos 14 and 15, he made a special place for philologists among the politicians and profiteers:

    The slough of unamiable liars,

    bog of stupidities,

    malevolent stupidities, and stupidities,

    the soil of living pus, full of vermin,

    dead maggots begetting live maggots,

    slum owners,

    usurers squeezing crab-lice, pandars to authority,

    pets-de-loup, sitting on piles of stone books,

    obscuring the texts with philology. (14/63)

    Pound had been rebelling against his graduate training in philology for over a decade whenA Draft of XVI Cantoswas published in 1925. But his

    But his...

  12. Chapter Six Truth and Calliope
    (pp. 131-151)

    During the initial gestation period ofThe Cantos,from late in 1911 when Pound first asked Dorothy Shakespear if she had any suggestions for his “long poem” (PSL, 82) to the summer of 1917 when the first cantos were published, Pound discovered ways of including history in his poem almost everywhere he looked: in Browning, Pater, Yeats, the Renaissance humanists, the Japanese Noh plays, and even the landscape of Provence. He pursued the task of planning a modern long poem with Miltonic ambition.

    Beginning with the winter of 1915 Pound also recognized other sources for his desire to write a...

  13. Chapter Seven Eeldrop and Appleplex: Eliot and Pound
    (pp. 152-163)

    Eliot first came to visit Pound in the triangular study of his Kensington apartment in the Autumn of 1914, and Pound immediately sent “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” to Harriet Monroe, calling it “the best poem I have yet had or seen from an American” (L, 40). At the same time, Eliot wrote to Conrad Aiken that he found Pound’s verse “touchingly incompetent.”¹ This opinion would change. Eliot went up to Oxford, completed his dissertation on the philosophy of F. H. Bradley, married Vivienne Haigh-Wood, suffered, moved back to London, and began working at Lloyds Bank in 1917....

  14. Chapter Eight F. H. Bradley and the “System” of History
    (pp. 164-176)

    For several years before he met Pound, Eliot was engaged in a rigorous philosophical examination of the nature of interpretation. Pound confronted many of the same issues in his attempts to include history in his poems, but Eliot was a trained philosopher, and he addressed these same issues more strenuously in his writings on Bradley. While he was a graduate student in the philosophy department at Harvard in 1913–1914, Eliot took Josiah Royce’s seminar in the Comparative Study of Various Types of Scientific Method. According to Harry Todd Costello, a participant in the seminar who was assigned the task...

  15. Chapter Nine The Contrived Corridors of Poems 1920
    (pp. 177-199)

    In his preface toThe Spirit of RomancePound made it clear that his interest in mediaeval literature was far from “archaeological”: “I am interested in poetry,” he wrote. “I have attempted to examine certain forces, elements or qualities which were potent in the mediaeval literature of the Latin tongues, and are, I believe, still potent in our own” (SR, 5). Pound’s interest in the literature of the past was always subordinate to his desire to write poetry in the present. Eliot admired this aspect of Pound’s work above all others. In “Studies in Contemporary Criticism” (1918) he wrote that...

  16. Chapter Ten The Waste Land: Beyond the Frontier
    (pp. 200-238)

    “And of course the only real truth is the whole truth” (KE, 163). This sentence is one of the most telling that Eliot ever wrote. Not only does it epitomize his ideas about the nature of tenable criteria for truth, but it reveals how self-evident he considered those criteria to be; the “of course” is particularly telling. Furthermore, this sentence, and Eliot’s general dependence upon the idea of wholeness and the “systematic” nature of truth, reveal his strong reliance upon nineteenth-century traditions in both philosophy and poetry.

    Hegel provided thelocus classicusof this tradition when he wrote in the...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 239-266)
  18. Index
    (pp. 267-279)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 280-280)