Monday, November 30, 2020

Two poems on T. S. Eliot's "Four Quartets"

Here are a couple of oddities from the poetic canon of Clark Ashton Smith (CAS).  Both were unpublished in his lifetime, and the surviving copy of the first was damaged in a fire, so it is incomplete.

I group these two short poems together since they are both critiques of T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets, a sequence of connected poems published in a collected edition in 1943.  CAS apparently wrote his own poems shortly after Eliot's volume first became available in the U.S.

On Trying to Read Four Quartets

There is a bard name T. S. Eliot
(Perhaps the British call him Heliot).
To one like me, like mind ingenuous
His poems seem too fine and ten[uous.]
In fact, the stuff's so dessicated [sic]
I half suspect he's constipated.
Methinks the beggar needs a _______
I find more pleasure in Ella's _______.

Greek Epigram

There is a bard name T. S. Eliot
(Perhaps the British call him Heliot).
He writes a tough untoothsome line,
I'd rather read a Valentine.

The "Ella" in the first of these poems apparently refers to Ella Wheeler Wilcox, a popular poet of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries whose sentimental verses were sometimes mocked by more "serious" littérateurs.

While both of these are clearly casual poems, making partial use of the limerick form, they expand on a critique of Eliot captured in The Black Book of Clark Ashton Smith.  The following is entry number 164 from the Arkham House edition of 1979:

Poetry, though its proper concerns are not primarily intellectual, is none the worse for having behind it a keen and firm intelligence.  But intelligence alone does not make poetry, as glaringly exemplified by the latter works of T. S. Eliot, which, while no doubt profound from a philosophical standpoint, has little or nothing of the bardic magic and mystery; all such elements having been ruthlessly sacrificed, leaving an obscurity which, unlike that of Gérard de Nerval, is devoid of color, glamour, and the allurement of new imaginative meanings and analogies which would justify obscurity.

The Four Quartets are Eliot's last major work of poetry, so it's safe to assume that the passage from The Black Book quoted above does apply to them.

While I enjoy T. S. Eliot's poetry myself, I can't disagree with CAS that the Four Quartets have a certain philosophical dryness and muddled religiosity that sap some of the power of Eliot's quite beautiful language.  The poems that Eliot included in this collection were written during World War II, and were something of a "back to God" exercise intended to inspire the British people during the difficult years of The Blitz and beyond.

I've never read anything by Gérard de Nerval, but based on CAS' comments quoted above, I'll have rectify that!

No comments:

Post a Comment