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This article is taken from PN Review 157, Volume 30 Number 5, May - June 2004.

The Later Fortunes of Impersonality Clive Wilmer

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the work of T.S. Eliot could hardly be called fashionable or even influential. It has taken some hard knocks in recent years and prominent contemporary poets like Simon Armitage, Les Murray and Tony Harrison no longer refer to the old master with the awe that was once reserved for him. According to Armitage and other anthologists of the last century's poetry, the prevailing poetic `voice' of our own day is `democratic': from which we are to understand a contrast with the high Modernists, who are felt to be `élitist', authoritarian and Eurocentric. Of course, these newer poets are only doing what Eliot and Ezra Pound did to their Victorian forebears, especially Tennyson. They are engaged in what Harold Bloom sees as Oedipal parricide and, at the same time, trying not to notice how much of the father is passed on to the son. It is now generally acknowledged that Eliot himself was a deeply Tennysonian writer, but, even if that were not the case, it would surely be true to say that some poets alter their art irrevocably and become for those who follow them unavoidable. This is even more likely to be so if the poet in question has reinforced his practice with prose theory. That is what Sidney did in An Apologie for Poetrie, Wordsworth in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads and Eliot in the 1919 essay, `Tradition and the Individual Talent'.

That great poets become unavoidable, in ...


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