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This article is taken from PN Review 116, Volume 23 Number 6, July - August 1997.

The Pope and the Canon Chris Miller

Eliot, Johnson, Davie and the Movement!1

The status of Eliot's criticism is by now curiously ill-defined. Upon the sea of critical discourse his key phrases float like the relics of a fisherman's craft, objects familiar but by now useless except as souvenirs. The intellectual adventure of the great modernists is ranked with the Utopian fallacies, and a more modest enterprise is called for. We are not the heirs of the Symbolist experience. A tradition existed before Eliot, of which Wordsworth was the patron saint (he too had put behind him the Miltonic, and asserted the values of the everyday) and Hardy the modern exemplar. If a revaluation is called for, it is rather to straighten out the English tradition, placing Edward Thomas in Eliot's position, and ejecting the great pioneers as infertile, uncomplimentary, and inapposite.

The agent of this revolution was a poetics of rationality. Where The Waste Land employed an Eisensteinian montage whose architectonic was myth, a call was heard for syntax. The tentacular roots of The Waste Land were discovered to reach intolerable places, and a call was heard for a chastening and sober diction. The politics of T.S. Eliot were unsavoury, and the breaches he had effected in the tradition were to be repaired by a conscious evocation of tradition; the poet was to be responsible to the community, to act not as a spokesman for the irrational, who might, if berated, announce himself the merest medium, but to be, within the ...


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