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This article is taken from Poetry Nation 6 Number 6, 1976.

Philosophy and Literary Criticism David A. Dyson


WRITING SOME forty years ago, T.S. Eliot declared that there are 'two theoretical limits of criticism: at one of which we attempt to answer the question "what is poetry?" and at the other "is this a good poem?"' 1 Although he emphasized that both questions were important, it is clear which one he regarded as essential: 'The rudiment of criticism is the ability to select a good poem and reject a bad poem' 2, and again (of l. A. Richards), 'You may be dissatisfied with his philosophical conclusions but still believe (as I do) in his discriminating taste in poetry. But if on the other hand you had no faith in the critic's ability to tell a good poem from a bad one, you would put little reliance on the validity of his theories.' 3 There is no doubt that Eliot, like his friend Pound, regarded such an emphasis as essential at the time. Both were very much afraid that the actual reading of poetry with a critical awareness of what was good and what bad was in danger of being lost amidst a welter of criticism which looked to poetry for moral elevation and guidance or for stimulation of refined feelings. For them, on the other hand, good poetry could purify mind and language, and there could be no substitute for the actual reading of it with the awareness that it was good.

This movement was very much part of its time, for as Eliot ...


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