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This review is taken from PN Review 68, Volume 15 Number 6, July - August 1989.

CORRESPONDENCE AND CARVINGS The Letters of T.S. Eliot, Volume I 1898-1922, edited by Valerie Eliot (Faber) £25.00

"I'm not sure whether you thought Hulme really a great poet, as I do... I can't think of anything as good as two of his poems since Blake." That is Eliot at thirty, when his perceptions were sharpest, and when he looked at the work of his contemporaries as he looked at older writers, to see whether anything hard and laconic could still be carved out of the language. A few months later he says of Dante: "I feel so completely inferior in his presence - there seems really nothing to do but to point to him and be silent". For Eliot most contemporary verse was "obviously superfluous". "We have in modern society," he says, "a huge journalistic organism, the 'critical' or Review press which must be fed... reputations are manufactured to feed it, and works born perfectly dead enjoy an illusory life... the journalistic machine is quite a suitable member of modern industrial society. I see no reason why it should not go on for some time developing, unifying and ramifying like Lever Bros. Ltd." And so it has done, with "poetry" itself more and more part of a great media-controlled world which he could not have foreseen even in his worst nightmares. But even seventy years ago Eliot could say: "I feel myself, that with so much worthless verse selling in thousands, it is just as good at the present time to have an audience of two hundred as two thousand".

This is a far ...


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