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This review is taken from PN Review 64, Volume 15 Number 2, November - December 1988.

PRACTICAL CAVEATS Robert Crawford, The Savage and the City in the Work of T.S. Eliot (Oxford: Clarendon Press) £25.00

Eliot, in 1988, seems still inescapable in poetry and in culture. Contemporary poetry still has him in its blood, with varying combinations of gratitude, scepticism and suspicion. Individual poets of the stature of Donald Davie, in Three For Water Music, and Seamus Heaney, in 'Station Island', deliberately raise the ghost of Four Quartets in their own longer, more ambitious works. And, as the dust-jacket photograph of Robert Crawford's book reminds us, Eliot's Cats still stalks the West End stage, offering a not inappropriate cultural afterlife to a writer whose major later efforts included the search for just such popular appeal, and one of whose happiest late photographs situates him in a stage-door crowd.

Despite his continued centrality, however, Eliot seems also almost less manageable, less accountable, even odder and more sui generis as the years go by. It would be possible to write a large book on 'the line of Yeats' in modern poetry, and sizeable ones on 'the line of Auden' and 'the line of Empson'; even 'the line of Lowell' would easily accumulate its instances. But Eliot? He has simply not been an influence or precursor in this sense - at, that is to say, the level of articulated possibility and fulfilment within the structure of the language itself. In Three for Water Music, what Davie essentially takes from Eliot is a formal shape that will accommodate variety of tone and register; but he never 'sounds like' Eliot in the way that, say, Roethke often ...


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