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This item is taken from PN Review 232, Volume 43 Number 2, November - December 2016.

ROBERT GRIFFITHS WRITES: I enjoyed and admired Duncan Mackay’s scholarly piece in PN Review 230 (July–August 2016) written partly in reply to my own on the relations, if any, between Einstein’s revolutionary work in physics and what I called the ‘coincidental’ emergence of modernist poetry. Mackay’s aim is to bring out ways in which natural science influenced T.S. Eliot more than is generally thought.

Mackay raises interesting questions about the extent to which when a poet is influenced by something to a small extent, how this should be balanced with the extent to which a poet is not at all influenced by the same thing, and how this all should affect our overall conception of a writer.

In general, it still seems right to say that Eliot was not influenced by natural science in any significant way. Essentially, Eliot is a religious poet, albeit one struggling to articulate a meaningful sense of spirituality in a world he sees as otherwise bereft of meaning. He is more metaphysical than physical. What I feel is most interesting about Eliot, as a highly educated intellectual at the turn of the twentieth century, is the extent of his lack of interest in natural science, his lack of knowledge of science (which Mackay concedes) and the barest evidence of the existence of natural science in his poetry, and I will venture, humbly, that there is a sense in which this fact is a more important one about Eliot than the not unimportant subtleties revealed by Mackay. It is more important because it gives us a truer sense of what kind of poet Eliot was, as well as a truer sense of what were considered at the time the priorities and possibilities for ‘modern’ poetry.

My point is possibly only a corollary of the idea, to which the likes of William Carlos Williams subscribed, that Eliot is not really a modern poet at all because, unlike the scientist, he is largely looking backwards. Perhaps we only reach truly modern poetry when we find Miroslav Holub, scientist and poet, denying ‘spiritual expansion’ and for whom the soul has finally given way to the cell.

IAN BRINTON WRITES: I was delighted to see that the volume of essays on Contemporary Olson which David Herd edited so excellently for Manchester University Press was given an appropriate sense of space and place in the recent issue of PNR. However, it might just be worth pointing out one or two little blips. Referring to the essay about ‘In Cold Hell, in Thicket’, contributed by Michael Grant and myself, the reviewer suggests that we ‘present the poem as comparable to Eliot’s autobiographical “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”’. I am afraid that this is an important misreading of what we said. We refer to the ‘significant differences between the modes of these two poems and we must recognise that Prufrock, as subject, is in and of the poem, an effect of a certain procedure of writing, whereas Olson is present in propria persona. His poem is confessional in a way that Eliot’s is not […] ’. It might also be just worth pointing out that Black Mountain Review was edited by Robert Creeley and not Jonathan Williams, Andrew Crozier was a pupil of Prynne’s not a colleague, and that my name is not Briton but Brinton.

This item is taken from PN Review 232, Volume 43 Number 2, November - December 2016.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to
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