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Sacred Wood & Major Early Essays (Dover Books on Literature & Drama) Paperback – 1 Feb 2000


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Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in St Louis, Missouri in 1888. He was educated at Harvard, at the Sorbonne in Paris, and at Merton College, Oxford. His early poetry was profoundly influenced by the French symbolists, especially Baudelaire and Laforgue. In his academic studies he specialised in philosophy and logic. His doctoral thesis was on F. H. Bradley.

He settled in England in 1915, the year in which he married Vivienne Haigh-Wood and also met his contemporary Ezra Pound for the first time. After teaching for a year or so he joined Lloyds Bank in the City of London in 1917, the year in which he published his first volume, Prufrock and Other Observations.

In 1919 Poems was hand-printed by Leonard and Virginia Woolf. His first collection of essays, The Sacred Wood, appeared in 1920. His most famous work, The Waste Land, was published in 1922, the same year as James Joyce's Ulysses. The poem was included in the first issue of his journal The Criterion, which he founded and edited.

Three years later he left the bank to become a director of Faber and Gwyer, later Faber and Faber. His Poems 1909-25 was one of the original titles published by Geoffrey Faber's new firm, and the basis of his standard Collected Poems 1909-1962. In 1927 he was received into the Church of England and also became a British citizen. Ash Wednesday was published at Easter 1930.

His masterpiece Four Quartets began with 'Burnt Norton' in 1936, continued with 'East Coker' in 1940, 'The Dry Salvages' in 1941 and 'Little Gidding' in 1942. The separate poems were gathered together as one work in 1943.Eliot's writing for the theatre began with the satirical 'Sweeney Agonistes' fragments.

In 1934 he wrote the London churches' pageant play 'The Rock', the choruses from which are preserved in Collected Poems, and the next year he was commissioned by the Canterbury Festival to write Murder in the Cathedral, about the martyrdom of St Thomas à Beckett. The Family Reunion followed in 1939, when he also published his children's classic, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, the jacket drawn by Eliot himself. (The Possum was Eliot's alias among friends). He later wrote three more verse plays, all of which were premièred at the Edinburgh Festival: The Cocktail Party, The Confidential Clerk and The Elder Statesman. A film of Murder in the Cathedral was shown at the Venice Film Festival in 1951.

Eliot's most important literary criticism is collected in Selected Essays 1917-1932, which he enlarged in 1951. There are a number of other volumes of lectures and essays, among them The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism, For Lancelot Andrewes, On Poetry and Poets, and two works of social criticism - The Idea of a Christian Society and Notes Towards the Definition of Culture. Eliot was appointed to the Order of Merit in January 1948 and in the Autumn was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He married for the second time in 1957, to Valerie Fletcher.

Eliot died in January 1965. There is a memorial to him in Westminster Abbey, beside those to Tennyson and Browning. His ashes are in St Michael's Church, East Coker, the Somerset village from which his ancestor Andrew Eliot emigrated to America in 1667.

After his death his widow edited the long-lost original manuscript of the The Waste Land and a volume of his letters. She also commissioned editions of his early poems Inventions of a March Hare and his Clark and Turnbull lectures The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry. Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats provided the lyrics for Andrew Lloyd Webber's dance musical Cats, which has been performed all over the world for the past 25 years.

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With the 1920 publication of his first collection of essays, "The Sacred Wood, " Eliot established himself as an authoritative and influential literary critic. These insightful meditations on poetry, drama, and literary criticism include observations on the works of Dante, Shakespeare, Blake, and other authors. Plus 4 essays from "The Times Literary Supplement."

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The First New Critic 8 Oct. 2012
By Martin Asiner - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
With the publication of The Sacred Wood in 1920, T. S. Eliot became the first New Critic even before the name of New Critic evolved into a commonplace in literary theory. Prior to this book, literary theory in general tended to valorize the poet over the poem. This tendency to seek meaning deep within the psyche of the poet was a holdover from the Romanticism of the eighteenth century whereby poets like Wordsworth and Coleridge urged readers to look to a healing Nature as the source of poetic inspiration. Eliot thought that this was dangerous nonsense and spent several decades speaking out against such dogma.

Though Eliot was one of the foremost critics of the twentieth century, his critical output was most often piecemeal, usually taking the form of essays that were published in a single book such as The Sacred Wood. In this collection of essays, there are only two or perhaps three that are much read today. The remainder deals with lesser known lights of the Elizabethan and the decades following. The essays that are of interest today are the ones that are found anthologized for undergraduate and graduate students of literature. These essays include the following: "Tradition and the Individual Talent," "Hamlet and his Problems," and possibly "Rhetoric and Poetic Drama."

In "Tradition and the Individual Talent," Eliot takes to task the Romantic holdovers from the nineteenth century who insisted on placing the thoughts and emotions of the poet directly into the poem. The proper place of the poet is to remain "outside" the poem. This tricky placement of the poet was accomplished by separating the world view of the poet (taken from and largely equivalent to the collective psyche of all humanity) from the individuating traits of the poet which belong only to him and have no connection to common humanity. Eliot uses the analogy of chemistry and physics by comparing the poet to a catalyst which alters and transmits a common lumping of universal human experience into a unique autotelic work of art called a poem. The result is a poem that bears common traits with that universal human experience but has nothing to do with the individual poet. Further, Eliot scorns the Romantic attitude which in turn scorns tradition itself. Tradition, for Eliot, is necessary for a poet to be able to appreciate how the perception of the past may be altered by a changing perception of the present. Thus, Eliot's warning that past and present are linked in a diachronic bear hug brings to mind Orwell's similar slogan from 1984.

In "Hamlet and his Problem," introduces a term that would soon become a literary staple of the New Critical lexicon: the objective correlative. He terms it as "a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events...be the formula of that particular emotion" with the result that the author need not bluntly state or show that object or thing or situation for an emotion to be roused in the reader/audience. Rather the writer need do no more than present the image of that object or thing or situation for the desired emotion to be so roused. As a side note, Eliot is one of the few critics who denigrate Hamlet, calling it an "artistic failure," in that Shakespeare is too blunt in forcing emotions to arise in the audience merely due to Hamlet's over the top violent reactions and over-reactions to his interactions with Claudius, Ophelia, and Gertrude among others. The Sacred Wood then is one of the earliest attempts by a noted critic to counter the Romantic placing of the poet over the poem. In the decades to come, Eliot and the rest of the soon to be current New Critics found that their placing of the poem over the poet would be discarded as no more than some archaic footnote.
Five Stars 7 Nov. 2014
By Otto Minera - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
It's been quite useful. I needed it.
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