In the Left Corner, Weighing 200 Pounds, is T.S. Eliot!

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From "Tradition and the Individual Talent" by T.S. Eliot:

"Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality."

I'm not quite sure what T.S. Eliot meant by this statement.  It seems that he is simply saying that poetry, emotion, and personality are three separate entities.  To that, I have to say that just as the definition of "literature" is debatable, so is the definition of poetry.  Poetry seems to be (sometimes) whatever you want it to be.  An example of a poem that Iis debatably a poem is "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams.  The whole poem is so short, I've rewritten it below and actually have it memorized:

 "so much depends


a red wheel


glazed with rain


beside the white


Why is this poem famous?  I remember reading it in high school and honestly, my nephews who were 6 at the time could have produced this poem.  This poem reminds me of the artist who got famous for painting a canvas white.  Getting famous for such little work seems genius of them, but stupid of the admirers.

Back to the point, a poem is whatever you want it to be.  I guess that even the example above counts, even though someone with no talent could write it.  I'm not saying that William Carlos Williams has no talent, but simply that that poem in particular is a joke, but nevertheless, has its impact.  After all, I do have it memorized for its ridiculousness.  If you write a poem to express an emotion such as love, this statement that poetry is "not a turning loose of emotion" is certainly false.  And when one writes poetry, little bits of herself or himself manages to trickle through and onto the page no matter what.  

Even the reader of a poem's emotions and personality can show by what he or she chooses to read.  If sad, I may choose to read Emily Dickinson.  If in love, I may want to turn to a Shakespearean sonnet.

When it all comes down to it, I think Eliot was mistaken.  Poetry can be what it wants to be, there is no discrimination. 

Back to the course webpage!


Derek Tickle said:

It seems to be the little things in life whether it is poetry or helping someone that counts most. I always thought how important a poem was because you are able to learn about the poet and his or her experiences. When I first read this quote in the reading, I thought that it seemed like a chiasmus. It makes you think after you read it. I believe that Eliot is trying to say that poetry allows the poet to be anyone they want to be. This may not include their emotions or personality traits either. - William Carlos Williams poem is a very interesting one to!

Greta Carroll said:

Angela, first off, I am going to have to make it clear that I like “The Red Wheelbarrow.” I also read it in high school and I remember my English teacher reading the poem aloud, slamming the book shut and saying, “see class, not all poems have deep meaning!” In a lot of ways, it was a nice reprieve from reading things into every single word of every single poem. Yet, I have to disagree, I think William Carlos Williams poem is definitely poetry and I think that he expressed a lot in the fifteen words which compromise his poem. But, here I am proving your point by my very disagreement. Poetry, like everything else can be whatever we want and need it to be. And I too have an extremely hard time understanding what Eliot is talking about. In fact, in a lot of ways his comments about poetry “not [being] a turning loose of emotions” kind of depresses me. “The Hollow Men” by Eliot is an extremely powerful poem and every time I read the last line, it makes me shiver, so to think he wrote this and it reflects nothing of his personality or emotions baffles and saddens me.

Jenna said:

Angela, I picked the same quote. I think that Eliot was trying to say that the writer needs to separate from his/her emotions and personality in order to not cloud their creativity. The poet would have felt the emotion sometime in his/her life that he/she was writing about or else it would be hard to write a poem when so many emotions come from them. Also, sometimes people may want to escape their emotions through reading; however, I agree that most times people read poetry based on their emotions. I never heard the poem by William Carlos Williams, but I like it. I think it means that wheelbarrows carry a heavy burden, sometimes similar to people. It has to endure a lot of different elements like people.

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