Eliot Makes in Tradition and Essay

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" For Pound, the Image should be central to the poem; this is the "thing" that needs to be dealt with solely and directly, without any extraneous words, in musical meter.

Pounds definition of an image is "that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time." That is, an image as Pound uses the term is a snapshot; it is a motionless artifact, spontaneously and completely captured by the poet and transmitted via the poem to the reader without any additional trappings. The effect of such an image is one of "liberation;" it is the "sense of freedom from time limits and space limits." Images exist outside of time and space; they are not representations of shift but eternal constructs -- Pound uses the word complex -- that exist somehow outside the mind, somewhat like Plato's concept of the ideal. Imagism is the school of poetry that Ezra Pound and other colleagues founded in an attempt to both define and propagate this type of poetry ad the idea of the Image. Pound even says "It is better to present one Image in a lifetime than to produce voluminous works." One example of the image Pound describes would be the plums of William Carlos Williams' "This is Just to Say." Though the poem also contains aspects of action and character, the language has been reduced to only what is necessary, and the strange quality that time achieves in this poem has the effect of freezing the moment in which the note was left -- it is not being written or read, but is simply a note in a moment -- perhaps this note, then, is the true image of the poem.

In an effort to get people to understand the Imagist school of poetry, Pound includes a list of "don't's for the would-be poet. Among these are admonitions not to consider anything -- not even Pound's poetic rules -- as dogma, not to mix the abstract with the concrete as this weakens the image, to use no ornamentation or, if one must, to make sure it is good, and also to "Be influenced by as many great artists as you can, but have the decency either to acknowledge the debt outright, or to try to conceal it." This last, despite its humor, also ties into Eliot's idea of the living mind of the English canon, and how one must both draw from and contribute to it.

Extra Credit: Though the term is at least as old as 1840 when it first appeared in a work by Washington Allston, the idea of the "objective correlative" as it relates to poetry was first described and popularized by T.S. Eliot in his essay "Hamlet and His Problem." In this essay, Eliot claims that Hamlet is ultimately an artistic failure because the emotions that the lead character portrays are too strong to be supported by the plot -- there is no objective correlative that leads inevitably to the emotions that Hamlet supposedly experiences. Eliot does not only deplore the lack of the objective correlative in Hamlet, but suggests that it can be actively sought out and created in poetry.

At its most basic, the objective correlative has the effect of uniting the emotion of a piece; it is a construct -- in poetry's case, of words -- that in proper sequence leads inexorably to the state of emotion in the reader that the poet desires, or at least so Eliot theorizes. The thinking goes that the flow of the words themselves -- the form of the objective correlative -- once found for a particular emotion, would be able to induce that emotion again in another viewer. Emotion, so Eliot claims, and more a specific emotion, is the logical result of a properly constructed objective correlative.

The objective correlative is meant to alleviate the problem of trying to instill emotion in the reader through the meaning of the words alone; that is, through implicit and descriptive means that are saturated with the subjectivity of the reader and the author. By attempting to create an objective way of evoking an emotional response, Eliot came close to describing, or at least theorizing, a science of poetry. This fact, if nothing else, places him firmly in the school of Formalism with which he is most commonly associated.

Once the phenomenon has been described, it must necessarily echo back through the ages and affect the canon of the living brain that Eliot conceptualized in "Tradition and the Individual Talent," and examples of the objective correlative begin popping up in texts much older than the Formalist school and Eliot's definition of the objective correlative. One poet who used the objective correlative quite a lot, and quite adeptly (especially for one who didn't know he was using it) was William Wordsworth, the British Romantic poet and national poet of England for some time.

A prime example of the objective correlative at work in Wordsworth's poems is found in "There Was a Boy." After spending the bulk of the poem establishing a quiet and almost magical mood by describing the boy's solitary interactions with nature and its awesome presence at night, the line "This boy was taken from his mates, and died" is abruptly inserted. The only logical emotional response that could occur from an involved reading of the poem, assuming it is one's first time with the text, is one of shock and slight horror at the calmness of the poem. The earlier tone of the poem, too, takes on a new and more disturbed, darker cast (perhaps mimicking the canonical reverberations of each new work).

I have never used an objective correlative in a poem, but I have unknowingly utilized it in my dramatic work as a director and writer (not so much as an actor; in that instance, one is more like a reader than author). In one play that I wrote, as the lead character is vocalizing her terror offstage, the other two characters onstage are calmly resuming a game of monopoly, dividing the absent character's money between them. It wasn't too effective on the page, but I think it would…[continue]

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