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Lecture 50-54

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Topics for Further Consideration: (lecture 52)

1. Explain whether you regard the "New England-ness" of Frost's poetry as a weakness or a strength.

Frost chose a New England setting in attempt to be true to the peculiarities of the region. Frost's early work is described as the Puritan ethic turned astonishingly lyrical and enabled to say out loud the sources of its own delight in the world. Though his work is principally associated with the life and landscape of New England, and though he was a poet of traditional verse forms and metrics who remained steadfastly aloof from the poetic movements and fashions of his time, Frost is anything but a merely regional or minor poet. The author of searching and often dark meditations on universal themes, he is a quintessentially modern poet in his adherence to language as it is actually spoken, in the psychological complexity of his portraits, and in the degree to which his work is infused with layers of ambiguity and irony. What Frost achieved in his poetry was much more complex than a mere imitation of the New England farmer idiom. He wanted to restore to literature the "sentence sounds that underlie the words," the "vocal gesture" that enhances meaning. That is, he felt the poet's ear must be sensitive to the voice in order to capture with the written word the significance of sound in the spoken word. Frost's use of New England dialect is only one aspect of his often discussed regionalism. Within New England, his particular focus was on New Hampshire, which he called "one of the two best states in the Union". Frost representation at his best was when he "dared to write in the natural speech of New England; in natural spoken speech, which is very different from the 'natural' speech of the newspapers."

2. Summarize Frost's vision of the nature and significance of labor.

Frost has so often written about the rural landscape and wildlife that one can hardly avoid thinking of him as a nature poet. Frost's nature poetry is so excellent and so characteristic that it must be given a prominent place in any account of his art. In our attempt to understand this aspect of Frost, the idea of pastoral proves useful. Not that the nature poems are to be considered as pastorals in any strict sense -- obviously the two kinds of poetry differ. In pastorals the subject is a special society, or, more generally, a way of life and nature is merely the setting within which we see this. The pastoralist does not write about nature; he uses nature as his scene, and it is important only in that it defines the swain's point of view. Nevertheless, Frost's nature poetry is closely related to his pastoralism. One might demonstrate the connection by pointing out how many poems combine both genres. Thus Frost sees in nature a symbol of man's relation to the world. Though he writes about a forest or a wildflower, his real subject is humanity. The remoteness of nature reveals the tragedy of man's isolation and his weakness in the face of vast, impersonal forces. But nature also serves to glorify man by showing the superiority of the human consciousness to brute matter. In this respect, nature becomes a means of portraying the heroic. There is a fundamental ambiguity of feeling in Frost's view of nature. It is to be feared as man's cruel taskmaster, scorned as insensible, brutish, unthinking matter; yet it is to be loved, not because it has any secret sympathy for man.

Topics for Further Consideration: (lecture 54)

1. Discuss Eliot’s view of the relationship between "the tradition and the individual talent."

"Tradition and Individual Talent" is the essay of lasting significance in the history of modern criticism. The essay brought into being two principal aspects of Eliot's critical domain – tradition and impersonality in art and poetry, that rated over the realm of criticism. The essay also brings forth Eliot's views on the inter–relation between traditional and individual talent. The essay brought into being the new approach with poets of everlasting significance and it also provided the parameters for the assessment of the genius and the shortcomings of the masters but contributed to the history of English Literature. The idea of tradition with all its magnificence has a meaning beyond the conventional sense of term. It begins with a historical sense and goes on acquiring new dimensions along political and cultural dimension, and this creates a system of axes for the assessment of the worth and genius of a poet. The idea of Eliot's theory of tradition is based on the inevitable phenomenon of the continuity of the values during the process called civilization. Eliot beings with a description that makes tradition a term of abuse and develops to a metaphor of unquestionable authenticity. 'Seldom perhaps', he says, 'does the word appear except in a phrase of censure'. Every new participation in the tradition results into restructuring of the same tradition with different emphasis. It is constantly growing and changing and becoming different from what it has been earlier. The past directs the present and is modified by the present. This is an apt revelation of the traditional capabilities of a poet. The past helps us understand the present and the present throws light on the past. The new work of art is judged by the standards set by the past. It is in the light of the past alone that an individual talent can be. This is the way Eliot subtly reconciles the tradition and the individual talent.

2. Explain the significance of the "fragment" in The Waste Land: A Collection of Critical Essays.

“The Waste Land” represents Eliot’s attempt to transcend the limitations of traditional poetic technique and instead write with the dominating twentieth-century ideas of relativity, randomness, and uncertainty in mind, perhaps his intent is to depict a world not only barren of traditional epistemology but also of Christian morality and religious certainty. With this interpretation in mind, Eliot’s world consequently offers an alternative morality that is neither bound by allegiance to a particular god nor rewarded by good faith; in this sense, the waste land is a world beyond good and evil. The oratorical tone of voice persists throughout the poem and confirms our impression of a liturgical framework. This is in keeping with the ritual/mythical basis of The Waste Land. The 'priest' occupies a prophet-like position between the occult and the audience. A striking feature in the poem is the element of riddle, which is termed sibylline fragment. The characters in the poem neither interact with one another nor understand their placing in the poem; much like Eliot’s call for the reader to transcend the poetic limitations of time and place, so too does understanding the poem’s integration of past, present, and future require a perspective not limited to the characters in the poem. Understanding “The Waste Land” consequently necessitates a nonlinear conceptualization of time, an ability to simultaneously parse the meaning of seemingly disordered historical and literary allusions.

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