The Corner

Eliot Wars

John starts the Eliot wars again, like some doughty old Japanese veteran in a cave in New Guinea, c. 1965. I have nothing new to say, except to be surprised that he calls Eliot British and Auden American simply because the two poets moved to those countries. Eliot has an extremism of technique that marks him as a Yank, even when it manifests itself in his efforts to impersonate a donnish TLS contributor. Auden, when he lets his guard down, has a fussy cuteness which is found only among some Englishmen. An Oxford thing? A gay English subcultural thing? I don’t know. We see it gaining the upper hand in “In Praise of Limestone.” By “Poems to a Habitat,” it is all that is left. It grew most virulent, in other words, when he was living in America.

Poe was a great short-story writer, but (with one exception–”To Helen”) a pretty lousy poet. “The Raven” is a wonderful comic poem, but Poe meant it seriously.

I haven’t read much Longfellow, but all of it was fine.

The great American poet of the modern age is Eliot, with Frost close behind. If we score for productivity, obviously Frost pulls ahead, but if we score for grand slam home runs, as we should, Eliot stays in the lead.

The great American poet of the Romantic age was Whitman–like Wordsworth, a triumph of genius over garrulity.

Historian Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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