Symposium 1 (April
[Review of Dante]
This little book on Dante may be considered from at least three points of view: as an introduction to Dante, as a discussion of poetry and belief, and as an amplification of what might be called Mr. Eliot's classical ideal. Mr. Eliot disclaims any intention of writing another brief introduction to the study of Dante and declares that he is incompetent to perform such a task; but he has written such an introduction, he has written the best we have, an important and exciting book; and so we can scarcely admit that he is incompetent. “A quotation, a critical remark, an enthusiastic essay,” he writes, “may well be the accident that sets one to reading a particular author; but an elaborate preparation of historical and biographical knowledge has always been to me a barrier.” Such knowledge is always a barrier in an introduction, and most of the introductions to Dante have too much of it. Mr. Eliot pursues a different method: he relates the process and stages of his own comprehension, his gradually growing awareness of the unity of Dante; and his whole endeavor seems to be to make us aware too.
The book is still more valuable because, while he was writing it, Mr. Eliot was preoccupied with a question that is urgent today, the question of poetic belief. Mr. I. A. Richards, in Practical Criticism, has shown how important this question is.
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