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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: March 2010

The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (1933)


*Edwin Muir.

"The Use of Poetry."

Spectator 151, no. 5499

(17 November 1933),


This volume contains eight lectures given by Mr. Eliot at Harvard University during the term of his professorship. Their purpose is roughly defined by the title, and more particularly by a sentence in the introductory lecture. “Let me start,” Mr. Eliot says, “with the supposition that we do not know what poetry is, or what it does or ought to do, or of what use it is; and try to find out, in examining the relation of poetry and criticism, what the use of both of them is.” The examination is careful and penetrating, but the result of it is not something that can be shortly formulated in a review; it is rather a body of conviction which grows as the author deals with one period of poetry after another. He does not arrive finally at any hard and fast definition of the use of poetry and criticism, nor does he seem to have much faith in the use of such a definition. His way of giving us a lively impression of the use of these two activities is to show us what it is not; and though that may appear at first purely negative method, it is hard to imagine a more suitable one for dealing with a problem which cannot be satisfactorily solved by a generalization. But if Mr. Eliot does not tell us what the use of poetry and criticism is, he tells us a great many things about it, and that, for the student of poetry and criticism, is probably a far more useful thing.

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T. S. Eliot
  • Online ISBN: 9780511485466
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