Discuss the meaning of the following quote: "Genuine poetry can communicate before it's understood."

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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T.S. Eliot's quote strikes at a couple of points that he embodied in his work.  The first is that there is not really an objective set of criteria that facilitates the communication of poetry.  This is a Modernist idea that rejects the rationality and methodical approach that seeks to dissect the artistic quality of poetry.  In this, Eliot is suggesting that understanding through rational means is secondary to allowing artistic expression to communicate to the audience.  At the same time, Eliot is embracing a sensibility that seeks to transcend what it means to be of human consciousness.  This is akin to much of what Eliot sought to bring out in his writing, with an emphasis on Eastern forms of understanding and comprehension.  In this, Eliot borrows from a decidedly anti- Western position in stressing that there is a realm of communication that lies outside the realm of comprehension and cerebral grasp.  Eliot is able to bring this out in the quote, demanding that there is a sense of understanding that might not be able to be "held," but is rather embraced through a different mode of recognition and understanding.  The implications of this idea is that one must be willing to live with a sense of "negative capability" in approaching what Eliot would define as "genuine" poetry in that it might lie outside the realm of rational appropriation.

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