R. P. Blackmur (review date 1935)
SOURCE: “A Citation of T. S. Eliot” in The Nation (New York), Vol. 141, No. 3668, October 23, 1935, pp. 478-80.
[In the following review, Blackmur provides a mixed assessment of The Achievement of T. S. Eliot.]
The great temptation in writing of T. S. Eliot's poetry is to batten upon the frequent illuminations provided for it in his critical essays; and to this temptation Mr. Matthiessen has again and again given in. His book [The Achievement of T. S. Eliot] is a citation rather than an examination of Eliot's work, and the circulating energy—what keeps the book going and unites its effects—is Mr. Matthiessen's felt appreciation of Eliot's governing obsessions. Thus the successive crises of interpretation and judgment tend naturally without a jar to appear as unrelieved quotation. There could be no better testimony of the scope, the consistency, and the expressive persuasiveness of Eliot's work once one gives in to it, and no clearer warning, perhaps, of the intellectual necessity of not always and never entirely giving in either to Eliot himself or, now, to Mr. Matthiessen's redaction. One gives in intellectually, emotionally, with all a reader's equipment, to find out what is there, but one draws back both to see what is not there and to situate what is. However valuable Mr. Matthiessen's book is, its very method of approach prevents it from being enough.
The advantage of the method is obvious: it keeps the discussion in terms which are actually pretty much those of Eliot's work. But the disadvantage is striking: there are no tools for detachment, for setting off, for placing Eliot, as Mr. Matthiessen attempts to do, in relation to the contemporary world and the body of poetry. It is a method which leads at its worst to the...
(The entire section is 748 words.)