Bernard O’Donoghue

Still Old Possum

Lives and Legacies: T S Eliot


Oxford University Press 202pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

Craig Raine’s lively new book on T S Eliot conforms to its series by simply naming the poet as its subject; but it has a marked thematic line which could have borrowed its title from Matthew Arnold’s poem ‘The Buried Life’. Raine concludes that Arnold is ‘Eliot’s powerful, repressed father figure’; as with Arnold and other predecessors and early contemporaries (Henry James in particular), Eliot’s great dread is of life not fully lived, left interred. In this way Eliot is placed in an odd position between Romanticism, with its ‘careless claim to passion’, and Classicism, with its deflationary gift for bathos or Pope’s ‘sinking’. The challenge for the writer of Eliot’s era was to reconcile the Romantic desire ‘to live with all intensity’ with a Classical distrust of ‘violent emotion for its own sake’. Raine’s broadly chronological discussion of Eliot’s work is framed by this duality.

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