May Sinclair



"Prufrock: and Other Observations".
A Criticism


Literatur: Sinclair
Literatur: The Little Review


SO FAR I have seen two and only two reviews of Mr. Eliot's poems: one by Ezra Pound in The Egoist, one by an anonymous writer in The New Statesman. I learn from Mr. Pound's review that there is a third, by Mr. Arthur Waugh, in the Quarterly.

To Mr. Ezra Pound Mr. Eliot is a poet with genius as incontestable as the genius of Browning. To the anonymous one he is an insignificant phenomenon that may be appropriately disposed of among the "Shorter Notices." To Mr. Waugh, quoted by Mr. Pound, he is a "drunken Helot." Ï do not know what Mr. Pound would say to the anonymous one, but I can imagine. Anyhow, to him the Quarterly reviewer is "the silly old Waugh." And that is enough for Mr. Pound.

It ought to be enough for me. Of course I know that genius does inevitably provoke these outbursts of silliness. I know that Mr. Waugh is simply keeping up the good old manly traditions of the Quarterly, "so savage and tartarly," with its war-cry: " 'Ere's a stranger, let's 'eave 'arf a brick at 'im!" And though the behaviour of The New Statesman puzzles me, since it has an editor who sometimes knows better, and really ought to have known bet[9]ter this time, still The New Statesman also can plead precedent. But when Mr. Waugh calls Mr. Eliot "a drunken Helot," it is clear that he thinks he is on the track of a tendency and is making a public example of Mr. Eliot. And when the anonymous one with every appearance of deliberation picks out his "Boston Evening Transcript" the one insignificant, the one neglible and trivial thing in a very serious volume, and assures us that it represents Mr. Eliot at his finest and his best, it is equally clear that we have to do with something more than mere journalistic misadventure. And I think it is something more than Mr. Eliot's genius that has terrified The Quarterly into exposing him in the full glare of publicity and The New Statesman into shoving him and his masterpieces away out of the public sight.

For "The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", and the "Portrait of a Lady" are masterpieces in the same sense and in the same degree as Browning's "Romances" and "Men and Women"; the "Preludes" and "Rhapsody on a Windy Morning" are masterpieces in a profounder sense and a greater degree than Henley's "London Voluntaries"; "La Figlia Che Piange" is a masterpiece in its own sense and in its own degree. It is a unique masterpiece.

But Mr. Eliot is dangerous. Mr. Eliot is associated with an unpopular movement and with unpopular people. His "Preludes" and his "Rhapsody" appeared in Blast. They stood out from the experimental violences of Blast with an air of tranquil and triumphant achievement; but, no matter; it was in Blast that they appeared. That circumstance alone was disturbing to the comfortable respectability of Mr. Waugh and The New Statesman.

And apart from this purely extraneous happening, Mr. Eliot's genius is in itself disturbing. It is elusive; it is difficult; it demands a distinct effort of attention. Comfortable and respectable people could see, in the first moment after dinner, what Mr. Henley and Mr. Robert Louis Stevenson and Mr. Rudyard Kipling would be at; for the genius of these three travelled, comfortably and fairly respectably, along the great high roads. They could even, with a little boosting, follow Francis Thompson's flight in mid-air, partly because it was signalled to them by the sound and shining of his wings, partly because Thompson had hitched himself securely to some well-known starry team. He was in the poetic tradition all right. People knew where they were with him, just as they know now where they are with Mr. Davies and his fields and flowers and birds.

[10] But Mr. Eliot is not in any tradition at all; not even in Browning's and Henley's tradition. His resemblances to Browning and Henley are superficial. His difference is twofold; a difference of method and technique; a difference of sight and aim. He does not see anything between him and reality, and he makes straight for the reality he sees; he cuts all his corners and his curves; and this directness of method is startling and upsetting to comfortable, respectable people accustomed to going superfluously in and out of corners and carefully round curves. Unless you are prepared to follow with the same nimbleness and straightness you will never arrive with Mr. Eliot at his meaning. Therefore the only comfortable thing is to sit down and pretend, either that Mr. Eliot is a "Helot" too drunk to have any meaning, or that his "Boston Evening Transcript" which you do understand is greater than his "Love Song of Prufrock" which you do not understand. In both instances you have successfully obscured the issue.

Again, the comfortable and respectable mind loves conventional beauty, and some of the realities that Mr. Eliot sees are not beautiful. He insists on your seeing very vividly, as he sees them, the streets of his "Preludes" and "Rhapsody." He insists on your smelling them.

       "Regard that woman
Who hesitates towards you in the light of the door
Which opens on her like a grin.
You see the border of her dress
Is torn and stained with sand.
And you see the corner of her eye
Twists like a crooked pin.

Remark the cat which flattens itself in the gutter,
Slips out its tongue
And devours a morsel of rancid butter."

He is

"aware of the damp souls of housemaids
Sprouting despondently at area gates."

And these things are ugly. The comfortable mind turns away from them in disgust. It identifies Mr. Eliot with a modern; tendency; it labels him securely "Stark Realist", so that lovers of "true poetry" may beware.

[11] It is nothing to the comfortable mind that Mr. Eliot is

" . . . moved by fancies that are curled
Around these images, and cling:
The notion of some infinitely gentle
Infinitely suffering thing."

It is nothing to it that the emotion he disengages from his ugliest image is unbearably poignant. His poignancy is as unpleasant as his ugliness, disturbing to comfort.

We are to observe that Mr. Eliot's "Observations" are ugly and unpleasant and obscure.

Now there is no earthly reason why Mr. Eliot should not be ugly and unpleasant if he pleases, no reason why he should not do in words what Hogarth did in painting, provided he does it well enough. Only, the comfortable mind that prefers So and So and So and So to Mr. Eliot ought to prefer Hogarth's "Paul Before Felix" to his "Harlot's Progress". Obscurity, if he were really obscure, would be another matter. But there was a time when the transparent Tennyson was judged obscure; when people wondered what under heaven the young man was after; they couldn't tell for the life of them whether it was his "dreary gleams" or his "curlews" that were flying over Locksley Hall. Obscurity may come from defective syntax, from a bad style, from confusion of ideas, from involved thinking, from irrelevant association, from sheer piling on of ornament. Mr. Eliot is not obscure in any of these senses.

There is also an obscurity of remote or unusual objects, or of familiar objects moving very rapidly. And Mr. Eliot's trick of cutting his corners and his curves makes him seem obscure where he is clear as daylight. His thoughts move very rapidly and by astounding cuts. They move not by logical stages and majestic roundings of the full literary curve, but as live thoughts move in live brains. Thus "La Figlia Che Piange:"

"Stand on the highest pavement of the stair –
Lean on a garden urn –
Weave, weave the sunlight in your hair –
Clasp your flowers to you with a pained surprise,
Fling them to the ground and turn
With a fugitive resentment in your eyes:
But weave, weave the sunlight in your hair

[12] So I would have had him leave,
So would have had her stand and grieve,
So he would have left
As the soul leaves the body torn and bruised,
As the mind deserts the body it has used.
I should find
Some way incomparably light and deft.
Some way we both should understand,
Simple and faithless as a smile or a shake of the hand.

She turned away, but with the autumn weather
Compelled my imagination many days,
Many days and many hours,
Her hair over her arms and her arms full of flowers.
And I wonder how they should have been together!
I should have lost a gesture and a pose.
Sometimes these cogitations still amaze
The troubled midnight and the moon's repose."

I suppose there are minds so comfortable that they would rather not be disturbed by new beauty and by new magic like this. I do not know how much Mr. Eliot's beauty and magic is due to sheer imagination, how much to dexterity of technique, how much to stern and sacred attention to reality; but I do know that without such technique and such attention the finest imagination is futile, and that if Mr. Eliot had written nothing but that one poem he would rank as a poet by right of its perfection.

But Mr. Eliot is not a poet of one poem; and if there is anything more astounding and more assured than his performance it is his promise. He knows what he is after. Reality, stripped naked of all rhetoric, of all ornament, of all confusing and obscuring association, is what he is after. His reality may be a modern street or a modern drawing-room; it may be an ordinary human mind suddenly and fatally aware of what is happening to it; Mr. Eliot is careful to present his street and his drawing-room as they are, and Prufrock's thoughts as they are: live thoughts, kicking, running about and jumping, nervily, in a live brain.

Prufrock, stung by a longing for reality, escapes from respectability into the street and the October fog.

"The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window panes,
[13] Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house and fell asleep."

Prufrock has conceived the desperate idea of disturbing the universe. He wonders

"Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons;
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
         So how should I presume?"

Prufrock realises that it is too late. He is middle-aged. The horrible drawing-room life he has entered has got him.

"And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep . . . tired . . . or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here between you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed.
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet – and here's no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat and snicker,
And, in short, I was afraid."

His soul can only assert itself in protests and memories. He would have had more chance in the primeval slime.

[14] "I should have been a pair of rugged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas."

As he goes downstairs he is aware of his futility, aware that the noticeable thing about him is the "bald spot in the middle of my hair". He has an idea; an idea that he can put into action: –
     "I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled."

He is incapable, he knows that he is incapable of any action more momentous, more disturbing.
       And yet – and yet –

"I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea,
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us and we drown."

Observe the method. Instead of writing round and round about Prufrock, explaining that his tragedy is the tragedy of submerged passion, Mr. Eliot simply removes the covering from Prufrock's mind: Prufrock's mind, jumping quickly from actuality to memory and back again, like an animal, hunted, tormented, terribly and poignantly alive. The Love-Song of Prufrock is a song that Balzac might have sung if he had been as great a poet as he was a novelist.

It is nothing to the Quarterly and to the New Statesman that Mr. Eliot should have done this thing. But it is a great deal to the few people who care for poetry and insist that it should concern itself with reality. With ideas, if you like, but ideas that are realities and not abstractions.





Erstdruck und Druckvorlage

The Little Review.
Bd. 4, 1917, Nr. 8, Dezember, S. 8-14.

Die Textwiedergabe erfolgt nach dem ersten Druck (Editionsrichtlinien).

The Little Review   online







Literatur: Sinclair

Bowler, Rebecca / Drewery, Claire (Hrg.): May Sinclair. Re-Thinking Bodies and Minds. Edinburgh 2017.

Brandmeyer, Rudolf: Poetiken der Lyrik: Von der Normpoetik zur Autorenpoetik. In: Handbuch Lyrik. Theorie, Analyse, Geschichte. Hrsg. von Dieter Lamping. 2. Aufl. Stuttgart 2016, S. 2-15.

Brooker, Jewel S. (Hrsg.): T. S. Eliot. The Contemporary Reviews. Cambridge u.a. 2004.

Flint, F. S. (Übers.): The Closed Door. By Jean de Bosschere. Illustrated by the Author. With a Translation by F. S. Flint and an Introduction by May Sinclair.
London 1917.

Gasiorek, Andrzej: The 'Little Magazine' as Weapon: BLAST (1914-15). In: The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines. Hrsg. von Peter Brooker u.a. Bd. 1: Britain and Ireland 1880-1955. Oxford 2009, S. 290-313.

Grant, Michael (Hrsg.): T. S. Eliot. The Critical Heritage. 2 Bde. London u.a. 1982.

Harding, Jason (Hrsg.): T. S. Eliot in Context. Cambridge 2011.

Kunka, Andrew J. / Troy, Michele K. (Hrsg.): May Sinclair. Moving Towards the Modern. Aldershot u.a. 2006.

Rives, Rochelle: Modernist Impersonalities. Affect, Authority, and the Subject. Basingstoke u.a. 2012.



Literatur: The Little Review

Baggett, Holly A.: Making No Compromise. Margaret Anderson, Jane Heap, and the "Little Review". Ithaca, NY 2023.

Brinkman, Bartholomew: Poetry, the Little Review, and Chicago Modernism. In: Chicago. A Literary History. Hrsg. von Frederik B. Køhlert. Cambridge 2021, S. 180-193.

Dimakopoulou, Stamatina: Politics and Paradigms for Art in America: Reframing Radicalism in The Little Review. In:: Revues modernistes, revues engagées: (1900-1939). Hrsg. von Hélène Aji u.a. Rennes 2011, S. 269-285.

Drouin, Jeffrey: Close- and Distant-Reading Modernism: Network Analysis, Text Mining, and Teaching The Little Review. In: Journal of Modern Periodical Studies 5.11 (2014), S. 110-135.

Ernst, Jutta: Amerikanische Modernismen. Schreibweisen, Konzepte und zeitgenössische Periodika als Vermittlungsinstanzen. Würzburg 2018.

Gammel, Irene: Baroness Elsa. Gender, Dada and Everyday Modernity. Cambridge Mass. u.a. 2002.
S. 238-261: The Little Review and Its Dada Fuse, 1918 to 1921.

Golding, Alan: The Dial, The Little Review, and the Dialogics of Modernism. In: Little Magazines & Modernism. New Aproaches. Hrsg. Von Suzanne W. Churchill u. Adam McKible. Aldershot u.a. 2007, S. 67-81.

Golding, Alan: The Little Review (1914-29). In: The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines. Hrsg. von Peter Brooker u.a. Bd. 2: North America 1894-1960. Oxford 2012, S. 61-84.

Hutton, Clare: Yeats, Pound, and the Little Review, 1914-1918. In: International Yeats Studies 3.1 (2018), S. 33-48.

Hutton, Clare: Serial Encounters: Ulysses and The Little Review. Oxford 2019.

Marek, Jayne: Women Editing Modernism. "Little" Magazines & Literary History. Lexington 1995.

Morrisson, Mark S.: The Public Face of Modernism. Little Magazines, Audiences, and Reception, 1905-1920. Madison, Wis. u.a. 2001.
Kap 4: Youth in Public: The Little Revies and Commercial Culture in Chicago (S. 133-166).

Scott, Thomas L. / Friedman, Melvin J. (Hrsg.): Pound/The Little Review. The Letters of Ezra Pound to Margaret Anderson: The Little Review Correspondence. New York 1988.

Sigler, Amanda: Modernist Authorship and Transatlantic Periodical Culture 1895–1925. London u. New York 2022.



Lyriktheorie » R. Brandmeyer